In the App Store under Health and Fitness, there is an app you can download called Moment, which offers to help you break your device addiction through Digital coaching. Its valiant aim is to help you put your phone down

The app is playing in a competitive space, with ‘Mute’, ‘Flipd’ and of course Apple’s own ‘Screentime’, all offering a variety of services, including blocking use of your phone for periods throughout the day. These can be used permanently, or as a temporary solution to help you cut down use initially. 

“Break your device addiction.”

Last year, The Palm phone was introduced. Another digital offering described as a “compact but powerful device for active lifestyles, digital minimalists, and people who live their lives outside of the screen.” Essentially it’s a tiny phone to keep you from using your big phone as much. Something which shares the same number as your main phone, but you fill with less apps for when you fancy being more agile.

According to The Global Web Index, in 2018 one in five consumers began actively taking part in some form of Digital Detox, with the number of Google searches for ‘digital detox’ having increased by 42%. 

There is a big appetite for a solution to this present day problem. 

It isn’t just phones we’re battling with. “I only got 4hours of good quality sleep last night” my sister tells me, confident in the knowledge it is legitimate for her to feel tired. 

I know I might sound a little old fashioned right now, but I’ve never felt my life was lacking anything because I don’t know how much of my sleep would have been regarded by a watch as good quality. 

I have seen people in a yoga class getting texts through, flashing up on their wrists to gaze at whilst in Downward Dog. On The Palm’s website, one of the benefits they advertise is you can “Slip it into your yoga pants”. YOGA. It’s an exercise brought to the Western world to help tackle our mental demons. Demons caused by our refusal to unplug and spend some time just with our thoughts.

What do you expect to miss during an hour of yoga?

There isn’t a cost issue with these apps and solutions that’s bothering me; many of them are free. It’s more that we’ve been allowed to believe, that we need to invest in a digital program to help us tackle a digital problem. A problem which, if we tackled by say, I don’t know, just putting our phones in the bin, wouldn’t screw us over with side effects. By labelling phones as “addictive” we’re giving people permission to be addicted. To believe they need to invest in measures to help them tackle this problem.

You could see Digital Detox apps, a bit like the Vapes of the tech world. Maybe they’ll help, but I’m prepared to suggest that you don’t actually need one. You don’t need a digital vape. You are fully capable of actively detaching from your phone without needing some form of crutch, supplied by the source of the issue. Of course the vapers have a far better excuse because vapes do contain Nicotine, which is a chemical known to produce physical side effects when withdrawn. Last time I checked, no-one was rushed to hospital after reactions related to mobile phone removal.

You will not have an adverse reaction to stepping away from your phone for an hour. 

I’m going to hang myself out for abuse for a moment now and suggest that a big part of the reason we find ourselves spending so much time on our phones is that a lot of people don’t have a clear idea of what else they should be doing with their time. You finish your working day, head home and have hours before bed, without any plans. Alive time alone might leave you questioning the notion of your existence. Passive time in Instagram filters this. You become present in a world less important, a world less real. 

It’s one thing to begrudge Instagram because you feel it’s got in the way of something you actually wanted to get done. But when you aren’t quite sure what you would rather be doing – if anything at all – your plan to reduce screen time becomes more about something you feel you should be doing, than because you actively want that time back. 

I listened to writer Zadie Smith on the Touré Show recently (listen here)and she made a simple clear case for opting out of social media and smart phones:

“I’m 42 I don’t have that much longer to live, I don’t wanna spend 20% of that time looking at pictures on Instagram… I really am hungry for life… physical things, experiences and the face of the person thumbing through Instagram on the subway for two and a half hours… I’m not into it, I’m just not into it.” – Zadie Smith

Though a complex issue with many contributing factors, there were far fewer instances of mental health issues before this “digital age”, swept us up with such totality.

Do we really have a Digital problem, or do we have a presence problem? 

Rather than finding ways to block ourselves for a few hours, maybe we need to check out for a few moments and really think about what we might have to gain from being less attached to our phones. 

Have a think about what you might be able to do with the time you would get back from that use.

If time scrolling through Instagram is passive time, what might be an active use of your time? 

Examples might include: meeting a friend for coffee, writing, reading, learning an instrument.  Anything that gets your brain working and your eyes a little less glazed.

Detachment from screens and a reduction in the time spent scrolling, isn’t just about the time you get back, it’s also about the way your mind is working when it isn’t thinking about any phone related activity. You become much more aware of your immediate surroundings and the value of elements of these. It’s hard to argue against the notion that our digital lives are starting to give us a warped concept of reality. 

Digital devices give us a false alternate space where we care about things that aren’t real. We read layers into a message that probably aren’t there. We feel validated by a like that may well have been an accident. It isn’t a complete reality. Jony Ives, the Chief Creative Director of Apple acknowledged his observation in a conversation with Anna Wintour about behaviour:

“When you’re face to face with somebody there’s a whole set of behaviours that are acceptable… I noticed how people’s behaviour deteriorated when they were behind the wheel of a car. And people were generally ruder and less polite… I think the more you remove people… communication can become very transactional and perhaps not the kindest” – Jony Ive

Most of us have had a relating experience haven’t we, where you engage with someone over a phone call or in real life and they’re open and friendly. Then over email they’re all of a sudden really abrupt, and you find yourself re-reading, perplexed at how they’re all of a sudden so grumpy. 

In the conversation with Wired, Ives went on to explain that at Apple “We don’t see our responsibility ending when a product is shipped”. The company is aware of a bigger responsibility to the people using their products and the impact they have on daily life. 

But, are we aware of this responsibility to ourselves? 

I’m not sure we are. 

We buy a phone without much consideration for the role we want it to play in our lives. 

When might be a good time to start to sit up, as individuals, and analyse the value of our time. To accept ultimate responsibility for how this time is spent. 

Netflix’s recent documentary The Ultimate Hack has re-opened conversations around the Cambridge Analytica data-breach scandal. It’s a great documentary exploring the people behind CA and their relationship to the Trump campaign. 

As a society, we’re very ready to damn Cambridge Analytica and blame data farming for its ability to manipulate us. I’m not here to validate their methods of seeding warped adverts. I mean it’s smart, but it’s on the extreme end of mass manipulation. However, we make ourselves very vulnerable to that kind of manipulation by the hours spent on our phones. 

No media outlet or device can manipulate your mind and perspective, unless you refuse to isolate time away from that device, to get clarity.

What if we decided to take one hour back from our phones to do independent research and exploration on things like elections and politics, which may impact us and our world? 

For a while, the internet seemed to open up opportunities to learn about things previous generations didn’t have such easy access to. However in some ways, we’ve gone back slightly with selected news feeds and cookies. We’ve stopped actively seeking information, instead, waiting for it to be presented to us. 

Social apps are sort of playing the role communities used to. The idea that you are the total of the five people you spend the most time with has a whole new sense of meaning when you spend three hours a day on your phone and only one connecting with your family. 

My phone got stolen recently when I was on holiday. For about twenty-four hours I felt emotional. A feeling of being detached from people which brought a sense of loneliness.

After this twenty-four hour period had passed though, I felt chilled. Very relaxed. Of course being in Italy, surrounded by natural beauty would have been a part of that, but also, so was not having a phone. Because I was mentally in the place I was physically. 

I was looking at the view with my eyes rather than my Instagram story screen. Thoughts like; whether people were watching my ‘content’, whether my ex was thinking about me, whether that work project was moving forward, faded because of the fact that I had no way of knowing either way. I had to accept they were things I would deal with, in real life, when the time came. 

There is value in not having a phone. 

Of course, with modern life, opting out isn’t very practical. But there are physical things you can do to spend less time on your phone, that don’t involve some coaching from an app. You can delete your social media apps, only using the Desktop versions. You could leave your phone at home (I do this now, only keeping my work phone during the day). You can set yourself a digital curfew for when you must disconnect.  

All of these physical solutions will be better than a digital one, because as Drew Magary said in this Medium articleAs long as the phone is there, so is the itch.”

“When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears.” – Zadie Smith