How much time do you spend on your phone? I mean really, if we’re being honest, and not lying to the opticians about how many hours a day our eyes are looking at a screen? Let’s take a moment to think about it. You’re probably reading this now, on your phone. You might even be on the toilet (as Keiran so gleefully admits this is where he reads the blog posts of mine worth his time), and if you’re not on the toilet, I bet you very often take your phone with you.
Like me, I bet you reach for your phone the moment you wake up, and least of all because that is most definitely both your alarm, and your only way of knowing the time. Also like me, I bet you hit snooze a few times over, before reluctantly dragging yourself out of bed and flicking through the overnight updates that you missed. Random Twitter creep asking if he can send your gifts from an Amazon wishlist? Check. Dog meme which you will save and send on later? Check. Your friend’s friend’s slightly racist Facebook updates that you were sure you muted? Check.
You’ll then probably tackle the important stuff. Any tweets, Insta messages or emails actually directed at you, and not random pieces of information floating across the internet that you silently stalk from afar. In between all of this, of course, you shower, get ready, do or do not substitute a cup of tea and a takeaway coffee for breakfast *cough*, and start your day.
And by starting your day, I mean you most probably sit down at your desk and start sending emails. Or go out to meetings and start sending emails. Or do something else and think about all of the unanswered emails that you’re inevitably going to have to address later with a half-arsed ‘apologies for the delay in getting back to you - I’ve been so busy!’. Even if you work in retail, for example, and a lot of your day is out on the shop floor rather than sat at a desk, I bet you still spend your time answering phones or updating stock or sneaking peeks at your phone on your hourly pee break.
Soon, it’s time for lunch. You eat, and scroll through your phone, keeping up a less than vibrant conversation with your coworker who you tolerate, but who you’ve made a point of not following back on Twitter. You eat some more, and scroll some more. Before you know it, the luxury of an hour-long lunch break is gone and you’re back to the grind. More time passes and it’s finally time to clock out, so you celebrate with an ironic TGIF GIF even though it’s only Tuesday.
As soon as you’re in the door, you slump down on the nearest spot of comfort (whether that be the bed, the sofa, or that patch of carpet directly inside your front door), exchanging some messages in your group chat about how painful your day was. You think about dinner, think about how close but how so, so far the kitchen is and then think again. Dominoes? You order directly from the app on your phone and feel a little flutter downstairs when the pizza tracker starts to whirl. You spend the rest of your evening in a cycle of swiping and scrolling, pulling yourself away from your screen long enough to change into your old Christmas pyjamas and brush your teeth (although you have been known to brush and tweet, and very well, at that).
Even in bed, you eek out every last digital minute by checking everything ‘just one more time’ and replying to your iMessages even though you’ve already said goodnight. You tip and tap then tip and tap some more, until you nearly drop your phone on your face due to tiredness and call it a night. Then, you wake up, and it begins again.
Aside from that being the longest, most drawn of caricature of what I think our average day looks like, I’m also hoping to prove a point. And it’s a point I’m likely to be the most guilty of (I’m just hoping you guys will be joining me here on the naughty step too).
We spend our lives being accessible, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We put our out of office on so that people will know, yes, we are still reading our emails, but we might give ourselves enough of a break to not reply within 24 hours (although we all know we’re still going to reply). We take business calls at 9pm. We forward emails at 6:30am. We don’t miss a beat, and we do it just in case, just because, just enough.
Notifications are the enemy of peace. Even if you’ve promised yourself a day off, seeing an email drop down onto your home screen with the subject line ‘URGENT’ instantly plays your hand for you. Knowing that somebody is waiting on something from you suspends you in a timeline where you’re simply waiting to work, and in this timeline the stress begins to mount because you just want to get it done.
Whether it be a new item in your outlook, and Insta DM or 45 messages from the WhatsApp group chat, making yourself accessible around the clock means you never get any time off. There is no daily digital detox. You wake up, and you’re online. You go to sleep, and your online presence keeps working without you, stacking up all the things you’ve missed so that you can sync right back in the moment your alarm goes off. Then you wake up, and you’re online again.
Luckily for me, Hannah Gale recently introduced me to the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature on my iPhone, which essentially means that if I’m not actively scrolling through my phone, uploading or watching puppy videos on Twitter, no notifications will flash up and grab my attention. Not only is this great for avoiding that sudden bright light at night time, it also means that if I put my locked phone down, I won’t be distracted by a retweet or new email every time a new notification comes through. It means that, if on a Sunday, I want to really enjoy some down-time, all incoming calls will go straight to voicemail and my phone won’t illuminate with every quick request or unnecessary group email.
It means that I can take a guilt-free step away from my digital existence, and it allows me to make an important statement to myself that certain periods of time are truly my own, and not shared with the whoever can get in touch with me via an email or 11 digit number.
If you do anything this week, give yourself three hours of Do Not Disturb time. A day, even. Take a 24 hours off, take a step back, and unplug. You might just realise how unconnected you’ve been.