None of us are switching off properly. We have a screen time addiction.
It used to be that people would settle for bingeing on boxsets or dozing off to a film at night, but now many of us struggle to do that without a phone in our hand. The interactivity and instant reward of social media [or even just checking your emails for the 100th time] has given it the edge over most other leisure activities. And it’s all too easy to be doing it on the side. Often, we don’t even notice how much screen time we’re exposing ourselves to.
But it isn’t just the quantity of time being spent on phones and tablets. It’s the quality of what we’re seeing that’s having an impact too. Most of us are guilty of having compared our lives to what we see on Instagram once or twice, if not a lot more often. In fact it’s almost harder not to. Who doesn’t see yacht-selfies, new houses and expensive outfits without feeling a bit left out? But there comes a point where it’s no longer healthy. The ease with which the internet has granted us access to seeing things we don’t have is easy to underestimate. In no other century was it possible to scroll through an endless feed of beautifully curated photos of other people’s lives at the touch of a button, in the palm of your hand.
Our obsession with our phones affects each of us differently, from mental health to physical, and often in ways we’re unaware of until there’s a problem.
The algorithm trap
But it’s not always as simple as just turning your phone off [does anyone actually do that?]. Social media has been designed to keep you onsite for as long as possible. There’s always one more page to get through or another video to watch. With our newsfeeds tailored carefully to suit our interests, a quick 5 minute check-up on Facebook can easily turn into 45 minutes of aimless screen time for no real reason. Making the most of your free time is important, and losing so much of it to your phone just doesn’t seem right.
Much of what we see, we’re not even aware of. Scrolling straight past adverts and headlines doesn’t mean that our brains aren’t registering them all on some level. It might seem like we’re immune to what comes up, but it’s all being filed away somewhere; oversaturation is easy to reach. Gloomy news stories and a constant stream of other people appearing to be doing better than you all adds up, whether you were paying much attention or not.
The time we rack up on these platforms takes a toll on our bodies too. The average weight of a human head is around 10-12lbs when standing up straight. But start hunching over a laptop or staring down at your phone and the pressure on your spine can reach up to 60lbs as you droop forward to look at your screen. For people who work at computers daily – already a well known source of back and neck troubles – coming home and spending a few more hours leaning over devices while relaxing doesn’t help much. Eye strain and dry eyes can also be linked to excessive screen time, as we blink as much as 2/3 less than normal when looking at phones or laptops.
The news isn’t particularly cheerful at the best of times but it’s been like something out of a horror movie this year. And that’s just the stuff that’s true – we’ve got more on the issue of Fake News HERE. It’s far too easy to find yourself spiralling into the void of what’s come to be known as Doomscrolling. Ever found yourself going from one depressing post to another… and then on to a few more? Realised you’ve just lost a chunk of your time without noticing? Got a sense of impending dread lurking in the background? That’s doomscrolling.
As important as it is to keep yourself informed about the world, there’s only so much anyone can healthily process. Our brains weren’t designed to keep up with the 24hr world news cycle. We see more in a day than a person living a couple of hundred years ago might have done in their entire lifetime; that’s a LOT to cope with. Staying up to date shouldn’t mean completely eroding your mental health.
Pressure to perform
Whether it’s models, actors, influencers or just your own social circle – there’s always someone to compare yourself to. On image-based apps like Instagram, looking good is top priority. But it isn’t always healthy, sustainable or even realistic.
It’s one thing to be sharing that photo of your night out [remember those?] because you had a great time. It’s another thing to be tirelessly striving to make it look like it was the best evening of your life so that other people perceive you a certain way. The pressure to perform, to always be doing the most and the best, is impossible to keep up with. Instant gratification from Likes and Follows can create a reward cycle that isn’t compatible with normal, everyday life. Nobody’s having a great time 24/7, no matter how they present themselves online. There’s no reason to feel like you should be either, especially after such a bizarre year of being indoors.
And between professional photoshop jobs and readily available editing apps, very little of what we see can be taken on face value. A 2019 study in Florida found that 87% of women and 65% of men compared their appearance to people they saw online. The vast majority reported they were unhappy with themselves in comparison. Trends in cosmetic surgery have even started to come and go, based on celebrity fads. People have always followed current fashion, but there’s never been round the clock access to it like there is in the age of social media.
Pandemic screen time
With little to do and oh so much time for the socials this year, the balance has been thrown off. Guilt about not keeping busy has only increased as the year’s gone on, despite huge restrictions taking many of our choices away from us in one way or another. Influencers still appear to be jetting off to exotic locations, and even just seeing friends in different tiers going out for a drink can be a bit of a downer. The idea that digital and social life should be going on as normal just doesn’t work; but the pressure to keep up appearances online is still strong for some. Younger demographics – particularly those falling in Gen Z and millennial brackets – make up the majority of social media users. The urge to show off a bit is natural, but on the flip side, feeling inadequate can come as a result. While it’s nothing out of the ordinary for ‘Got nothing new to post’ and ‘#throwback’ to fill up newsfeeds at this point, there are a lot of people feeling like their self-expression has taken a hit.
Ignoring the irony that you’re probably reading this on your phone, here’s a few ways to cut down [or just improve] all that screen time…
Have a clear out
UNFOLLOW: Remember that Marie Kondo quote: ‘Imagine yourself living in a space that contains only things that spark joy’? Treat your socials the same way. If you find yourself compulsively checking up on accounts that bum you out – just unfollow them. It really is that easy. That influencer with 215k followers really isn’t going to take it personally if you stop keeping up with them. Clear out the content that leaves you feeling a bit Meh about yourself.
Pick your vibe: The beauty of your news feed is that you can curate it. When you’ve banished the bad, seek out the good. Think about what makes you happy and make sure you’re following it; whether it’s memes, baby animals or beautifully laid out food posts, stock up on accounts that will make you smile when you’re scrolling.
No more clutter – Clear out all those old apps. Back up your photos. Sort out contacts. Tidy up your emails. Maybe even change your background? Freshening up your phone and making it as quick and easy to get around as possible will make your life that tiny bit easier and improve the quality of your screen time.
Screen time rules
Time it + Time out: Find out how long you spend on your app of choice. There’s a handy feature on Instagram that lets you see how long you spend on the app a day [Head to your profile, tap the three lines on the upper right, hit ‘Your activity -> Time’ and then brace yourself]. Often, we open our phones and browse for a few minutes for no reason – but it all adds up. Set yourself a few windows throughout the day for checking in purposefully and avoid mindless scrolling in-between.
Clock out: For many, your phone is integral to your work. This can mean a very blurred line between the day job and leisure time. Set yourself a deadline for responding to work emails etc and stick to it! Strong boundaries aren’t just good for you, they’re helpful for anyone getting in touch with you. Give yourself back your evening and clock in again when the time is right – no more peeking at your inbox.
Nights off: Turn. It. Off. Or at the very least, set it to Do Not Disturb when you’re asleep. Often we’ll make excuses about ‘what if there’s an emergency’, but do we really need to be hearing notifications coming through all night. If you can turn it off or put it outside your room for 8 hours, do! If you’re reluctant to be out of contact completely, drop off the wifi and you’ll still be ready for any urgent calls without all the other distractions.
Do it for your health
Warm it up: Avoiding the blue glow from devices for a few hours before bed will give you a better night’s sleep. But if you’re a fan of some reading before bed, or just like a chat in the evenings, make sure you’ve got a warm filter on your screen to cut down on glaring electronic light. Orange tones are easier on the eyes and allow you brain to get sleepy.
Stand up straight: If we’re honest with ourselves, who doesn’t have pretty rubbish posture? Get yourself in the habit of straightening up as often as possible and raise your phone up a bit higher. There’s no need to be breaking your neck staring towards the floor to check Twitter. Bringing your devices closer to your eyeline can ease out neck pains and help you stop slouching. It’s especially worthwhile getting yourself in a comfy, back-friendly position for long spells in front of a computer; you’ll thank yourself later.