I do yoga about twice a week these days. I would love to do it more, it’s part of the balancing act that is work, love, family, creative life. This weekend, after a particularly head-clearing yoga session, coupled with more disturbing news about Facebook, (see also here), and more stories about technology and misinformation, I decided once again to rethink how I consume media.
Recently, I have been struggling with some annoying neck, shoulder, and arm pain. My spine has always been something that requires attention because I have a mild scoliosis—a curvature that causes discomfort to sprout up in different ways. I know that using a smartphone, the physical act of holding it with one hand and using it with the other is a strain, but usually, I do it anyway. Smartphones and the things they give us are compelling. This weekend, though, I’d had enough. I decided to see how little I can use my phone. First, I used some smartphone technology to help me figure it out. I installed a screen time tracker for my phone. The one I’m using is called QualityTime, but I just did a quick google search and picked the one that sounded easiest. I didn’t want the new tool to become a time suck.
Then, because it was Sunday, I was pretty much able to disconnect for the day. I did lots of housework, I cooked dinner, I read, I wrote in my journal. (I didn’t leave the house. That would have been nice, but we’re in the midst of a bit of a deluge.) At the end of the day, I’d used my phone only 14 minutes and 32 seconds. A win for the first day, I thought.
I have tried to scale back phone usage before because it’s distracting, and I don’t like that distracted feeling. I don’t find the same problem using my computer, so I adapt as many things as I can to to the laptop. Here are some of the things I’ve figured out how to do on the computer instead of the phone.
- Instagram. This is a tough one. Instagram is designed to be consumed on the phone. But it turns out, if you go up to your browser’s “View” menu and activate “Developer Tools.” you can actually mimic the phone’s version of Instagram and post in the browser. This is a lifesaver for me, because I need to use IG for various projects, but I don’t want to use it on my phone.
- Facebook. I have “eradicated” my Facebook feed on my computer’s browser on my computer using a Chrome plugin called “Facebook Feed Eradicator.” This lets me post when I need to for work, but I don’t get distracted by a feed. If I need to see what a person or organization has posted, I can pull up their page intentionally. (Intention is the whole point here. I’m trying to wean myself of mindless scrolling.)
- Texting. My provider is AT&T, but I’m guessing most of the big providers have a feature like this. I can use AT&T’s “messaging” service in the browser to send and receive texts. It shows my whole texting history, and the texts on my phone are updated to reflect what I’ve done on the computer. I love it.
I like these adaptations because I feel more in control. Smartphone media and the technology around it is designed to get us to cede control of our attention. Have you ever noticed you open the phone to do one thing, and then you see a notification for something else, and off you go… Then, you can’t remember why you opened the phone in the first place? This is not accidental. It’s the way the devices are designed.
These days, experts (and even silicon valley employed parents) are urging new limits on screen time for young people. There’s a new digital divide growing, and it’s not the one we were hearing about a decade ago. These days, more privileged kids have LESS screen time. They’re likely healthier because of it. Ironically, while I’m actively working to reduce my own dependence on my phone, I have a lot less luck influencing my 13-year old. But I’m hoping that modeling will pay off in the long run.