By: Toby Mevies/Metro.co UK
How often do you use your smartphone? The chances are even if you think it is a lot you will have underestimated how frequently you pick up your device.
A study showed last year that the average person handles their phone 85 times a day and spends a whopping five hours browsing the web and using apps – that accounts for a third of the time we are awake.
Research suggests it is a growing obsession. According to analytics firm Flurry between 2013 and the end of 2016, the minutes per day spent on mobiles rose from 152 to 300 and only 8% of that time is spent on a browser.
The apps that demand most of our attention are Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, measured at around 19% of all smartphone use, while 15% is spent on music, media and entertainment.
Otherwise, we are picking up the phone to play games (11%) use Snapchat (2%) or watch YouTube videos (4%).
If you are beginning to question whether we are addicted, we could well be. Some 11% of people in Western countries have a technology addiction. And, like most vices, it is damaging our health.
Swansea University researchers found that heavy phone users had a spike in blood pressure and heart rate when they put their devices down – as well as feelings of anxiety.
But it’s not all bad. Doubtless, you will have experienced many of the positive aspects of the smartphone boom yourself.
Smartphones give owners access to information, services, education or communication at affordable prices. According to USAID, a 10% increase in mobile penetration can boost a country’s GDP by 1%, while 93% of women reported feeling safer with a phone.
The key then, it seems, is to find a way to reap the benefits of having smartphone technology while not letting it control our lives.
TEDx speaker Anastasia Dedyukhina founded training company Consciously Digital to help individual and corporate clients become more productive online.
She told metro.co.uk that many of the times we pick up our mobile devices we are not doing so consciously.
‘I usually start workshops by asking people how much time they think they spend online and then we actually measure it and consistently all groups underestimate how much they spend online by two hours a day,’ she said.
‘Two hours a day is actually one month a year. It is because we are unconscious. We are always reacting.’
She said the constant distraction has a big impact on our productivity.
‘It happens to all of us,’ she continued. ‘You go to check your emails just for a second and then you see something else and then something else, and then you just click this link and then lo and behold two hours later, you say “oh, what did I want to do?!’
‘There is research that says if you are doing something and your mailbox is open and you see an incoming email it takes your brain about 64 seconds to go back to what you were doing even if you didn’t open it.
‘If you receive 60 emails in a day that’s one hour of your productive time wasted.’
The upshot is that devices that were marketed as being able to free up our time are doing the opposite and absorbing more of it.
Anastasia explained that faster browser speed – enabling us to access more content – and design features like notifications are drawing us in.
‘Notifications are a very good example. Most notifications you receive are not very relevant,’ she said.
‘The whole idea of staying online longer is being sold as something useful but the truth is that while it is great that we have this technology you really don’t need to be connected all the time.’
The TEDx speaker has adopted what some might see as an extreme solution.
She spends most of her time using a Nokia so old that she says people don’t steal it when she leaves it lying around. Her smartphone is kept in a drawer and then used when travelling.
‘For me it is difficult to use it on a daily basis, I very easily get back into the behaviour of checking my Facebook and emails and that is what I am trying to explain; we cannot rely on our willpower,’ she said.
‘It’s the same as having a cookie in your pocket and being on a diet. You will eat it.’
But she doesn’t think the solution is for everyone to unplug. Instead, she advises people to set themselves artificial boundaries.
‘Depending on what type of job you do and lifestyle you lead, you can play with it,’ she said,
‘For example, a healthy thing is not to use your device in the places where you relax and where you process information.
‘That’s your bedroom but this is also other places such as at the dining table.’
These have to be self-imposed and strict rules.
She uses the example of Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google parent-company Alphabet, who often switches off his phones before dinner.
‘You can choose not to use them in particular areas or not at a particular time,’ she adds. ‘I know some families have WiFi going off at 8 or 9pm so there’s not a decision about whether they should watch something or not.’
She said adopting such an approach will make you more productive.
‘I think it helps to discipline yourself when you know you have a specific time period to finish your work. If you don’t you tend to procrastinate,’ she added.
She said not having her smartphone with you eliminates choices.
‘Barack Obama used to have similar clothes, the same size, the same material because he didn’t want to make choices. Every time we have to make a choice it depletes our will power a little bit,’ she continued.
‘If every time you get a notification you have to decide am I going to have to use the phone or not it depletes your willpower and then it becomes more and more difficult as you progress through the day.
‘This is why it is important to have routines.
‘Some people might choose to say I am not working from 10pm. Whatever works for you but it’s important to understand the cost. The cost is that you are not living your life.’
Anastasia is far from the only voice in the movement urging us to spend more time offline.
Chris Bolin, a software engineer at Formidable, has created a website that’s only available offline.
He uses the web page to promote his personal manifesto, arguing disconnecting ourselves from the internet boosts our productivity.
He argues: ‘The external interruptions are legion and well documented: you have a new message on Gmail, Slack, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn. Friends, family, coworkers, and spammers: each have direct access to your precious attention.
‘But it’s the internal distractions that are truly pernicious. You can mute Twitter notifications and log off from Slack, but how do you stop your own mind from derailing you?’
The ‘offline advocate’ thinks the solution is to spend time both on and offline, explaining further down his missive that if you need the internet for work ‘do your research online; create offline.’
Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris argues the same thing.
On his website, Time Well Spent, he offers four steps that will help us to reduce the time we spend on our phones.
- Turn off all notifications
- Clear your first page of all apps and just include tools
- Force yourself to type and search for an app instead of just clicking on the icon
- Get a separate alarm clock and charge your phone outside your bedroom
If you want to monitor how much time you spend on your phone, you can use apps like Moment, which was released a few years ago on iOS.
Creator Kevin Holesh built the app after recognising how much his smartphone addiction was affecting his relationship with his partner.
He explained in a blog post on Medium:: ‘Relaxing meant whipping out our iPhones and catching up on the latest happenings in social media. Her drug of choice is Instagram. Mine is Twitter.
‘We stopped doing fun and productive things and chose the path of least resistance.
‘About six months ago, I realised I had a serious problem. I was addicted to my phone, exactly like I predicted when I first waded into these always-connected waters. I felt naked if my phone wasn’t weighing down my right pocket.’
But ultimately, Anastasia argues there is no one simple solution. The complexities of modern life mean finding an answer that works for you.
‘Don’t rely on your willpower,’ she said.
‘There’s no unique recipe, just make one step and see how it works for you and whether it is changing something.’