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Breaking Up Is Hard -- Especially When It's With Your Smartphone

Mar 1, 2018
Originally published on March 2, 2018 2:00 pm

Put your phone down. Seriously, you can do it.

OK, we know it’s hard — these pocket supercomputers are tough to put away. There are biological reasons for that. But say you wanted to not check it 47 times a day, and actually do other things?

Science journalist Catherine Price, author of “How to Break Up with Your Phone,” has a few ideas.

“Breaking up with your phone is not about throwing your phone out a window,” Price (@Catherine_Price) tells Here & Now‘s Meghna Chakrabarti. “It’s about taking a step back and figuring out what a healthier relationship would look like, and then making a plan for how to create that relationship. So don’t freak out.”

Interview Highlights

On when she first realized she needed to re-evaluate her relationship with her smartphone

“I would say it was about two and a half years ago. I’d recently had a baby. And, you know, this was an ongoing process, but the crystallizing moment came when I was sitting one night with her in the dark, late at night, exhausted, and I had this kind of out-of-body moment — maybe because I was so sleep-deprived — and I saw the scene as it would look from the outside, which was her looking up at me with her little newborn eyes that were developed just enough to focus on my face, and I was looking down at my phone searching on eBay for antique door hardware, which is this peculiar passion of mine. But anyway, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I don’t want this to be my daughter’s first impression of a human relationship, let alone her first impression of her relationship with her mother.’ ”

On how we often don’t realize how we’re interacting with our phones

“The biggest point I can make is that we just haven’t thought about our relationships. But just by thinking about it, or just having a ‘huh, that’s interesting’ moment, you’ve already started to change, because I just don’t think we’ve really even begun to think about this issue until very recently.”

On the amount of time people are spending on their phones

“There’s a time-tracking app called Moment that you can use to track the time you spend on your device, and it has about almost 5 million users at this point. And I contacted the guy who made that, and he told me that the average user spends three hours and 57 minutes per day on their phone — so nearly four hours a day, which is basically a quarter of our waking lives. And that is not counting time we spend on phone calls, or listening to music or times when the screen’s off. That is just time when the screen is on. So, to me, anything you’re spending four hours a day doing is something you probably wanna look at a little bit more closely to make sure you actually wanna be doing it.”

On whether we’re at risk of overreacting about our relationship with smartphone technology

“We certainly have a long history of overreacting, or, in retrospect overreacting to technologies. My favorite example of that is the kaleidoscope. There was this time in Victorian England where everyone was actually freaked out about kaleidoscopes, because they were so mesmerizing that people actually were walking around the streets looking into kaleidoscopes, much in the same way that we look into phones. So there is that. But I actually believe that phones are different, and it’s not just me who believes this — there’s a guy named Tristan Harris who started a movement called Time Well Spent. He’s a former designer at Google, and does a lot with ethics of design, and he points out that phones really are different in that, not only do you have them on you at all times and they have access to the entire internet and more, but you actually have people on the other side of your phone actively trying to get you to spend more time on it.”

On recommendations for cutting down on phone time

“One thing is to get a sense of how much time you’re actually spending on your phone. I call that kind of your ‘triage,’ and that’s when I recommend using a tracking app such as Moment, or there’s one called Quality Time for Android. And that’ll just measure how much those little pickups are actually adding up to, and how many pickups a day you have, and then which apps you’re spending the most time on.

“And then the next step is actually to begin to catch yourself in the act of checking your phone, because as we were talking about at the beginning, part of the issue here is we’re just not really aware of our own behaviors, we haven’t thought about them … you often pick up your phone and don’t know how it got there. I call that a ‘zombie check,’ you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I have no idea even what I was checking to begin with.’ So in order to begin to check yourself and catch yourself in those moments, I recommend that you create what I call a ‘speed bump’ for yourself — some little obstacle that makes you stop and have to decide whether or not to continue.

“So for example, you could put a rubber band or a hair tie around your phone, or actually create lock-screen images. People can download [images from] the book’s website, and those are free pictures you can put as your lock screen that say things like, ‘Do you really want to pick me up right now?’ And, ‘What for, why now, what else?’ Which is another suggestion. And really the idea is to just give you that stopping cue, that momentary pause where you’re jolted out of autopilot and you have to decide whether you wanna continue. And if you do, it’s totally fine, and I think that’s another key point, is that there’s no judgment here. I mean, it’s your time and your attention, you decide you wanna spend it. But too often, we do that without thinking.”

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