A frequent conversation around the coworking table is the nuisance and distraction that technology, phones and social media brings. This stems from doom scrolling, to issues spurred on from social media and questions on how to ‘correctly’ parent technology. It’s a big multilayered problem and it seems the thread of desire is to find a way to detach. We want to remove ourselves from passive connection and stop being distracted by our phones.
When we use our phones we are selling only our time, it’s often the moments where we want the time to pass that we fall into the trap. We are always wanting to be busy, we always want to be consuming, maybe it’s time to step back and let yourself be bored. Let yourself day dream and be alone with your thoughts.
“Solitude Deprivation. A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.”― Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
So what are the real problems we cause ourselves when we take to our phones for light entertainment or to pass some time? A study in 2007 by Dr Martin Hilbert and Dr Priscila Lopez found that the average person is drowned in 174 newspapers worth of information everyday, across TV, radio and reading. It’s easy to assume that this figure is even greater today. When you consider how much information we receive everytime we pick up our phones you soon realise why it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the doom and gloom in the world. Or more likely, you feel yourself becoming ever more detached and unresponsive. We have no time to form any true compassion or understanding as we are always onto the next big news story.
Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics, found that on average an adult working in an office stays on a singular task for no more than three minutes before switching tasks. We are tricked into thinking that we are great multitaskers, we are not- we are however very good at getting distracted and losing focus. Mark argues that especially during computer based work, instead of seeing a new tab, email reply or doom scroll as adding a new task, see it as adding a new distraction. This sounds easy but we have already programmed our brains to shift focus constantly, this is why we always are reaching for our phones.
After 14 years, I deleted my Twitter account and removed the app from my phone. This was spurred on by the change to X, in a weird way the visual change prompted discomfort but also made it easier to delete and let go, so thanks for that Elon! Since then, I notice myself whilst routinely checking Facebook and Instagram my thumb automatically going to tap the Twitter app. My brain is fully in a trance, it’s terrifying! Another thing I noticed, whenever I think of something funny my brain frames the thought as a tweet. It’s like an ingrained desire and need to tweet it, again…terrifying!
I feel like I do not need to delve into the problems around phones too much as we all experience it daily. I did consider counting how many times I picked up my phone whilst writing this piece but I feared it would be too shameful of a number. However, I do not believe that a complete detox, hiatus or banishment is the answer. Nor is blaming or shaming ourselves. I think it’s more important to consider the good things phones and tech can bring to our lives. Think of how much time has been saved through emails, online banking, google and life admin. We just need to be more aware and purposeful of how we use this tech.
For me, it’s the small impromptu moments of time where picking up my phone is becoming a problem. The automatic reflex to have a quick look always turns into at least ten minutes of scrolling. It is entirely passive consumption and is the definition of needless. I’m really good at misplacing my phone, something I’m weirdly proud of. It means that it’s not constantly on my mind or in my hand. Now when I lose track of it, instead of hunting it down straight away I purposefully question why I need to find it? What do I need it for? Unless the reason is valid, like calling my nan or if there’s a fire that needs tending to, I do not bother looking for it.
‘You want to read a book, but you are pulled away by the pings and paranoia of social media. You want to spend a few uninterrupted hours with your child, but you keep anxiously checking your work email. You want to set up a business, but your life dissolves into a blur of facebook posts that only make you feel envious and anxious. Through no fault of your own, there never seems to be enough stillness.’-Johann Hari, Stolen Focus
By detaching from our phones, time alone can become more nourishing, remove the need to compare and focus solely on ourselves. Instead of taking to social media for a ‘break’ try out some meditation, a little day dream, a quick stretch or a wee stroll around. Maybe what you’re craving is in fact a quick brain reset! Choose to feast on your own life, instead of small snippets of others. Rember, tech is designed to be addictive but we can choose to have a more purposeful relationship with it.
Don’t forget, habit is key and habits are harder to break than they are to form.
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Thanks for reading,