Business Standard

You can kill the smartphone addiction

Mobile devices are easily adjustable, brains are not

Leonid Bershidsky | Bloomberg 

Smartphone, addiction
We touch our smartphones more than 2,500 times a day. (Photo: iSTOCK)

Most of the research on phone addiction and deprivation is done on students. It’s not just the “kids these days”, though. At 45, I’m a recovering addict. It’s been four months since I uninstalled social networking apps, three months since I last posted on Facebook, and two months since I turned off all notifications on my Before I started the detox programme, I checked my phone about five times an hour. That’s about half as often as the average millennial but about three times as often as most people of my generation in the Now, I’m down to once an hour. 

I think I got hooked because of my job. When I started out as a reporter in the late 1980s, you used your legs to get a story and teletype or dictation to file it from a remote location. It got progressively easier with email, the internet, search engines, social networks, and mobile communication. I could follow developments in several countries through a network of Facebook friends.  In the US, much of the high-level political debate occurs on Twitter thanks in no small part to its tweeter in chief. I told myself that maintaining accounts on every social network was necessary for work, but that was absurd: most of these posts and videos were useless to me as a journalist. 

I was submerged in the cozy haze of addiction, and it’s hard to say how it differed from substance abuse. “Comfort kills, discomfort creates,” wrote in his personal account of opium detoxication. So, like someone trying to wean himself off a substance, I started experimenting with discomfort. That’s when I lost the Facebook and Twitter apps, which were eating up most of my screen time. I figured that out from battery use statistics. At first, I felt such acute deprivation that I had to open Facebook and Twitter in a browser. That was less convenient, and my phone use dropped a little, but I wasn’t able to completely swear off Facebook for a few more weeks. FOMO — the fear of missing out — ruined several mornings; I reverted to peeking for a couple of days, then forced myself 
to stop. 

As Cocteau wrote, “I am not a detoxicated person proud of his effort. I am ashamed of having been chased out of this supernatural world after which health resembled a bad movie in which ministers inaugurate a statue.” After having kicked opium, Cocteau still had alcohol and cocaine. I kept updating and reading Twitter, although I gradually cut down on arguing with people on it — that had been time-consuming and sometimes emotionally draining. Now, I’m down to 30 minutes of Twitter a day: That’s enough for work.

We touch our smartphones — tap, click, swipe — more than 2,500 times a day. That’s probably 100 times more often than we touch our partner. The reason we do it is that the phone constantly demands attention by sending notifications. 

It’s relatively easy to retake control; I went into my phone’s settings and banned every one of the 112 apps from sending notifications. Now, I only check my personal and corporate email accounts, as well as two messenger apps, when I want to, not when my device wants me to. 

My next goal is to be able to use it as an electronic book reader without ever switching from the Kindle app to the browser or the email and I expect a boost in reading speed, another way to battle my FOMO. A forced experiment during a two-week holiday without high-speed internet produced hopeful results.

© Bloomberg

First Published: Wed, August 30 2017. 22:38 IST
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