10 ways to own a smartphone and still be a functioning human being

Your smartphone is just a 'phone', don't let it take the place of your life and relationships

man addicted to his smart phone

1. It’s OK to be unavailable sometimes

Don’t feel you always have to be there. In the not-so-olden days of letters and landlines, contacting someone was slow and unreliable and an effort. In the age of WhatsApp and Messenger it’s free and easy and instant. The flipside of this case is that we are expected to be there. To pick up the phone. To get back to the text. To answer the email. To update our social media. But we can choose not to feel that obligation. We can sometimes just let them wait. We can risk our social media getting stale. And if our friends are friends they will understand when we need some headspace. And if they aren’t friends, why bother getting back anyway?

2. Turn off notifications

This is essential. This keeps me [just about] sane. All of them. All notifications. You don’t need any of them. Take back control.

3. Keep the phone away from you

Have times of the day where you’re not beside your phone. Okay, I’m bad at this one. But I’m getting better. No one needs their phone all the time. We don’t need it by the bed. We don’t need it while we’re eating meals at home. We don’t need it when we go out for a run. Here’s something I do now: I go for a walk without my phone. I know it sounds ridiculous to present that as some big achievement, but for me it was. It’s like exercise. It takes effort.

4. Don’t keep checking you phone

Don’t press the home button to check the screen every two minutes for texts. Practise feeling the urge to check and don’t.

5. Don’t link your joy to your phone battery

Don’t tie your anxiety levels to how much power you have left on your phone.

6. Don’t swear at your phone

Don’t plead with your phone. Don’t bargain with your phone. Don’t throw your phone across the room. It is indifferent to your feelings. If the phone has no signal, or no power, it is not because it hates you. It is because it is an inanimate object. It is, in short, a phone.

7. Don’t put your phone by the bed

I’m not judging, by the way. Most people sleep with their smartphone by the bed because they’ve replaced alarm clocks. Most nights I have the phone by the bed. My parents have their phones by the bed. Everyone I know has their phones by their beds. Maybe one day our beds will be our phones. But I do seem to sleep better when my phone isn’t by my bed. You know, if it’s in another room, or even just another part of the room. I know it might be unrealistic. But it’s good to have an aspiration. A dream to work towards. To fantasise about the day when we’re strong enough never to need to have the phone by our beds. Like the olden days. The 1800s. The 1900s. 2006.

8. Practise app minimalism

An overload of apps and options adds to the choice but also stress of smartphone use. We are given an almost infinite array of things we can add to our phones. But more choice leads to more decisions and more stress. You were born without any apps on your phone. Hey! Guess what? You were born without any phone at all. And life was still beautiful.

9. Don’t try to multitask

We have phones that can do everything from map read to tune our guitars, and it’s tempting to imagine that we can do as many things, and all at once. For instance, while writing this one point alone I have had to consciously stop myself from checking my emails, checking my text messages, checking my social media. It took effort. According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, we aren’t really made for the kind of multitasking the internet age encourages us to do. ‘Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient,’ he writes, in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction cycle, rewarding the brain for losing focus. It can also increase stress and lower IQ. ‘Instead of reaping the big rewards that come from sustained, focused effort, we instead reap empty rewards from completing a thousand little sugar-coated tasks,’ concludes Levitin.

10. Accept uncertainty

The temptation to check your phone is down to uncertainty. That’s what makes it so addictive. You want someone to get back to your text but you don’t know if they have. You want to check. You want to see the promise and mystery of the three little circles, dancing with hope. You want to know how your photo or status update is going down. But why do we need to know right now? Why can’t it all wait till after your lie-in/meeting/walk/TV show/meal/daydream? Do people really need to check their phones during meetings, or while attending funerals? Maybe if we understood that the checking is never fully satisfying we wouldn’t. Because there is no end to the uncertainty. There is no final checking of your smartphone. Think of all the times you checked your phone yesterday. Did you really need to so often? I certainly didn’t. I have definitely cut down, but still have a way to go. How many times do you touch your phone a day? Or look at it? It might be hard to keep count. The answer might be well in the hundreds. Imagine, l say to myself, if you just looked at your phone, say, five times a day. What catastrophe would occur?

Adapted with permission from Notes On a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig published by Canongate
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