‘Research has also shown excessive phone use makes us feel wretched. It can displace real connections or activities like exercise and sleep.’
Checking my phone is like a tic. It’s as unconscious as it is compulsive. And although I love aspects of its connectivity and its ability to amuse, I dislike that I find myself sucked into rabbit holes of social media only to look up to discover I’ve wasted 45 minutes of my life.
In a half-arsed attempt to reclaim control over the device that, according to screen time I’m spending about three-and-a-half hours a day on, I’ve already deleted notifications and multiple apps from my phone, including Facebook.
Others, however, are going one step further and adopting an even more stringent, “digital minimalism” approach in the interests of their mental and physical health.
In his new book, Digital Minimalism, associate professor Cal Newport explains this as “a philosophy of technology in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value and then happily miss out on everything else”.
Newport likens social media to junk food which he chooses not to consume. He says there are many reasons more people are becoming digital minimalists, including to avoid the addictive design of the platforms we use and love.
“People don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy, but instead because billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable,” writes Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University.
We are lured into staying online longer by the autoplay feature on Netflix and YouTube videos, the ‘Likes’ we repeatedly return to Instagram and Facebook to check and the compelling way Twitter reloads when we pull-down the screen, a feature that has no technical purpose other than to keep people pulling the handle just like they do on slot machines, where the idea originated.
“Addiction to technology involves the neurochemical dopamine being released,” explains psychologist, Marny Lishman. “Dopamine is responsible for the positive ‘hit’ we get when we get a ‘like’, get a positive comment on a post or if a notification ping goes off. Much like drugs, sugar and other addictions, it’s the same feeling that arises as we are being rewarded for our behaviour. The more we feel it, the more we want it (dependence) …
“Like the above, it’s not the technology itself that’s problematic, it’s how it is used.”
Research has shown that excessive phone use makes us feel wretched. It can displace real connections or healthy activities like exercise and sleep and is related to increased depression and anxiety.
Some people can use technology in moderation, as they can stop after two squares of chocolate. For most of us, however, the temptation to keep consuming is too great and we need to take a more extreme approach; we can’t keep chocolate in the house or we have to delete the apps to which we keep succumbing.
Five months ago Lissi Turner threw away her iPhone and purchased an Aldi sim along with a $50 keypad phone from the post office.
“Texting is a fresh hell,” admits the yoga therapist and former radio presenter. “It’s quite an adjustment when you step away from [your smartphone] and that’s what I needed to see. I was curious to see, how much am I really reliant on this thing?”
Turner, a mother-of-three and stepmother-of-two, was sick of the perpetual pull to check it. “A lot of the time it was just nothing, but it had literally become a reflex,” she says. “I was feeling so caught in the web of it all.”