Screen addiction and how to beat it

- Mindfulness

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by Paul Holden

TV’s, cars, home/work computers, laptops, tablets, sat-navs, advertising billboards, information radiators, video games, e-readers, mobile phones, shopping checkouts, you name it – screens have taken over and are everywhere. It seems that there’s no escaping them in today’s world.

Chances are that if you look around now, you’ll be able to see more than one screen. As technology develops so it seems does our appetite to look at bigger, brighter and better screens.

Is it possible to live in harmony alongside our digital canvases? Let’s tap, scroll and swipe to find out.

Statistics show a trend which isn’t slowing down

Stats internet usage

For the first time in history, more users around the world are accessing the internet from mobile devices than from desktop computers. This is a trend which doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. According to a recent survey, the combined mobile and tablet usage surpasses that from more traditional desktop and laptop computers since tracking began in 2009.

What does this tell us? It tells us what we’ve long suspected. That people’s habits of how we consume information are changing. If we were able to tally up all of our elapsed screen-time over the course of a single day, how many minutes do you think you’d total?

Admitting there’s a problem

Most of us could be forgiven for underestimating our own screen time addiction. Until we acknowledge that there’s a problem it will always be seen as someone else’s problem to worry about. But it isn’t someone elses problem, it’s all of ours.

A study from shows us that on average we touch or swipe our phones a staggering 2,617 times per day. You have 76 separate phone sessions which total a combined 145 minutes. Heavier users interactions are double this, coming in at 132 sessions and 225 minutes per day. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s approximately two hours a day. Fourteen hours a week. More than two days a month and nearly one entire month of your year – just looking at your phone!

I decided to put my phone usage to the test. I installed an app called ‘QualityTime’ for Android, the results would confirm (to my astonishment) I was above the average, and no sadly this didn’t mean my IQ. Over the course of a week, I spent a staggering 16 hours 20 minutes on my phone. On a day where I thought I was being restrained I had unlocked and checked my phone 120 times.

It’s time to re-think just how inconvenient this convenience can be. The quick digital high we receive from mindless scrolling becomes a barrier. We often allow it to get in the way of our decisions, aspirations, and relationships. When this happens, we must begin to see this as a hindrance, not a help.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper at Manchester Business School calls this phenomenon “techno stress”.. “People start taking pictures or selfies without actually looking at the glorious sights when they’re on a walk or on holiday or eating in a restaurant. They’re just constantly posting things for other people, not for themselves. They’re not experiencing the moment – so that’s not healthy for you.” He explains: “Really what people need more than anything is relationships. If you look at all the happiness surveys, what comes out number one? It’s not how much money you earn, or your Twitter followers, but your relationships. Just shut it off.”

Using our screens to squeeze more things into the same time frames as before unsurprisingly doesn’t lead to increased happiness, in fact, there’s an extensive list of known problems associated with too much screen time:

But, perhaps the biggest problem is the inexcusable times where you’re not present in a conversation with someone you care about. Have you ever been found guilty of barely glancing from your screen and being vacant when talking to someone? We might ignore them because our minds are overloaded. If you’re lucky, the other person understands and excuses this momentary blip of absenteeism. But, there are other times when it’s simply quite inexcusable.

I know from experience how embarrassing it feels to ignore a loved one because you’re ‘locked-in’ looking at a screen. If I’m responding to a work email or urgent message rather than casually perusing Instagram or Facebook I’ll feel exonerated. But later, in the moments of clarity away from the clutter of multitasking and context switching, I’ve come to regret that I wasn’t present for that person.

My wife has developed a golden rule in our house. Family time over screen time. There are no phones allowed at our dinner table.

Taking back control

The situation we find ourselves in is still very new and whilst most of us are still trying to figure out what the correct etiquette is when dealing with screen time, others don’t even realise there’s a problem. Despite all evidence suggesting otherwise. With nobody to regulate our usage for us, we need to regulate our own. Is it possible to uninstall some of these bad habits? Let’s start by creating some new ones. 

Top tips to try

Measure your screen usage.

Lock your phone or close your laptop when talking with someone. 

Understand the difference between using your screen and the screen using you. Perhaps write down goals and if you succeed, then reward yourself with some entertainment on the big screen(s).  

Simulate exercising in the great outdoors by wearing a VR headset. We are joking of course. The calming effects of walking and the countless health benefits are obvious. Venture outside and get your endorphins surging.

Multitask without a screen, listen to music, radio, podcasts/audiobooks instead.

The Amazon Echo and Google Home have the power to transform how you search for information without a screen distracting you!

If your phone battery runs out. Take the hint. It needs a rest and so do you. See your charging station as a no phone zone.  Time Well Spent suggests that you charge your device outside of the bedroom to help combat this.

The bed is for sleeping. Do not underestimate the power of getting good sleep. No screen time for at least 30 minutes before sleeping. The same is true after waking up, spend the time freshening up rather than refreshing your screen. 

Turn off your notifications! Unsubscribe to as many as possible. You’d be better served thinking as push notifications as pushy distractions. 

And last but not least. you only get one pair of eyes, so please look after yours. It’s recommended that you get your eyes tested once per year. 

Tell us in the comments below some of the tips which have helped reduce your screen-time.

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