*the interviewee elects to remain anonymous.*
*minor edits have been done for clarity*
In January of this year, I finally made a decision I had been mulling over for months – I decided to quit almost all social media. Why would I do this, in a world where we’re so connected? You’ve probably heard it all before: people preaching about “digital hygiene” and “maintaining balance”.
That’s not why I quit.
Pricing My Time
We spend a massive portion of our day on our phones. I decided to experiment right before I cut back on social media. After recording my activity for a week, I found out that I personally spent an average of 5 hours a day on my phone. I’m a bit of an outlier, though; according to a Pew Poll from 2016, Americans spend an average of 2 hours and 37 minutes a day on their smartphone. I’d assume Canada is similar.
Let’s put that into context – working at minimum wage, that equates to 35 hours a week, or $490 a week. That’s equivalent to $25,480 in one year. That’s two years tuition plus 8 months rent, with over $600 to spare.
Long story short – I could’ve done better things with my time than scroll through Instagram (some of the memes were arguably worth it). I didn’t use my phone more than my friends, either. Maybe we just never noticed. Regardless of the time you spend connected, it adds up pretty fast.
How much of that was impulsively checking emails and actual work is debatable. What would happen if we didn’t use our phones? Would we be more productive? More attentive?
I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t use my phone at all – I still need apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for business. I still feel that when we sit down to do some work, or do those late-night readings at Club Weldon, we aren’t nearly as productive as we think we are. Think about it – how often to do you instinctively react to the buzz of your phone when you’re buried in a textbook (or a buzz that you think happened, when it really didn’t)? How much of your time does the constant checking take up?
I decided to find out. I used the same in-phone timer (I’m lucky my phone monitors usage) to count how long I was on my device, and how many times I unlocked it. you can do this without built-in software, too: start a timer when you unlock your phone and right before you put it back down, pause the timer and hit “Lap”.
This is probably the only time when the Lap function on a timer will be useful.
I found that in the average study session, I unlocked my phone 8 times and wasted about 33% of my time at the library on my phone. Not as bad as I thought, but not that great either.
Around the beginning of October, I was feeling genuine burnout – unmotivated and nearly incapable of doing anything but lay in bed. I got physically ill, which didn’t help matters either. I was struggling to keep up in classes I used to excel in, and I lost the will to do the thing I loved. I’ve dealt with similar before; we all have horrible days once in a while. But this was going on longer than any downswing I’d experienced before.
When you’re stuck in bed for a long time, ill or otherwise, you have a lot of time to think. I began to notice how much of my time laying in bed I spent with my phone propped above my face, just waiting to crash down onto it. In fact, I spent almost all of my time in bed scrolling.
I was beginning to become addicted to tech.
At this point, it was a matter of staying in school – use the limited time I have and catch up, or flunk out of university and waste the $30 000 I used to get me here. It’s a feeling I don’t think that we acknowledge much. Being ‘forever-connected‘ is so normalized now that it’s almost frowned upon if you don’t respond to your texts. How do you react when you don’t have your phone on you during the traditional “phone-wallet-keys” patdown?
How did you quit social media?
*okay, reducing is probably more reasonable for most people – but here are four things that helped me stop using social media.
1. Turn off the pretty colours – at least during certain hours
This is useful even if you just want to cut back the time you spend on your phone. Get an app (or built-in software) to make your phone go black-and-white during certain hours (I choose school hours, so that I don’t use my phone as much in the library).
The bright colours you see on ads do pull you in and entice you to use the phone more often. It’s visually stimulating, and our brains really enjoy that. We’re no different than Pavlov’s Dog.
If there is one thing you should take away from me, it’s this. Grayscale is such a useful tool, whenever you feel you want to use your phone less. For me, it chopped off 2 hours.
2. Actively limit your screen time.
There are some apps that allow you to set a hard limit on how long you’re on your phone for. Some phones can do it internally. But setting that limit encouraged me to use my phone only when I really needed to. It helped as a stepping stone to eventually removing social apps from my phone. Further into the process I was able to limit screen time for certain apps that really drew me in (*cough* Instagram)
3. Delete your least-used app first, and work your way up.
For me, this was Twitter. I found it relatively easy to do without. This was a great way for me to take advantage of “scaffolding” – changing my environment (in this case, my digital environment) slowly, so that I don’t feel that strong an urge.
4. Turn OFF notifications.
I emphasize, OFF. Not just the ringer. You can disable notifications for specific apps from Settings. This helped a ton when it came to Facebook and Instagram, apps that caused me a lot of trouble. I’ll check it when I check it, and deal with everyone at once. (Reminder: you can have Facebook Messenger on your phone without having Facebook on your phone. Important information.)
Over the next couple of months, I phased out social media entirely. I remember how difficult it was to not reach and check just in case somebody messaged me. But nothing changed. I didn’t lose any of my close friends, I was able to keep in touch with everyone, and with the extra time I was finally able to catch up in school. I haven’t looked back to those hours gazing at my phone since.
I use social media a little bit these days (almost always when my girlfriend insists I see her newest Instagram post), but I still limit myself to less than an hour on social media per day. Not including YouTube – Khan academy is a lifesaver. Without my phone ruling my life, I find that I’m a lot more productive, and just a bit happier with my life.
A lot of what I said may not apply to you.
But I’m still at Western. That’s probably the biggest thing for me.
*the interviewee elects to remain anonymous.*