150 times a day
150 times a day… this is the estimation of the number of times we touch our phones during a 24 hours period.
Whether it be to take a photo, read a notification, send an SMS of just checking for checking, we can assume two third of these interruptions are unnecessary.
The question of the use and overuse of screens is starting to be debated now in many countries. Social media in particular is starting to receive negative press. Parents of teens lament of the time spent on screens by their children, but they are not the only ones. It is starting to be common to hear complains about phones that take too much room in people’s life.
Like the girl in this New Yorker’s cover, have you ever experienced this situation of being with someone who isn’t really here with you?
Screens is the new addiction
Receiving messages and notification on our phones make us happy. At the very moment we receive them, our body generates dopamine and we feel a kick of satisfaction. Dopamine being the same hormone that is released when we gamble, when we smoke or when we drink, we can easily make a parallel between screens consumption and harmful addictions.
One could argue that no drug is harmful per se, it’s the dose that matters. Too much wine, too much Bingo playing, too many cigarettes… it’s getting dangerous when it’s too much. But then with screens, what’s the balance between “ok” and “too much”? Most of you probably think you’re not addicted. You have time to play with your kids, to read, to have talks with friends. But look closely. Watch your peers around. What do you think? Are we addicted?
Dark blue is sleep. Blue is work and commute and light blue is preparing food, eating, showering etc.
White is our personal time. In red, this is the screens time. Ten years ago, it used to be a bit less than the half of our personal time. Look at 2015, personal time is almost non-existent. It’s been eaten by screens.
The problem is: this personal time that we use to read, talk, meet friends, practice our passions etc. is critically essential to our well-being. Adam Alter insists: “that’s space where we do things that make us individuals. (…) time where we think about our lives, where we are creative, where we zoom back and work out whether our lives are being meaningful.”
In an article about the importance of leisure, the Federalist explains : “We check our Twitter feeds while we stand in line at the grocery store and our Snapchat stories while sitting at the airport. (…) In these moments we do quite the opposite of leisure. In leisure, we are quiet observers, developing a gentle self-awareness. But when we consume social media, we identify the people we see, what they’re doing, and what they’re saying. We instinctively become judgers and labelers, and in these moments, the soul undergoes turmoil and fatigue—a feeling of being in and of the world.”
The loss of that precious and qualitative “me-time” is no good news.
We have deliberately let go this time and it’s been taken by screen time. And the bad news is: this screen time is not making us happy. It’s actually quite the opposite. The apps we spend the most time on are those that make us unhappy. Tristan Harris (an ex Google Product Manager) and James Williams have partnered with the app Moment to understand how people use their screens time.
Some apps make people happy: the ones about meditation, music, personal development, weather and organizing one’s life… and others make us pretty unhappy and it’s mostly social media and dating apps. Another learning of this study is that the more time you spend on apps, the less you feel good.
Why? Because of the feeling that we are not good enough.
Let’s use the example of motherhood and how it’s pictured on social media. Starting your day by looking at better apartments, more talented kids and prettier husbands could make you think that, as a woman, you waste your life. Tess Barlett, an Australian coach, expresses this perfectly: “Waking up to images of models on Instagram would immediately put me in the “not good enough” mindset and I would start comparing myself to other people I didn’t even know.”
Both are distorted visions of reality and exaggeration.
Martin Talks, the founder of Digital Detoxing which runs ‘unplugging’ programs, says: “I think there is a strong correlation between people getting depressed because they think other people are having a better time online and the length of time people spend online.”
Not only social media make us feel ashamed of our lives but they can also damage very badly teen’s self-image. Social media addiction and overuse of smartphones are accused of causing depression, lack of sleep, stress, focus disorders… and they make us act strangely.
Bloomberg Technology has investigated this behaviors and reports: “Keeping streaks alive has grown so urgent that Abby Rogers, 15, checks the Snapchat app on her phone roughly every 15 minutes. She had 12 running at last check. If friends don’t “snap” back and forth for 24 hours, streaks die, breaking one of the digital ties that bind America’s teens.”
The specific Snapchat code every user has to follow.
Screens dependence is a worry that not only parents but society should look at and take care of. The JAMA Network insists: “Peer victimization is a risk factor for child and adolescent suicidal ideation and attempts. Schools should use evidence-based practices to reduce bullying.”
Indeed, we now know that here is a higher risk for a teen to commit suicide when there’s cyberbullying.
In an article called: “Facebook and Twitter harm young people's mental health” The Guardian warns us : “Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel worried and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending. “
You could argue that this has always existed. I remembered feeling bad when I was not invited to a party when I was 15, and this happened without Facebook. But seeing pictures of your friends having fun, and knowing everything about the event you did not attend is different… you feel left-apart and lonely and inadequate.
Adults feel unhappy because of their phones… so kids do!
A survey conducted by AVG in 2015 surveyed 6 000 children, ages 8 to 13, from Brazil, Australia, Canada, France, The United Kingdom, Germany, The Czech Republic and the United States. They found out that 52 % of children think their parents spend too much time of their phones.
In British schools, parents are asked not to use their mobile phones in school premises. Just to encourage parents to interact with their kids. Playing with kids, reading them stories and looking at their faces is essential to make them grow-up simply. In an article of the Telegraph, Dr Chen Yu says : “When you've got someone who isn't responsive to a child's behaviour, it could be a real red flag for future problems”
When it comes to babies it’s even more worrying. Using a smartphone while you breastfeed a new born can seem to be common practice but it’s not harmless. Newborns need eyes contact with their parents. They love faces, smiles and talking. When the mom or the dad is close to the baby but not in interaction, the baby will “think” that the parent is away, not ready for her and she might feel anxious.
The absence of stop button
There is another reason, more interesting I believe. We can’t help binge checking our phones because they don’t have stop buttons. When you read a newspaper, or watch a TV program, at some point there will be an end. Program will be over, you will see the credits or the blank space on the page will imply the end of a chapter. These are implicit signals that you can do something else and start another activity.
On Instagram, Facebook or Candy Crush there is no such ending. Again, I insist but there are like alcohol and drugs: addictions. The Guardian notes: “Etymologically speaking, to be addicted is to be a slave, and behavioral addiction is “a deep attachment to an experience that is harmful and difficult to do without”.
What solutions for a better use of screens?
Imagine that after minutes or hours of scrolling, Facebook shows you a page with the words “That’s it for today. Don’t expect anything great, you’ve seen it all. Go back to your activities”. This would make a great effect I think.
Time well Spent is a non-profit organization made of technology and Internet insiders who are dedicated to “creating a humane future where technology is in harmony with our well-being, our social values, and our democratic principles.”
As ex-employees of technology companies, they know the system well and they have precise demands regarding ethically designed devices, app and websites. You can read the full list of their demands here.
In the meantime, before the “stop” function is invented, solutions can come from the users.
If you still need Facebook and Whatsapp it’s fine, you can keep them. there is one tiny thing to do that has a great impact is to uninstall automatic notifications from the app. You don’t need to be told you’re being tagged in a photo or that someone has sent you a link et the instant it’s happening. Going on Facebook when you’ve decided it to read your feed is better than receiving instructions from the app to do so. You decide and you master.
It’s easy to find on the Internet a list of tips that can help you recover your personal time and avoid screens to sap our energy. It’s simple things such as leaving your phone out of the bedroom and buying an old alarm clock. This matters a lot as many people are glued to their screens even in bed. (How can you have a great sleep (and great sex..?) if you’re stuck to your screen right before sleep?)
Simon Sinek feels this way too. He says: “None of us should charge our phones by our beds. We should be charging our phones in the living rooms. Remove the temptation. We wake up in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep, you won’t check your phone, which makes it worse. Buy an alarm clock. They cost eight dollars.”
Another solution is offered by the leisure industry and it’s called digital detox.
Another company called Into the Tribe offers digital free weekends in order to reconnect to what really matters. Their offer is for individuals and for team building.
In France, a restaurant “Le Petit Jardin” had been much talked about as the owner is anti smartphones. Jean-Noël Fleury gives red cards or yellow cards to people who use their smartphones. This makes the rest of the public laugh and comment and the atmosphere there is light-hearted. Tables and circulation system is made in such a way that people are encouraged to talk to others seated next to them.
In order to enjoy meals properly and in great company, an app was created: Dinner Mode”. The idea is to challenge yourself and not look at your phone for a time you set (15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour). Then there’s a prompt to turn the phone face-down. If you cheat and look at your phone, you get a screen telling you that you failed and asking if you want to try again. This app creates a nudge and it can lead to an habit… after some time people might not need the app!
Companies and good HR are also key to ensure employees get a real disconnection when they are not at the office. I see people in the transports, they use their mobile to check work e-mails. They think that they save time by doing so but it’s actually disastrous thing to do. Because it’s personal time that goes away. Why not read a book during your commute rather than answering professional emails?
Many companies embrace a change. At La Poste, any work e-mail received after 7pm has an automatic mention that reads: “This e-mail was sent outside of the working hours, please note you don’t have to answer to it now.”
Daimler has made an even bigger move. They have created a software that automatically deletes an e-mail sent during an employee’s vacation. On top of this, the sender receives an email that says: “the person you’re writing to is on holidays and will return on (date). Your e-mail will be deleted, and you can reconnect with him/her when she is back.” Nothing to catch-up on, nothing to read … just pure and real holidays!
In France, the decision has been made to ban smartphones from middle-schools. Although many teachers and children say the measure is almost impossible to apply, this is still an important decision and something that has started a debate on the use of phones.
This can’t be applied to our personal lives. The idea is not about stopping using our smartphones. It’s about finding the right balance. The one that leaves us free time, leisure time and lets us use smartphones because they do help us perform essential tasks.
What would this look like? Go to a restaurant with your friends or partner and leave your phone at home. Give your friends precise locations to meet them. Watch your kids as they play or better, play with them. Talk to someone while you cook. Read or think while you commute. Work when you work. Leave the phone in the handbag. Use your waiting time to think and process recent conversations, events or plans for the future. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat could die, your world would not miss something huge. Your value is in you, not on social media.
I've tried to credit authors of images but please contact me if there is any copyright infringement and I will remove the image. firstname.lastname@example.org