Last week, my iPhone informed me that my weekly screen-time was down by over three hours.

First of all, good for me. Second, I hadn't realized the latest iPhone update came with screen-tracking--but it dovetails perfectly with my new commitment of late: to spend less time on my device.

It's no secret that most of us are addicted to our mobile devices. They're not only a source of transportation (Google Maps as well as rideshare apps); they're also a food source, an online shopping center, and--perhaps most relevant for me--a source of connection.

I use my phone to stay in touch with a lot of people. Between texting, WhatsApp with international friends, and Voxer, I'm on my phone quite a bit, in an attempt to connect with loved ones.

But there's a cost to all that "connection," and that is my presence in the real world.

For example, since spending less time on my phone, I've met more people. I no longer automatically pull out my device in line at a cafe or at Trader Joe's, so I'm more likely to engage in a conversation with the person behind me, or the barista. I know that sounds like a small thing, but it has brought little moments joy to my life--little interactions that remind me of the beauty of humanity.

A number of studies have looked at how much time the average person spends on their device. Some studies combine time on a phone and tablet; some separate them out. Some survey all age demographics; some concentrate on adults only.

In reviewing combined research from Nielsen, Pew Research Center, comScore, SmartInsights, and other organizations measuring much time the average person spends on their device per day, one conclusion becomes glaringly apparent:

No matter how you cut it, the average person spends over four hours a day on their device.

That's right: most modern people spend a full quarter of their waking hours on their mobile device.

I was startled by this number. According to one of the studies, about half the time (1 hour, 56 minutes) is spent on the top five social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube.

That can't be, I thought. There's no way I spend two hours on social media a day.

And yet ... if I spend 15 minutes perusing Facebook in the morning; 30 minutes catching up on Snaps (i.e. using Snapchat to procrastinate from work); 10 minutes reviewing my Twitter notifications at lunch; watching a 20-minute TEDx talk on YouTube in the afternoon; and 35 minutes winding down with Instagram in the evening ... that adds up to 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Ouch.

One of the major reasons I made a conscious decision to cut down on my phone screentime was health--mental, not physical. I noticed that on the days I was on my phone a lot, I was unhappy. I felt more scattered and less productive. I was more reactive and less centered.

I didn't like it.

There's plenty of research that supports this on a physiological level. We aren't meant to pump our systems with the kind of dopamine scrolling through a social media feed prompts, because of the inevitable crash that comes after. We also aren't meant to constantly switch our attention the way we do on our devices (i.e. being interrupting while reading a work email by a text about our availability for an upcoming bachelorette party, and oh by the way can we just Venmo the organizer real quick so she can book the Airbnb?).

It's a lot for our brains to handle.

It's probably no surprise, then, that I've felt calmer and more in control since cutting down my time with my device.

For those who are interested in doing the same, here are a few steps I took:

1. Limit social media as much as possible. For me, this meant I deleted Snapchat altogether; only go on Facebook if there's a specific reason for me to do so (i.e. reply to an event invite); and barely post on Instagram anymore (I find if I don't post as much, I don't scroll as much). 

2. Putting my phone on airplane mode after 9pm. I can still use it for my alarm and to check my calendar, etc. but I don't have incoming messages barraging me at night, when I'm in wind-down mode. This helps a lot.

3. Enabling the iPhone ScreenTime function. This is so you can see where you do actually spend time on your phone. Go to Settings >> ScreenTime (it's now 8th down) >> Turn on Screen Time. Your phone will start to track your activity. It's private (the data doesn't get sent to Apple)--and it'll show you each app you use and website you visit (except sites in private mode).

4. Instead of checking your phone when you're out and about, breathe. This was a gamechanger for me. I was using my device to manage mild social anxiety, so instead of connecting with people around me (or just observing my environment), I'd check my phone. Now, I take a breath and slow down in that moment. I relax and tell myself the people on my phone can wait, and what's going on around me? 

I feel more grounded since making these changes, and it's still a work in progress. In my opinion, limiting time with our devices is the equivalent of good mental hygiene--like brushing our digital teeth.

Here's to pearly whites.   

Published on: Oct 30, 2018