How to Break Up with Your Phone
Please note that I am now an Affiliate Marketer on Amazon. This means my book reviews will include a link to the book on Amazon. If you purchase the book using my link, I will earn a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you. More details here. Thank you for supporting my Book Blog in this manner.
What you are about to read is not a guilt trip. It is a public service announcement. If you are addicted to your smartphone, it is not your fault! It’s not that you lack willpower! This is an unfair fight between you and those sophisticated designers vying for your attention. But still, what can you do? Science researcher, Catherine Price, is the author of How to Break Up With Your Phone. She has lots of suggestions for us. Her story starts with her epiphany while feeding her infant during the night. It ends with an intriguing happily ever after for her, and hopefully, the start of one for me…
So, picture this: Catherine Price is feeding her daughter in the middle of the night when she somehow starts to see the domestic scene as if looking down from above. Thus, she sees her daughter gazing up at her, while she is gazing at her smartphone, searching for vintage door handles on eBay. She is gutted by this image. It calls to mind a wrenching experiment she had studied, The Still Face Experiment, done by Dr. Edward Tronick, Ph.D., at Harvard.
In the experiment, a year-old child and a mom are interacting. They are goo-gooing, cooing, laughing, and smiling in joyous interaction. But then the mom stops responding and the child notices immediately. The child tries all her tricks on the mom. The goo-gooing, smiling, etc. all to no avail. Finally, she screeches and then starts to sob. Clearly, in the experiment, this was the mom’s intent. But it was not Catherine Price’s with her child. She would never intentionally choose architectural salvage over her daughter.
Let’s hold onto this concept of intent for a moment.
As Price begins to investigate the situation, she learns that the most problematic apps – think social media – are deliberately designed to mimic slot machines, which are widely considered to be the most addictive machines ever invented. They are designed to release dopamine, the feel-good hormone. Bright colors trigger dopamine. Novelty triggers dopamine. So do rewards, whether cash (for slot machines) or personal affirmation (for social media). The feel-good hormone feels good so we want more…and more. In this way dopamine hijacks our biochemistry.
It’s clear why a slot machine wants us to stay put, but what about social media apps? As it turns out, they profit thanks to the so-called attention economy. Humans have only so much attention to give. All the apps – and advertisers on the apps – are vying for it and making money from it. We need to understand that we are not the customer on social media apps; we are the product, or at least our attention is.
Now let’s hold onto the concept of attention. In fact, let’s combine the two terms. Let’s pay more attention to the intention.
Thus, if your desire/intent is to spend thirty minutes on FaceBook, YouTube, TikTok, or whatever, good! Enjoy! But if you are sucked down a hole in those thirty minutes that become forty-five or sixty, that’s another matter altogether. Price’s WWW acronym will help.
Whenever you pick up your smartphone, train yourself to notice why you are interacting with it. Ask yourself:
- W – What for? Is there a purpose in picking up your phone?
- W – Why now? Did you have something to actually do on it, or are you just bored, anxious, or fighting some craving?
- W – What else? What is the opportunity cost of picking up your phone – what else can you be doing? (Goo-gooing at your child perhaps?)
Price offers a couple of very easy hacks to help us be intentional. Think of them as speed bumps to mindless usage:
- Put a rubber band around your phone as a visual reminder that you are trying to change. You will also see that it makes scrolling and texting a bit tougher.
- Change your lock screen’s wallpaper to some motivational quote or download the cover of her book from Amazon as a reminder.
From there, she has lots of tricks up her sleeve, but some sound radical:
- How about a tech-free zone in your house – maybe your bedroom?
- Take email off your phone and only check it on your laptop.
- Turn off non-essential notifications.
- Delete apps that are problematic – like FaceBook and other social media time-suckers.
- Take a digital sabbath – a 24 hour break each week from technology.
I went online and requested Price’s free “Phone Breakup Starter Kit.” In it she says, “Ultimately, our lives are what we pay attention to. We only experience what we pay attention to, and we only remember what we pay attention to. So what do you want to pay attention to?”
An English teacher would not like the redundancy of three sentences that say “pay attention,” four times, but the repetition certainly drives home her point.
Practicing what she preaches, Catherine Price seems to have found happily ever after as evidenced by her next book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again. Wanting to experience this wonderful “F” word myself, I am going to try Price’s most basic advice: “Scroll Less. Live More.”
My game plan is to let myself continue to do all I do online, with a slight (immense?) twist when feasible – all googling, social media, email – even Wordle (!) – will be done on my laptop instead of my phone. It’s so easy to cuddle up with my phone on the sofa or in bed. Sitting at my desk with my laptop is a drag. So far, this new plan is working well! I wonder what Price has to say about the inevitability of backsliding…
That’s the end of my blog, but if you want to learn more…
Listen to – or read about – Catherine Price in these interviews:
- With U. S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy on his podcast, House Calls, “Can You Live Without Your Phone?”
- On the Ten Percent Happier Podcast, “Fun is a Trainable Skill (And it Doesn’t Involve Your Phone)”
- With Dr. Laurie Santos on The Happiness Lab Podcast, “Laurie Gets a Fun-tervention (Part One)”
- Check out Catherine Price’s Ted Talk, “3 Elements of True Fun – and How to Have More of It.”
- CBS Morning News, “Practical Ways to Unplug.” (It’s NOT less time on your phone, it’s MORE time in your life.)
- The New York Times report, “Everything You Need to Break Up With Your Phone, From Free Tricks to Phone Safes.”
Read other stories I have written on smart phone addiction:
If you like my writing, did you know I have four books in print? They are all available on my Etsy shop. My newest book, Love, Loss, and Moving On, is also available on Amazon. Please have a look and tell a friend!