Smartphone norms

‘Having several phone-free periods per day is essential for our well-being,’ says Rangan Chatterjee, in his book Happy Mind Happy Life.  I’m listening to it on Audible and Chapter 8 is on smartphone use.

Chatterjee notes that most of us are literally never without our devices.  He says this is having a truly destructive impact on us.  In his view our phones downgrade our time, relationships and cognitive capacity.  Even when we are not actually using them, their simple presence can be a distraction, an alluring invitation to interact even without any specific reason for doing so.

He’s fairly forceful in his argument and backs it up with stats.  For example,  he quotes Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: the rise of addictive technology, who reports that most of us (over 88% of one sample) are spending more than 1hr/day using our phones – many spending as much as a quarter of our waking hours interacting with it.

Alter is of the view, like Rangan Chatterjee that, even the visible presence of a smart phone in a room seems to undermine our attempts to interact with other human beings.  Chatterjee points readers/listeners to his Feel better podcast 132 that is a discussion between the two of them.

I wondering whether I agree with Alter and Chatterjee.  I find I do.  The other day I was looking at my phone – I can’t remember why and my grandson, in the room with me, was trying to have a conversation with me.  Surely, he is more important than whatever I was looking at on my phone.  I put it away to concentrate on him, almost hearing Chatterjee saying, ‘See what I mean?’ in the supportive way that he presents.

Now I’m conscious of smartphone habits I’ve slipped into, it’s time to change some, give up on others, and introduce new, healthier ones.  I got some ideas as the chapter progressed. 

What Chatterjee says he’s done – in what he calls his ‘fight back against technologists and advertisers’ who are trying to hook you into their apps – is the following, and he suggests his readers will have a happier and healthier life if they do the same:

  1. Take personal and work email apps off his phone.  He suggests only reading and responding to emails when you are sitting at your laptop and being intentional that this is the time for emails.  I haven’t done this yet, but I’m on the verge of doing so.  It seems like a big step – but maybe a necessary one.  I don’t need to deal with them randomly through the day as they come in.
  2. Take social media apps off his phones – I totally agree with this one and I did it a while ago.  I took of LinkedIn and Twitter (the only two social media apps I use).  I’ve now completely deleted my Twitter account and deleting my LinkedIn one is on the cards.  I think it will go soon.
  3. Use the ‘do not disturb’ function to create time to be present without the option to be distracted by your phone.  I have that function on at night, but I’ve not thought of using it at other times.  I’m going to experiment when I’m in social face to face situations. A similar suggestion on this was to put your phone on airplane mode.  
  4. Turn off notifications (make it harder to fight technologists).  I’ve also done this.  I can’t bear hearing other people’s phones binging and I never have had my notifications as sound.  I’ve now turned off the visual notifications too.  
  5. Get intentional with your use of phone.  Turn it off/disengage with it when you are at home.  Ask yourself, what do you really need from your phone?  Is it taking more away from us than it gives?  He is firm in his view that the apps on your phone and the way you use it should really enhance your life rather than take away from it:  we need to be in control of our phones, not be in thrall to it.  How do I stop being a slave to my phone? 

Chatterjee recommends more actions that make it easier for us to regain control of our phones:

  1. Look at the apps and delete those you do not need or use  – I do a regular cull of apps I don’t use, often they turn out to be ones I’ve put on for something specific – like an airline app that gives me info about a flight.  I don’t need the app once I’ve taken the flight.
  2. Customise your home screen – put apps in a folder and move it away from home screen so you don’t mindlessly use any of them.  This was a great idea which I’ve just done this morning.  I think it will work well
  3. Put your phone in a different room when doing intense work that needs your full concentration.  Just having to get up and move rooms makes is harder to use.
  4. Write your phone norms.  We have social norms e.g. not spitting on the street, and in Chatterjee’s view phone norms would be very helpful in helping  us to live with other people with mutual respect.  He sets readers the task of writing  ‘Five phone norms for you and your family’,  giving ideas on what could be included:
    •  When out and about put your phone in a bag.
    •  Agree phone free times in the house.
    •  Agree phone free areas in the house. 
    • Don’t have your phone in your bedroom, or if you must have it in the bedroom, put in a drawer on the other side of the room and get a stand-alone alarm clock.
    • When you’re out for a walk, or similar, with someone don’t take your phone, talk with each other instead. 
    • Have separate devices for work related apps and personal apps, or have a non-smart phone for just calls and text messages that you use the majority of the time, only using the smartphone for specific things e.g. maps.
    •  Consider not using your phone in front of your children.
    • At a meal in a restaurant, the first person who uses phone pays for everyone’s meal.   
    • Put phone on airplane mode when using certain apps e.g. music or meditation.

My own phone use shows me that Chatterjee’s right in saying that if we’re constantly flipping our attention to and from our phones, we’re not going to be concentrating on anything, and we’re using significant energy in managing the shifts back and forth. 

Five phone norms for me begin with not using it when the children are around, and include putting it on airplane mode or do not disturb at points, and having it in a different room when I’m writing.  I’ll try out those three first, and if they work add in another two. Perhaps making more use of the do not disturb function and deleting my email apps.

Other suggestions on smartphone use and norms for wellbeing welcomed.

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