I love technology, and I love many of the ways our world is evolving because of it’s presence.
I’ve taken pride in flying the flag for new technologies and often been in the ‘early adopter’ group when it came to the latest app, tool or fad. I’m all about optimisation, so am up for anything that makes things a little more efficient.
Shazam therefore was always a natural fit for me; at the forefront of emerging technology, but also providing an incredibly useful service to its users, one of discovery.
There has, however, been a darker side to my smart phone use; and that’s the use of apps as a means to disconnect, to switch off from the world around me. Apps as a tool are wonderful, but apps as a weapon of mass distraction? Not so much.
Rather than blame tech companies, I believe that the responsibility of how much time we spend on our smart phones lies in our own hands. Quite literally.
Over the past 12 months I have been looking at the ways in which I use the technology around me, and what the energy is behind that use. Am I actually making use of the amazing tools available to me, or am I simply using my phone as a means to check out? Am I taking every opportunity to be present, and therefore give my best to each interaction?
Am I using technology as a tool, or simply as a weapon of mass distraction?
First, I looked at how to optimise the way I operate at work.
It’s incredibly common to see people on smart phones and tapping away on laptops in meetings. Now if that’s just for note taking purposes and you’ve switched off the other functionality; all good. If not, you are bound to become distracted by something and are likely to just not be paying attention. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; multi-tasking really isn’t a thing.
Meetings should be a productive and efficient exchange of information, but can often end up being the opposite due to how engaged (or distracted) the attendees are.
As often as possible when I go to meetings at work, I leave my phone behind. I either have my Mac for taking notes, or a note pad with me (OMG yes, actual pen and paper). That way the person I am interacting with has a better chance (no one is perfect) of having my full attention.
I’ve heard of some companies implementing ‘phone baskets’ – where people hand their phone in at the beginning of a meeting – and seeing a upsurge in efficiency because of it. I’d love to hear from any of you who have seen this stuff in practice.
Then I took a look, with brutal honesty, at the way I was using my phone more generally.
I did this at first by doing an experiment where I was only allowed to check social media five times a day. I wrote about it at the time here. In doing so, I became aware that I was using my phone to ‘check out’ rather than ‘check in’ a whopping 75% of the time. Horrifying. That kind of data was enough to make me self regulate and remove a ton of mindless scrolling from my day.
I removed some apps from my phone and generally became more mindful about the time I was spending on my phone and what the purpose was.
Figuring out what kind of phone user you are is also important. For me notifications are the worst, and I have a ridiculous compulsion to get rid of them all. Simple things like turning off notifications therefore made a huge difference; I now actively check rather than re-actively check.
I also started switching to flight mode mid way through my evenings in the build up to going to bed and of course whilst I’m asleep. It’s made a big difference to give myself a screen break prior to sleeping, and I also delay turning it off again for the first hour of being awake.
I still use my phone as an alarm clock, but using flight mode means I’m not disturbed by activity on my screen if I wake in the night. Those changes have been really beneficial for me.
I’ve since taken that a bit further by installing an app called Moment. You can use it as a phone bootcamp, to train yourself to stop you using your phone so much, but it’s also great for parents to check in our how your family is utilising their smart phones.
I simply use it to record how much screen time I have on a daily basis. Normally it’s around one to two hours, but on the days when I am out a lot and using things like maps, it can go up above three. I average 42 pick ups a day.
That equates to an average of 14% of my waking life being spent on my phone (which is actually low in terms of the average Moment user – so they tell me). When I was at my peak of smart phone addiction, I hate to think what that percentage would have been.
When you think about it those terms (14% of my waking life looking at my phone!) it makes you a little more motivated to make every moment count.
I’m okay with my screen time going up when I know I am using my phone for a tangible benefit, but what I am not okay with is wasting my life away watching other peoples lives. Merely having the app and keeping an eye on the amount of time I spend on my phone has really made a difference to me.
As much as I love technology, I love humans a whole lot more. I value real interactions, real opportunities for connection and my ever evolving (and hopefully deepening) ability to stay truly present in the moment I am in.
For those of you that are reading this and thinking uh huh, yep, that’s me; let’s make a pact to commit to giving our full attention in our meetings and interactions. I’d like to think that the more of us that are choosing to exert discipline over this stuff, the more we can inspire others to do the same.
Leading by example in this case could really be as simple as leaving your phone behind.