It’s good to see you again, traveler. I’m glad you haven’t succumbed to the void. Come; let’s talk, but I need you to do me a favor first.
Put your phone down.
Tether it to your suit, if you must, but put it out of reach. I have something to show you.
“No”, you say? Don’t cling so fearfully, traveler; does that device control you, or do you it?
I beg you again. Dismiss it. There is a discussion to be had about your relationship with your personal device.
What about my relationship with my phone?
In “Sapien Solaris”, my previous blog post, I mention how us inhabitants of the twenty-first century have turned into the “24-Hour Human”. We’re always on, always alert, always reactive. Sleep doesn’t even necessarily keep us safe from technology, since we wake up and are immediately drawn back to it for a myriad of reasons (checking social media, reading digitized news, answering emails/Slack messages, logging on to our desktops and laptops to begin again the cycle of a new day). Part of that state of constant alert can be attributed to the attention we direct at our smartphones. I myself fall victim to this.
Did I miss a notification? What time is it? Did someone text me just now, and I missed it?
Ugh, an OS update; let me scroll through Reddit to kill some time.
I have two minutes before the microwave timer goes off; let me check Twitter real quick.
These are all questions I’ve asked myself and things I’ve done to unnecessarily occupy myself during what would otherwise be “downtime”, a la staving off boredom. As an only child, I can’t say I’ve experienced boredom on my own time in forever; I’m perfectly capable of entertaining myself, even when crisis crops up and my internet cuts out for whatever reason (mainly due to power outages from storms, but also from the even rarer service outage). However, if I’m not doing personal or job-related work, eating dinner, showering, or sleeping, I’m most likely on my phone perusing the “ceasescape” of social media. (Some more of my jargon for you, traveler. A landscape of ceaselessness, or a “ceasescape”.) Where, I wonder, is the line between entertaining myself and being entertained by my phone?
I recently turned my iPhone’s Screen Time on, which I highly recommend you also turn on if you haven’t already. Sure, Big Apple is recording more of your data, but it’s not like they weren’t recording that data to begin with. This way, at least, you become privy to it, too.
I don’t need Big Apple to tell me I spend too much time looking at screens and devices, but I figured it might be an interesting thing to look into. Why not take advantage of this feature if it’s offered to me?
My four poisons of choice.
In order to quantify the relationship I have with my own phone — and, subsequently, with social media — I decided to perform a “detox”. This involved me abstaining from various forms of self-selected social media, namely Reddit (via the Apollo app), Instagram, Snapchat, and my 2 main Twitter accounts. I [unknowingly] set up a baseline of sorts by having set up Screen Time the week prior to the study, but — as with all data — both the baseline and the experiment findings should be taken with a grain of salt. Self-reported data is a “notoriously unreliable measure” (Denworth, “The Kids Are All Right”), and I can attest to that. Friday, the last day of the detox, I ended up getting lazy with my recording. I had a wedding to attend, so carrying a notebook on me was out of the question. I still did my best to record my phone usage, but not as intricately as I had the four days prior. Nevertheless, I want to preface (so I can emphasize this later) that I did indeed abstain from social media* for the entire day.
(*I’ll get into this later, but I did fall victim to shamelessly snapping a few selfies on the drive to the wedding.)
Measuring My Entanglement
The main goal of this experimental detox study was to measure my usage of social media and see how dependent I am on it. A secondary, passive goal was to monitor my overall smartphone usage, including how, why, and in what manner do I interact with my phone on a daily basis. In “The Kids Are All Right”, Lydia Denworth makes mention of the fact that nearly all of the scientific studies on social media “to date” (2019, as that’s when this article was published) “assess only frequency and duration of use rather than content or context”. It’s incredibly important, in today’s society, to measure all these data points, given how multifaceted and multi-purposeful smartphones are today.
“You might be spending two hours a day clicking ‘like’ on pictures of cute puppies, and I might be spending two hours a day having violent clashes about politics and religion and other hot-button issues.”
— Brian Primack, “The Kids Are All Right”
A Candid Insight Into My Phone Usage
As I mentioned, I set up a baseline. …Of sorts. Data means nothing without context, so here’s a snapshot of what my first two weeks looked like.
To provide a bit of context, here are the apps and the respective categories they fall into (Note: I had to do a little digging and cross-referencing to figure out that the “grey” portions of my screen time usage are catalogued as “other”, which are noted as Entertainment, Creativity, Education, Information & Reading, Health & Fitness, Shopping & Food, Travel, and Other):
My Main Four Screen Time Usage Categories
|Productivity & Finance||Social||Utilities||Entertainment|
To further quantify the baseline, during the week of Aug 29 – Sep 5, I spent 5hr and 9mins on social apps. Of this total, 3hr and 15min were spent on Twitter alone (with the remaining measurements going to Messages at 1hr and 44mins, Discord with 8mins, and 1min and 2sec going to external things). During Sep 5 – 12, I increased my time on social apps to 6hr and 4min. I ended up spending 10 minutes less in Twitter that week than the previous (clocking in at 3hr and 5mins), but I ended up spending almost two entire hours more (2hr and 51mins) in Messages. Yet, somehow my Discord usage stayed at exactly 8mins. I’m nothing if not consistent.
Ironically, Apollo is identified as “Information & Reading” (go figure), but I clocked in at 17mins during the first baseline week, then jumped up to 1hr and 32mins during Sep 5 – 12. I averaged 13mins a day for four days on Apollo, which could’ve been time spent doing other things.
In order to plan for and execute this study, I performed the following steps:
Here’s some context for Steps 01 and 02:
- I decided to give up the following:
- Apollo (Reddit)
- Twitter (more specifically, my 2 main accounts)
- Data collection:
- Measurements: The urge to use apps/my phone in general; “pick ups“; phone usage and notifications (measured via Apple’s Screen Time utility); times I tapped the screen (and why); times I brought my phone with me (and why)
- Method: Jotting down actions with context/ labels in a notebook (which also included jotting down said actions in the Notes app on my phone when my notebook wasn’t available)
As mentioned earlier, the primary goal of this study was to measure my addiction to social media and quantify my dependence on both it and my phone. The secondary goal served a more insightful purpose, as it allowed me to measure and quantify why I perform certain actions.
Now, if you will, allow me to briefly quantify these secondary metrics:
- The urge to pick up my phone or use apps in general is a measurement of how often I want to stave off sitting idle/bored while waiting for something.
- Responding to notifications is a coin toss for me, as it usually depends on how I’m feeling. I feel that on a typical day, I’m more prone to at least checking/reading notifications, even if I don’t respond right away. I wanted to monitor this behavior during the experiment and how I responded while in a “detox” mindset.
- I have a tendency to tap my phone for a myriad of reasons, from checking to see if I have any missed notifications (I’ve been brainhacked by Silicon Valley, and I get anxious thinking about whether or not I may have missed a notification from anyone/anything. Gotta get rid of that self-induced rush of cortisol.), to check the time, and, occasionally, to… stare at my lock screen. (This is a personal issue, but I do it to myself because I’ve set my lock screen background as one of my OCs whom I love to death. I’ll never change, and I’ll fight you about it. Sometimes I just need to see that stupidly handsome, smiling face of his to give me some motivation.)
Once I established the parameters of the experiment, I did some further preparatory work:
- Screen Time was [previously] turned on.
- Slack notifications were turned off.
- (This was also done previously — as a result of reading Emily Westbrooks’ “Always On” Wrike blog post — but counts nonetheless. Notifications are only turned on for Monday – Friday, from 8AM to 5PM.)
- While not part of the detox, this allowed me to identify whether or not I check Slack in the absence of other social media apps and/or to quantify how many times I open it on my phone while away from my desk/after hours.
- Snapchat and Instagram were uninstalled/deleted.
- I deleted both of these apps in order to remove them from my phone — and from my brain. I wanted to measure and track if/how I redirected my attention in the absence of these mindless apps, and to see if removing access to them completely would redirect my attention to other mind-numbing apps or not.
- I have two Instagram accounts, but I only check a single one on a day-to-day/weekly/etc. basis. That’s the one where I follow friends/family/service providers (a.k.a. my esthetician and hair stylist) to keep up with them.
- Apollo was removed from my home screen.
- I didn’t delete this app in particular because my fiancé and I share a love of dumb memes, so I couldn’t bring myself to remove it entirely. I know myself well enough to figure I’ll navigate to my App Library if I truly need to use Reddit, but I literally never go to my App Library — so it’s essentially in purgatory as is.
- Both my main Twitter accounts were signed out of.
- These two accounts are where I spend most/all of my time. I did allow myself the ability to scream into the void on my other two accounts, if needed.
- Messages was turned off on my iMac desktop.
- Again, not part of the detox, but I’ve noticed it definitely detracts my attention — and I’m finding it to be more annoying than helpful as of late.
While the idea of measuring and tracking my “data” usage sounded exciting, I nevertheless dreaded the idea of collecting it. I’ve written my personal dislike of data into the personality of my persona (read: own character) because it’s so integral to my identity. The idea of data is fun and exciting, but needing to read graphs and muddle through numbers? Ugh. Gag. I’ve always hated math. Give me those sweet, sweet, infographic visuals which have been compiled just for people like me. There’s a reason I was so eager to use Apple’s Screen Time — it does everything for me automagically.
Nevertheless, I became neurotic. I decided to go all out: no social media. Well, then I whined to myself about needing somewhere to scream into the void. I’ll take dependency for 500, Alex. Yet, that’s really what Twitter is to me: 80% me screaming into the void (and screaming with people into that void), and 20% is me keeping up with others (via passively reading their posts on my timeline). So I made the aforementioned compromise: “remove the two Twitter accounts you spend the most time on, and leave the ones which you only use to scream my thoughts and jot down vague, conceptual ideas”.
Times I Thought About…
In comparison to the previous two Mondays (Aug 30, Sept 9), you can see that there is a significant drop in screen time. My recorded screen time on Monday, Sep 13 was 59mins (compared to 2hr 6mins on 8/30, and 2hr 14min on 9/6). At the end of the day, I had an inkling that I was actively avoiding my phone as a result of the experiment.
I usually bring my phone with my any time I get up from my desk, and this is shown given that I brought it with me a total of seven times (although, in retrospect, I probably should have also tallied how many times I got up from my desk in a day, which would have given this datum context).
The one time I glanced at my phone, I looked upon an empty screen to make sure I didn’t receive a text from a coworker (yes, I was expecting one). Two of the times I tapped my phone was to make sure I didn’t miss a text from said coworker, and from my fiancé, whereas the remaining time was to make sure I didn’t miss any notifications, period (cortisol, cortisol, cortisol). Five of the seven times I brought my phone with me were for functional purposes, such as using my calorie tracker app to log my intake or to use my flashlight, while the remaining two times were to have it on my person/do some personal reading. Out of the thirty-eight total notifications I received (between Messages, Slack, and my my coworker calling me/leaving a voicemail), I ignored them a total of twelve times (this is slightly nuanced, however, since some message/Slack notifications were grouped together. Again, something I should’ve accounted for in retrospect).
When I thought about Twitter, I noticed that it was usually a result of my phone already being unlocked and while I was performing another action. I have apparently tied email and Twitter together in a habitual ritual because every time I returned to my home screen after checking my email, I immediately thought about going on Twitter. I guess it’s a ritual of checking and removing notifications (even when there might not be any).
I thought about Twitter a total of eight times. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s eight potential times I could’ve been scrolling mindlessly during my waking hours, distracting myself with tedium instead of doing actual work (personal or productive). I only briefly thought about Snapchat and Instagram (once each, at the same time), and I didn’t once think about Apollo, so I’ve identified how much more important Twitter is to me than anything else. At one point during this day, I said aloud to myself, “Twitter is my drug of choice”. Well, clearly, me.
I also made note that I may potentially be avoiding my phone as a result of this experiment…
Times I Thought About…
At the start of my work day, my desktop decided it needed to install updates (not unheard of, unfortunately), and this was the first time I had an unnecessary urge to use my phone. This was due to the fact that I would’ve had to sit and wait for the update to install and complete, and I normally spend this time scrolling through Reddit or Twitter to take my mind off the waiting. I didn’t feel better or worse for not using social media, but this was the first time since beginning the “detox” that I noticed an actual urge to reach for my phone.
One of the reasons my “tag-along” count increased is because there ended up being a small mishap during work hours (nothing drastic, but something that required fixing the next day), so one of the times I brought my phone with me was, quote, “in case I get hounded…”. The other reason it increased was because I ended up actually using Spotify on mobile to do chores (such as feeding the cats or performing my daily skincare routine), and to do some more personal reading. Listening to music is one of the biggest factors of whether or not I bring my phone along with me. (Hopefully I’ll never need to do a study on my addiction to music because that’s one thing I’ll never give up. You can pry my phone playing “Alastor’s Game” for the trillionth time out of my cold, dead hands.)
Glancing at my phone today consisted of me expecting (and perhaps realizing I had gotten, without truly realizing it) a text and receiving one — so I glanced at my phone twice in search of a notification that ended up being there — and because I couldn’t actively reach my phone, so I monitored it. All three of the times I tapped my phone were to make sure I didn’t miss a text or notification (one of the three times I actually did have a notification). Out of the twenty-three total Message notifications I received, I ignored them a total of eleven times (also nuanced due to notification groupings; this is a constant in this study).
Recently, I played through one of my favorite old games twice (for, like, the 900th time). I mention this because Ōkami has always been a huge source of inspiration and awe for me, and one of my favorite characters is Waka. Three of the eight times I thought about using Twitter were due to the fact that Waka’s design and character as a whole inspired me to create yet another new character for my WIP game, Musings Of (as if 41+ characters weren’t enough). Watari’s concept has been simmering in my brain since the first playthrough, but enough ideas came together where I was able to finally pin him (and his name!) down.
I didn’t think about any social media apps other than Twitter today, which I also thought about a total of eight times (didn’t I say I’m nothing if not consistent?). I did, however, allow myself to tap the little bird icon a total of three (3) separate times to string together a series of short threads, which were a result of a burst of creative energy on my part. I allowed myself the opportunity to tweet on this particular account in case I had anything I needed to jot down or get out, so I was glad to be able to do that (although I was left wondering if I was stringing together tweets in defiance of my social media ban, or if I would’ve authored all those tweets regardless).
Enlightenment was blessed upon me today, as one of the times I thought about using Twitter was in regard to wanting to tweet some nonsensical, snarky comment about how dehydrated I was — and I immediately said aloud to myself, “Oh my god, I’m ridiculous”. I made note of this interaction with myself in my notebook, then continued the conversation by saying “I think about Twitter a lot”. Thanks, me; as if I didn’t already know.
Regardless of the substantial amount of time I used my phone (Spotify usage notwithstanding, since it continues to play even when my phone is locked!), I solidified the fact that I am avoiding my phone as a result of this experiment. I’m more prone to picking up my phone to read through a notification if I see one come in, and I ended up overestimating the amount of times I thought I’d glance at or tap my phone today. The circumstance of the mishap at work, however, added an unfortunate amount of extra time spent on my phone — as I spent a total of 26 minutes in Messages (but at least I wasn’t spending that time idly).
Times I Thought About…
Out of the five times I brought my phone with me, two were for functionality/listening to music (I’ve clearly allowed myself the luxury and reward of listening to music the past two days), two were related to my skincare routine/etc., and one was due to the fact that I use my phone as a mobile walkthrough reference guide. Getting ahead on graduate work allowed me to spend some time playing Destiny, and when I play video games I usually have my phone nearby so I can look things up (I’ve always been a walkthrough player, but I will reserve it until after I’ve done my own in-game searching/experimenting).
The one time I glanced at my phone, I made sure I wasn’t missing a notification. My brain is still releasing cortisol, but now in a different manner. I tapped my phone a total of five times, and I noticed today that I swiped through both of my app screens two times as a means of checking that I don’t have any missed notifications. (The only app on my second screen that would notify me of anything is Snapchat, mind you, which I deleted. I didn’t think about Snapchat today, but apparently my brain was still checking for missed notifications.) Of the twenty-nine Message notifications I received, I ignored them a total of seven times (still accounting for that nuance of grouped messages).
Today was the first day I didn’t think about social media at all — not even Twitter. I imagine this was due in part to my playing Destiny and directing my attention towards something intensive/focus-required, but it’s an astonishing feat nonetheless. I keep looking over this data as I proofread and reread this post, and I’m most proud of this day. Sigh.
This was the day I noticed a shift in my thinking and behavior. I didn’t think about social media at all, but I did end up tapping my screen more mindlessly and swiped through both app screens in search of lost notifications. This is a habit of mine that I perform when I more or less know I don’t have any missed notifications, but my brain is desperately saying, “Well, just look — maybe you do“. Today I definitely showed some alternate effects of brain hacking.
Times I Thought About…
I swiped through my screens twice today, as well, but my glance and tap count decreased. The one time I did glance at my screen, was to read the time. Tapping, however, still served the same purpose of checking for potentially missed notifications. Bringing my phone with me served, yet again, functional purposes, as I split the difference between using Spotify/my calorie tracker and doing some reading.
Of the fifteen notifications I received (between Messages and Slack), I ignored them a total of three times (nuanced…). I clearly haven’t been doing terribly well with ignoring my notifications, even though at the time I thought I was. Something I need to be more mindful of.
Today I caved and ended up logging into both of my Twitter accounts on my desktop. This, however, was done because I received emails in my inbox letting me know that my best friend had sent me DMs (direct messages). I talk to her across every platform known to man (texting, Snapchat, Instagram, Discord, Twitter) about things that run the spectrum of information (we tend to keep our conversations streamlined to specific platforms, but still talk about anything and everything). I checked my notifications briefly only because I had them (I didn’t check out of anxiety to be greeted to nothingness!), but I did not respond or react to them (this was to see whether I had missed a tweet/mention from said friend). I had DM’s on both of my accounts, and I read through them all. However, I must mention that I *did not* respond to anything. I only read through them because Twitter is how I keep up with friends (Cin included), and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t “ignoring” anything critical as a result of the detox.
I didn’t think about social media outside of the fact that it was brought to my attention via my inbox. If it weren’t for the emails I received about my direct messages, I most likely wouldn’t have thought actively about Twitter; I did make note of the fact that I thought about Twitter today in passing, but immediately dismissed it.
Times I Thought About…
Today was a true test of strength and willpower. I took a vacation day from work (hence the 0 MFA approvals), as my fiancé and I had a wedding to attend. He drove, which means I would normally pass some of the time spent in the car by perusing Twitter or Reddit. I did neither of those things today, and I wasn’t even phased by it. There were several (3, to be exact) moments throughout the day where I thought about tweeting on my private account (just things I wanted to echo into a chamber and redirect from my chest to the void), but actively argued against it. The three times I tapped my phone were all due to me trying to stay on schedule. I tapped twice while doing my hair and makeup to make sure I wasn’t taking too long, and once later to make sure I’d be dressed in enough time to be able to relax and do last-minute double-checks before leaving.
The four times I brought my phone with me included going shopping briefly, which I noticed I checked twice to make sure I had it in my pocket. I checked once before leaving the house, and once before leaving the store. I do this normally, but I’m wondering if me actively avoiding my phone this week made me hyper-anxious of its presence on my person when I deliberately took it with me somewhere external to the house. The other times I brought it with me were for functional purposes, such as listening to music and doing some personal reading.
Semi-unfortunately, my vanity lead me to reinstall Snapchat — as I was gripped by the need to snap a few selfies on the car ride there. Ever since quarantine began in 2019, I’ve done my hair and makeup less and less, so the few times I put myself completely together feel like a special occasion (and are usually due to special occasions) that I feel the need to document. (There are no mirrors in space; let me have my digital equivalent. I was an ugly tween/teen, so once I started feeling “pretty” later in life, I took that feeling by the throat and have refused to let go.) Snapchat for me is 90% a selfie-taking apparatus, and a 10% means of brief communication. I did have three notifications (that I allowed myself to check), but I did not open, respond to, or acknowledge any of them.
(As I mentioned earlier in this post, I ended up getting lazy with my note-taking today. I still maintained diligence about recording the quantifiable metrics, but did so when I had the chance (instead of when exactly they happened). I don’t believe it affected my final measurements, but I felt the need to caution you anyway, spacefarer. I did relay that self-reported data is unreliable, so here I am now proving that point.)
Nevertheless, today was my best notification “receive : ignore” ratio. Out of the ten total notifications (both Messages and Slack — eleven if you include the grouping of three Snapchat notifications I ignored) I received, I ignored seven of them. I’m sure this was due to the fact that I was at a wedding, but perhaps I should employ that same stream of mentality elsewhere.
My fiancé and I did a lot of traveling and interacting today, given the wedding. Normally, I would find myself perusing Twitter and/or Reddit if today were any other day, but I didn’t use social media at all. I found myself thinking about potential tweets I would jot down in my private account, but continuously asked myself “What’s the point?”. This was the final culmination in my “detox” from Twitter, as I began to question my motives for tweeting. Most of the thoughts I had were just personal things I wanted to get off my chest and out of my head, but I ended up refocusing my attention back on the situation in front of me. I found myself coming back to the thoughts I hadn’t tweeted, and wondered later (and I’m still wondering) if tweeting them would’ve allowed me to rid them from my brain so I could (and would) stop dwelling on them.
Days 6 & 7 — Where I Am Now
To be candid, this detox left me feeling rather shallow. Sure, I abstained from social media for an [almost] full five days, but I immediately signed back into my Twitter account on Saturday and almost fully reverted to my former ways. Do I need to check Twitter? Absolutely not. But what I found in my absence is that I really do rely on it to keep up with friends, and there were artists I followed that released art/merch/pins that, while I didn’t purchase any of it, I found I had missed. I am aware that I embody “FOMO” (fear of missing out), but it’s because we have the tools to avoid that. A week average of fifty-eight minutes is far better than three hours, so let’s see if I can maintain that going into this upcoming week.
I did find, however, that I’m not as dependent on my phone as I think I am, but I underestimate my relationship with it. I actively avoided using or touching my phone during the detox due to the active mindset I was in, whereas I’ve noticed I’ve touched and responded to it more often in the past two days following the experiment. If I could put myself back in that mindset of “detoxification”, I’m sure I could certainly maintain this rhythm. I think I had an initial rush to check Twitter these past two days as a result of reverse psychology, so I wonder if I’ll touch it less and less going forward. I can always set up time limits (and am actively thinking about doing so) via Screen Time if my ridiculous addiction to the bird app flares up. Putting my phone face down and turning on the “Deliver Quietly” feature for notifications might also be worth it, as well. Perhaps I’ll glance at my phone fewer times if it’s “back” is essentially facing me.
In response to the preparatory work parameters I wanted to quantify, I found that I didn’t check Slack more often during the detox than I did normally. In fact, I technically checked it less, since the only time I really checked it actively was during that time of minor mishap on Tuesday (and I wasn’t technically “checking” it mindlessly, as I saw that I had muted notifications that needed tending to — which were of my own doing, since I started the conversation). I only directed my attention towards personal reading on the Word app, since the time I spent reading would’ve otherwise (potentially) been spent on Reddit/Twitter. I had already started doing personal reading during these specific times, so while this did change (I spent all that time in Word, as opposed to between the three apps), I accounted for it mentally and saw this metric coming. I also noticed that I only had the urge to reach for/use my phone once during the entire experimental study, as by Friday I had essentially given up on using my phone for non-functional purposes.
Nevertheless, I’m surprised at the time of writing this blog post to find that I have no active desire to reinstall Instagram or place Apollo back on my home screen. I’ve passively wanted to log back into that singular Instagram account, but said to myself “if anyone posted a story, I’ve already missed it. What’s the point?”. If I really want to check Apollo, I can still navigate to it in the App Library, but I think leaving it slightly inaccessible will do me some good.
The strongest takeaway I got from this study was that I need to more warmly embrace the concept of “asynchronous communication”, which Wrike blog author Valerie Loftus describes in her blog post as the ability to send a message without expecting an immediate response.
I have found that mutual respect and rhythm with some people (and removing Messages from my desktop definitely helped make me feel less anxious to respond in a timely manner), but I need to broaden it to others — and encourage them to embrace it as well. In that same vein, we could all embrace that mentality a bit more, in all honesty. Stop obsessively checking your phone, and allow yourself — and the people around you — to breathe for a minute. Entanglement can only lead to suffocation, unless you free yourself from the wires to which you (and I) so preciously clutch.