Hubris will get you every time. I picked up Catherine Price’s new book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, not expecting much. Like the author, I am a member of the unique Oregon Trail generation; the ones who watched technology unfold as young teenagers and then rapidly take over the world as we became adults. Being the smug Gen Xer I am, I figured how bad could my phone habits be compared to a Millennial?
As it turns out, it’s worse than I thought. This book should come affixed with a cigarette-like warning: May cause major life changes.
I started reading the book with my phone next to me. A few pages in, I felt that familiar hum: What was going on . . . in my inbox? With my friends? In the world? I stared at the phone guiltily. I got up and put it in another room, and then moved it to a further location. It didn’t matter. Its psychic energy followed me and snapped its proverbial fingers at me compulsively as if to say, “I’m over hereeeee!”
By the time I finished the book, I knew what I was up against: A sneaky compulsion of unsettling proportion. In its essence, an innocuous desire to see if I have new text messages becomes an email check, scanning headlines, and a scroll through Facebook or Instagram. Multiply that times a dozen times a day, and you’ve got a problem on your hands. And here’s the thing: This is the exact behavior smartphone and social media companies want. According to Price, global ad spending on social media in 2016 was $31 billion, almost double what it was just two years before. “It’s because we are not actually the customers, and the social media platform itself is not the product. Instead, the customers are advertisers. And the product being sold is our attention,” Price says.
Faced with the truth, there was only one thing left to do: surrender.
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I think we need a break.
According to Price’s research, the average American checks their phone about 47 times a day. For those 18 to 24 years old, the average is 82. And we’re not just quickly glancing, either: On average, Americans spend more than four hours a day on their phones, which adds up to a staggering 56 full days a year. What this boils down to is an uncomfortable truth. We’re not talking about a habit, but rather, behavioral addiction. “The more I used my phone to navigate my life, the less capable I felt of navigating life without my phone,” Price writes. Our brains are incredibly adaptable and are constantly changing. Much like Pavlov’s dog, with every click, swipe and send, we are telling our brain that this smartphone is top priority, and to seek reward from it.
You deserve better.
When it comes to our reliance on smartphones, we really do. Instead of sitting with our boredom or anxiousness, we seek a dopamine “feel good” fix by checking in on our feeds and email. You never know when a new message may pop up, and it’s that unpredictability that keeps us coming back. As Price says, it’s as effective as a slot machine in getting our engagement and triggering compulsive behavior. There is a constant FOMO because you can instantly find out exactly what you’re missing out on. It’s like the torture of junior high, only with more concrete proof that you’re not as a cool as other people you know. Fun!
It’s for the best.
For teenagers, getting away from the smartphone will be essential. Psychologist and author Jean Twenge (who is referenced in the book) has posited that “the arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.” And those changes are not positive. Loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicide rates for teenagers has steadily increased year-over-year since the debut of smartphones in 2007. We have raised a plugged-in generation with an “intensely focused state of distraction” due to mental fatigue caused by having access to everything at your fingertips—and feeling like you constantly have to access that information. The solution? Set limits. Perhaps you ban phones from the dinner table, do not allow them in the bedroom, or set certain hours for phone use. Whatever you decide, be consistent and follow the same rules you give your kids—a “do as I say not as I do” mentality will be a fast track to failure.
I just don’t love you anymore.
The good news: Breaking up with your phone does not mean going off the grid forever. It does, however, mean finding a way to peacefully coexist. In my case, that included leaning into my discomfort of being away from my phone, and taking several of Price’s suggestions: deleting my social media apps, disabling push notifications, and keeping my phone tucked away at work and at home, only to be checked at intervals. I see it as basic training for one of Price’s loftier goals, a 24-hour digital “sabbath,” which I hope to take once a month. Coming to terms with your smartphone is similar to the journey of self-discovery after a bad break-up. When the fog of discomfort and self-doubt lifts, you’ll have a fierce determination to be choosy and give your time only to what matters most. Now that is worth more than anything a swipe or sign-in can bring to your life.
Do you want to free yourself from the stress and anxiety that comes with smartphone addiction? Take the Phone Breakup Challenge! The Phone Breakup Challenge is a 30-day series of inspirations and exercises designed to guide you through Catherine Price’s new book, How to Break Up with Your Phone.
Sign Up for the 30-Day Phone Breakup Challenge here: https://phonebreakup.com/challenge.
Mandy Major is a writer and editor who recently traded New York City’s skyscrapers for the Connecticut shoreline. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and Prevention, among other publications. A reading advocate and board member for her local library, she is working on her first collection of short stories.
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