Let’s talk tech…
I have a love/hate relationship with my devices; I rely on them heavily – for my job, to keep up with my family in New Zealand, as means of communicating with my friends, to keep boredom at bay. It is my lifeline in some ways, my nemesis in others.
This past year has brought so many challenges, and one unexpected hurdle I’ve had to navigate is how much time I’m spending on my phone. At first I was grateful for this means of communication; I have always been someone who checks in on everyone regularly, so to be able to make sure my loved ones were managing okay kept me from worrying.
After a while though, it became exhausting. I was tethered to this device that was sapping my sanity, leaving me emotionally drained and endlessly anxious. Even now, I still struggle to find a balance – it is a fine line; staying informed but not doom-scrolling, checking in on everyone but also looking after yourself.
I do find the more time I spend on social media, the more anxious and unsettled I feel – and I say that as someone who feels quite grounded and content with their life.
At one point during lockdown, I switched my phone off altogether. I turned it off, put it in a drawer and didn’t speak to anyone bar my husband for a few days. It was the first time my phone had been off in my entire adult life – isn’t that incredible?
It was a combination of information overload (a side-effect of staying up to date during a pandemic) and the sheer exhaustion that comes from looking after everyone but myself.
There’s been several times since where I’ve considered being unreachable again, but I have responsibilities. My dad is on his own, my friends need me, and I have work commitments which mean I need to be available at least during the week.
That being said, I realised that my relationship with my devices was unhealthy, unmanageable. I needed to change the way I used my phone if I was going to survive a pandemic!
One thing I’ve noticed is that, without seeing people regularly and being able to judge their reactions and emotions in person, I often get a strange sense of anxiety when it comes to communicating with my friends. I worry I’ve said the wrong thing in a group chat, if my playful dig wasn’t taken in the right way. I convince myself I’m unbearable and annoying to the people who love me most in the world.
Usually, I would see my friends enough to feel at ease around them, but communicating entirely through various messaging platforms and social media has this strange element where we can’t quite grasp the tone. You almost forget what people are like when you can only see words on a screen.
In the last few months, I’ve made some changes that have – and this sounds dramatic but I mean it wholeheartedly – completely transformed the way I use my phone. Most of these are such obvious practices that had never occurred to me before. I guess our phones are set up in a way that encourages us to use them as much as possible, and we feel no need to stray from that. But I have! I have broken the Silicone Valley rules and gone my own way – and I feel like an entirely different person for it.
Becoming More Unreachable
One of my biggest fears is someone I love not being able to reach me in an emergency, I know I need to move away from this but I do feel like I am that ever reliable person that will always be at the end of a phone call or text. And I love that, I will happily shoulder that responsibility because I know so many of my friends would do the same for me.
But there’s a time where I need to let go of this a little, take back control of my obsession with being near my phone and look after myself. I know my friends and family would either keep trying me or just call Jord if it was important, so I have talked some sense in to myself and relaxed a little finally.
With work, I try to be available 10-6 each day – I will get back to important emails and try to keep up with my Instagram messages, but after those hours I take a step back. It’s good to set boundaries and stick to working hours when you work for yourself, and it’s something I always try to do for my own mental health.
Taking Control Of My Apps
I’ve done a couple of (perhaps very obvious) things that have been the catalyst for the change in my relationship with my phone. The first was turning off all WhatsApp notifications – they no longer pop up on my phone (nor do any other notifications, I live a notification-free life). To see my notifications, I need to go in to the App itself and check. It was such a simple change, but now I don’t have notifications popping up on my phone constantly, I’m less distracted and can get on with the tasks at hand. Sometimes I feel like if I’m constantly cycling through Apps, I get this feeling like my head is foggy and I can’t quite sharpen my focus. The other change was to move my Mail App from the bar at the bottom of my iPhone to a folder where it is hidden away. I do this on a Friday evening and don’t move it back until Monday morning – again, it doesn’t sound like much but it has changed the game for me. I would usually open my emails constantly throughout the day just out of habit – I’d see that little red number go up and I’d have to open it. It was like an addiction, and something as simple as just hiding the App out of my view stopped me from obsessively checking it. Now I forget emails are even a thing! Bizarre.
I also think a certain amount of ignorance is needed. Recently I updated my phone and it put a screen time widget to the left of the home screen, and I would torture myself at how high it was! Sometimes 5 or 6 hours a day – an absurd amount of time to be staring at a screen.
And then I just came to terms with it. It’s my job, we’re living through a pandemic… of course I’m going to be on my phone a lot. Sometimes I edit entire videos on my phone which can take hours, other times I’ll spend an hour or so getting back to comments and messages or just catching up with my friends. I decided to remove the widget and accept that, yes, I spend a lot of time on my phone. Maybe one day I’ll work on this, or maybe I’ll just live in a state of blissful denial.
Switching Off Out Of Hours
Working for myself means that I often find it hard to know when to stop – in my job there’s always something to be done. Comments to get back to, emails I could respond to, photos to edit, admin to do… there is no end point, no time I can truly switch off.
I try to take the weekends for myself, spending both Saturday and Sunday doing anything that will make me feel renewed and refreshed. Long walks, bubble baths, reading, housework, naps, staring in to space for an hour or two. The weekends are my time – I try not to let work overflow in to these hours because I need that time for me. I know the lines of work hours have become a bit blurred in our current situation, but if you can stick to working hours that work for you (it doesn’t have to be 9-5, I’m writing this post at 9pm at night!), I reckon you’ll see a difference. I also think taking at least one full day off is key to feeling rested.
Less Pointless Scrolling
It’s that endless cycle of opening my various social media Apps that I really cannot abide. It’s like a habit or maybe muscle memory, the way I move from one App to the next, pointlessly scrolling and refreshing to see what else is new. This is a work in progress for me because it’s so engrained in me to keep checking my social media accounts, my emails, even the bloody ASOS new in section! I despair.
I know I need to make an effort in changing this – to move away from my phone, leave it in another room, pick up a book, hang out with Jordie or take a bath (sans iPhone!). But it’s such a hard habit to kick – there’s always something new to see, a platform to refresh.
While I think I have every other point here nailed, this is one I’m working on. I must stop the endless scrolling! It is my goal for 2021 to be more mindful of the relentless refreshing.
I do feel like, although I have laid out these ways in which I’ve tackled my tricky relationship with technology, it is what it is. We rely on our phones more than ever right now, they are our lifeline. If you find yourself drawn to your devices day in, day out, assess where you’re at with it – is it keeping you going, or is it bordering on unhealthy? I’m all for doing what you can to get by, but we do need to keep tabs on the habits that are making us unhappy.
How are you feeling about technology right now? Any tips you’ve found that have helped you navigate being reachable yet sane during a pandemic?