I have a confession to make. I was obsessed with my iPhone.
A few months ago, I noticed my brain wasn’t working so well. My thinking was scattered, I couldn’t focus for long periods – having to re-read passages of text – and my memory was failing. The change was significant enough to make me feel worried and agitated. Then I went to London to see the ABBA Voyage concert and found the answer!
During the weekend we stayed in an Air B&B owned by a fellow nutritional therapist and on her coffee table was a book How to Break Up With Your Phone. I opened a chapter called ‘Your phone is changing your brain’, and it outlined the symptoms I was experiencing and how my brain was being rewired “if you wanted to create a society of people who were perpetually distracted, isolated, and overtired, if you wanted to weaken our memories and damage our capacity for focus and deep thought, if you wanted to reduce empathy, encourage self-absorption, and redraw the lines of social etiquette, you’d likely end up with a smartphone”.
The confession: I was on my phone A LOT! First thing in the morning for an hour, lunch times, evenings and anytime when I had a minute – even when watching TV and last thing at night!!! The impulse to constantly pick it up was draining and anxiety-inducing but I didn’t realise it because I liked picking it up. And this is the most odious aspect of smartphones and social media: how it is completely geared to steal our attention.
Smartphones are the first popular technologies to be specifically engineered to get us to spend time on them. “Your telephone in the 1970s didn’t have a thousand engineers on the other side of the telephone who were redesigning it to be more and more persuasive”, Google Product Manager.
As soon as got back from London, I ordered the book but I didn’t wait to reconfigure my phone. On the train back I deleted all news apps, social apps – in fact, anything where I could scroll. I now only use my phone for text messages and telephone calls. I have whole weekends where I haven’t picked up my phone and it feels so liberating! I have FaceBook and Instagram for business on my laptop and will look at it twice a week to catch up on professional chats.
I feel like my old self. I hadn’t realised how much of my life was being sucked away. How much creativity was being hampered and how miserable it was making me feel. I have more time. I feel calmer. I have clarity of thought and my focus and memory is pretty good.
“…everything about smartphones overloads our working memories. The apps, the emails, the news feeds, the headlines, even the home screen itself – a smartphone is a virtual avalanche of information. The results, short term, is mental fatigue and difficulty concentrating. The long-term consequences are even scarier. When our working memories are overloaded and our cognitive loads are too great, our brains don’t have the resources necessary to connect new information and experiences to our pre-existing schemas. This means we are less likely to have insights and ideas and loose the capacity for deep thought”.
It’s been six weeks since I broke up with my phone. The other night I went to pick up my husband from town and while I was waiting for him, I almost, without thinking, picked up the phone. That’s how habitual it was for me. But I didn’t. I realised that I don’t have to do that anymore and it felt liberating. Instead, I looked around. It was dusk. I saw tree silhouettes waving in the wind and Christmas lights twinkling in windows and many other things that made me feel calm and joyful. I’ve missed just watching, daydreaming and letting my mind wander – which apparently is good for mental health.
I highly recommend How to Break Up With Your Phone. It’s a small, compact book and will change your life and mental health and, if you leave it on your coffee table, it may change a loved one’s life too.