My husband doesn’t drink alcohol and he frequently notices that when he is in a party of people drinking, there will be the “I respect your decision not to drink” comments, but at the same time self-conscious attitudes and remarks to my husband of how much everyone else is drinking. It’s annoying that others project their own guilt onto him when he’s just trying to enjoy himself.
Now it’s happening in another context: smartphones and social media. My husband is the last holdout in our family without a smartphone, and he does not have any social media accounts. I would say he’s a Luddite, but, as a scientist, he is thrilled with any new technology that helps his research and is pretty adept DIY/IT guy in his lab and on his fancy laptop. If we get together with a group of people, especially our age or older (who remember days without), there is inevitably some conversation that revolves around how smartphones, the internet, and social media have changed everything. And the guilty sounding comments about usage of this technology pour forth.
The other day, when my husband came home from work, I hastily swiped away the Facebook page, and answered a text, mumbling out loud, “I just have to finish typing this…” It was as if I needed to announce, “I’m eating the last cookie!”, or those people at the bar making comments about their own drinking to my sober husband. I obviously felt there was something wrong with my behavior.
Acknowledging that, I realized that in the eight months (yes only eight months!) I have had a smartphone I have not touched my knitting. I get allergy shots once a week and have to sit for twenty minutes; I used to bring a book, but now I just fiddle with my phone. When I check it in the morning, the little number alerts were making me anxious. I thought I lost my phone one day and freaked out. (It was in the black hole corner of my purse the whole time.) Focusing on any task takes three times as long if I keep Instagramming about it. I liked having my smartphone, but I didn’t like how it was warping my life.
Is getting back to people in a timely manner and keeping up with my friends and family a bad thing? No. Is the frequency of use, lack of focus, plus anxiety and guilt associated with it bad? Yes. This is addiction. Not a pretty word, but according to recent science, it is the right word. Here’s a link to cell phone addiction signs and symptoms. To be fair to myself, I don’t keep my phone on me (it’s in my purse or on a counter at home). I don’t look at messages until after I’ve gotten ready for the day (exercise, meditation, dress, breakfast), and it stays out of the bedroom at night. I’m not hopeless… yet. Parents model behavior for their kids, and I want my children to see how to use a wonderful tool wisely.
So what to do? I made a post on social media to ask for help, of course. Several people stated the obvious: delete the accounts or apps that you are addicted to. A bit extreme for me. What about technology itself? Could tech solve this tech problem?
First, I adjusted my phones alerts and notifications. My ringer is set to off. If there is a situation where I am waiting on an important call (my kids need to be picked up), then I will turn it on for the duration only. No notifications on my lock screen. No drop-down notifications. All social media and other apps have notifications turned off. I have to manually open the app to see what’s happening. I still have the little numbers of how many messages for email, texts, and phone. Just those three. It’s enough to keep me checking, though. So here is a list of recommended tech to help. (Thanks to GeekMom Dax and everyone else for the suggestions!)
Freedom is a website, internet, and app blocker that you can customize to help with distractions.
StayFocusd is for Chrome only to limit time on websites.
Forest was recommended by a few people, and I have checked it out before. It is a phone app where you “plant” a tree while getting work done, and if you look at anything else on your device, the tree will die. Simple, but effective.
AppDetox has you customize your own rules for how you spend your time on your devices, keep track of your usage, and encourages you to meet your goals.
NewsFeedEradicator is specific for Facebook, probably the biggest time waster on the webs.
Habitica is a different, positive spin to this problem. It is a life video game where you set your daily tasks as your gaming goals. You get rewards for doing the things you want to accomplish with fun rewards and “competition” with other players too.
My two children also got smartphones this past year. I asked them about focus problems and cell phone addiction. My daughter felt that it’s lack of having something else to do that makes people addicted. If we are busy, engage in hobbies, and have fun things to do during break times (coloring books!), it’s easier to keep off the phone. My son said physically chucking his phone somewhere else is his solution when he needs to get something done. “If it’s not next to me, I can’t check it.”
I don’t want future generations to shake their heads at us struggling to figure out this new internet culture for ourselves and our children. Let’s figure out moderation with technology now. What are your strategies for yourself and your kids to keep focused and stave off cell phone addiction? Can technology solve technology problems? How can we utilize the smartphone tool in a moderate, productive way?