Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain

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I’ve been a heavy phone user for my entire adult life. But sometime last year, I crossed the invisible line into problem territory. My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping. I tried various tricks to curb my usage, like deleting Twitter every weekend, turning my screen grayscale and installing app-blockers. But I always relapsed.

Eventually, in late December, I decided that enough was enough. I called Catherine Price, a science journalist and the author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” a 30-day guide to eliminating bad phone habits. And I begged her for help.

…Instead, her program focuses on addressing the root causes of phone addiction, including the emotional triggers that cause you to reach for your phone in the first place. The point isn’t to get you off the internet, or even off social media — you’re still allowed to use Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms on a desktop or laptop, and there’s no hard-and-fast time limit. It’s simply about unhooking your brain from the harmful routines it has adopted around this particular device, and hooking it to better things.

…For the rest of the week, I became acutely aware of the bizarre phone habits I’d developed. I noticed that I reach for my phone every time I brush my teeth or step outside the front door of my apartment building, and that, for some pathological reason, I always check my email during the three-second window between when I insert my credit card into a chip reader at a store and when the card is accepted.

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In Search of Lost Screen Time

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More than three-quarters of all Americans own a smartphone. In 2018 those 253 million Americans spent $1,380 and 1,460 hours on their smartphone and other mobile devices. That’s 91 waking days; cumulatively, that adds up to 370 billion waking American hours and $349 billion.

In 2019, here’s what we could do instead.

The Unsettling Psychology of an Amazon Prime Addiction

Amazon_Addiction

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“Holy shit,” he says in a moment of realization. “Amazon basically dominates my entire life. I even have the Echo, the Dot and the TV I just bought has Fire built in. I read all my books on a Kindle now.”

Luckily, he’s financially comfortable, so it’s not draining his bank account so that he can’t cover expenses. But he’s still ensnared in Amazon’s throes. “The only real negative is how lazy I am at breaking down Amazon boxes,” he says. “I have to walk them to the recycling bin in the alley behind my house, and that means being outside when it’s cold. I don’t enjoy that.”

Recently, he bought a black microwave that he definitely didn’t need. “I just didn’t like the look of a white microwave,” he says. “This was definitely $199 not well spent.”

Could You Make It Through Dinner Without Checking Your Phone?

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The reason for the tech-free dinner? The cellphones were stashed in a small decorative box on their table, an initiative that Marco Canora, Hearth’s chef and owner, began in November to help customers disconnect from their devices for a little bit.

Some restaurants, partly from irritation when patrons take pictures of the food, place limits on cellphones in their dining rooms. Others, including in Chicago and San Antonio, have banned them entirely.

This photo of people taking photos haunts me

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A music festival took place in London’s Finsbury Park this weekend, and the organizers, perhaps confusing me for a writer for Verge Magazine, sent me photos from the event. One of those images has stuck with me, haunted me, since I first saw it. The photo shows one half of the Rae Sremmurd duo mingling with excited fans… none of whom appear to be looking directly at him. A couple of faces in the crowd are looking at the camera taking the photo, and everyone else’s gaze seems fixed on their phones, trying to capture either photos or video of the rare occasion.

Stop Saying Technology is Causing Social Isolation

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If you have used the internet in the last years (and I suspect you have), you have probably seen a picture on your Facebook feed or on your Tumblr dashboard or nearly everywhere pointing out, with a sense of superiority, how people are slaves of technology nowadays, always using their electronic devices in public.

My main premise is that I don’t think smartphones are isolating us, destroying our social lives or ruining interactions. I see smartphones as instruments for communication. Instruments that enable interaction on ways that just weren’t possible before, connecting us with people all around the world, via Twitter, instant messaging or other services. Some may say that if you want to interact with people, you should interact with the ones around you, and that is probably true on certain occasions. But, on other occasions, I’m just not able to comprehend why should we be forced to interact with those physically close to us instead of with the people that we really want to interact with.

How to Break Up With Your Phone

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I still wanted to use my phone when it was helpful or fun. But I wanted a new relationship with it — one with better boundaries, and over which I had more control. I spent the next year and a half researching habits, addiction, behavior change, mindfulness and neuroplasticity, and developed a comprehensive strategy for how to “break up” with my phone. The goal wasn’t to never use my phone again; it was to create a sustainable relationship that felt healthy.

Two years later, I feel that I’ve succeeded. Here are some of the key things I learned on how to navigate a successful breakup and create a better relationship with your phone.