Last month, I undertook a project, to reduce my iPhone usage by 50%
I actually have a university class to thank for this. This semester I have been teaching an academic strategies & learning / study skills class. I’m fine if my students are nodding drowsily, or perhaps fighting heavy eyelids, but in one area, I was not fine. Blatant iPhone usage – screen up, covering the lower half of their face – while I was talking to them. On human-talking-to-human basis it just wasn’t cool. Instructors vary on their standards around this and I hadn’t set standards at the start of the term – a newbie mistake.
As the weeks passed and a few individuals continued their iPhone ways, I had a realization; this must much be what it is like for my kids when I am on my phone – especially when they ask me a question. I’m just not there.
I wound up privately conferencing with those students in my office and stopped the habit in its tracks by connecting with them on a human-talking-to-a-human level, rather than an instructor-student level. But, it also led me to reflect on my own habits. If I am telling others to improve their habits, well, I’ve got to walk the talk as well.
Sure, I choose to be on my phone, and most of the time it is with intent – and I believe every person deserves a break. I wholeheartedly agree that as a parent you do NOT have to be “on” all the time. People at jobs get breaks, and so should people doing the hardest job at all – parenting. Even if it’s a micro break like a quick scan of social media during the kids’ naps, or a quick moment in the kitchen, standing by the coffee, waiting for it to finish brewing. With kids they are micro breaks, but a break is a break.
Goodness knows doing that in the kitchen or on the toilet has allowed me a much, much needed break from the emotional maelstrom of a three year old and has given me a chance to recompose, stabilize my own response and come back into the situation with the calm confidence that they need in that moment.
Before cutting down on iphone usage, I spent some time recording what I spent my phone time on, and each time I put the phone down, I’d think, “was my precious time worth that activity?”
With beginning to pay this closer attention, I began to ask more questions: What exactly I was getting from my Instagram & Facebook feeds? (my go-tos) I realized I was leaving disappointed, not particularly relaxed, or annoyed (especially during the US election aftermath.)
Was this really a beneficial use of my ten precious minutes? That hard earned break, a delicious feet-up moment with a cup of tea? No. The random Buzzfeeds and Instagram sponsored posts which proliferate my IG feed were so not worth that valuable time.
Feeling unfulfilled, I further resolved to use my phone less. First, around the kids – who try to get at it and then squabble over it. Second, around myself. I started forgetting to charge it at night on purpose, and would just leave it in my handbag along with my work tags and keys (I had to use physical strategies.)
In all honesty, during the first week of reduced phone usage, I found myself wondering what on earth to do with a break. I genuinely worried that I would just not take breaks and fill them with even more to-dos, or chores, or something equally “un- break-like.” I did notice one frustrating day that I was simply replacing a well-earned break with laundry.
I felt lost, sitting there, feeling quite irritated, if I am honest, that I didn’t have my little reward and even more frustrated that I was likely to replace it with work.
When emotions arise, it is a great opportunity to dig deeper and address where those emotions were coming from. It’s a chance to determine exactly what we say to ourselves. What I was telling myself? “if I don’t take my phone break I won’t be able to have a break because I’ll just replace it with work and I deserve a break and grrrrr.” Cue another astounding realization.
Aside from using my phone, I couldn’t remember what a break entails.
I had defined breaks around iPhone activities and was at a loss as to alternatives.
The last two weeks have been fascinating because I’ve had to work at “relearning” what a break is without a phone. Slowly, I began to rediscover things.
Reading a magazine (which re-trained my focus, from scrolling through a feed in 3 seconds, to making it through 10 minutes of an article) Meditating (that thing I always put off but know I should do.) An act of creativity. Having a nap (!) Reading a fiction book.
At first, all of these activities didn’t feel like a break, until I gave them a chance.
Then, I realized that after these activities, I came out of them a better person, and in a better mood, than I ever did using Facebook or Instagram during most of my microbreaks.
I decided to title this post “The Mixed Experience” because I sit here, genuinely much less interested in my phone these days, and feeling quite free from iPhone habitual use / dependency, yet, in all honesty, it’s a mixed bag of results. I feel so-so about that.
With vastly reduced iPhone usage, you wind up putting it down. It is not on your body. You miss texts and calls. I’ve learnt there is a fine line between being liberated from the smart phone and being labelled a “terrible texter” or “bad communicator” – people do notice when their family or friends are less available or accessible – and they definitely let you know! I’ve received comments from family or friends (mostly good natured) about how slow I am to get back to people It is true – I’m only getting back to them once the kids are in bed, or at my lunch at work. I respond most often hours after they texted me.
But on the other side, it’s lovely.
With two toddlers underfoot, I don’t have a lot of time to engage in a conversation and I did feel uncomfortable texting entire conversations with the back of my phone to their faces.
Ultimately, you have to decide on your own comfort level and look at your own values and preferences. There is no right or wrong approach, only what works for you.
But the experience is so mixed in my mind. There are also genuinely useful and educational apps, and social media can be designed to work for your life goals, rather than just show you others lives in process (and the highlight reel at that.)
Yes, I spent a lot of time on Facebook and IG, but for the most part they are carefully curated to reflect people, groups, causes that stand for the life I am working towards (I’ll do another post on that.) That being said though, a lot of crap seeps through based on sponsored posts and data mining, I am of course, a 30-something mother so you can guess the content that gets pushed my way.
AND I still of the strong opinion that hard working mamas of all types DEFINITELY deserve true downtime where they don’t have to learn, don’t have to be ‘on’ for everyone, and can just entertain themselves. I don’t watch any particular show on TV so I felt a bit of resentment working on removing the social media to the extent that I did. I’ve reintroduced it but now limit it to specific times of the day.
I feel really good overall, about not using my phone half as much as I did around my kids, and plan on keeping it that way, “bad communicator” joking aside – but I fully, admittedly enjoy the downtime and will continue to enjoy my phone as a nice break and will scroll the shit out of my social media and continue to use the phone as my quick downtime moment. I don’t regret going through the process – it was fascinating and helpful having to find other ways to occupy “break time” for a few weeks there. It made me realize that it is far too easy to lose perspective and forget that breaks take on many forms and there is life outside of the iPhone. I’ve tried to continue many of those breaks, which are iphone-free and now incorporate them as part of a more balanced “break diet,” so to speak.
I’ve love to hear what your perspectives are. Remember, there are no rights or wrongs, only our perspectives which are shaped by our greatly varied history, culture, families, experiences, values and backgrounds.