3 February 2019

Screen time - Lawrence Jones MBE

How could you have spent those four hours each day?

Chatting with one of my team last weekend, we were discussing the ‘screen time’ feature on the iPhone. I was shocked to hear that she had actively used her device for more than 30 hours in the previous week.

Thirty hours! That’s more than 4 hours per day. Almost 7 of those hours that week were spent scrolling through Instagram. Another UKFaster averaged more than 5 hours per day.

Undeniably, her role is within communications and media, so it’s essential that she keeps abreast of social media, but picking the phone up 94 times within 24 hours is extraordinary!

Now, I won’t mention her name here, she’ll be mortified, but I asked her to challenge herself in the week just gone to bring that time down and see how her life changed.

Challenge accepted!

I remember once reading a study about television use in family homes. There were several set ups: the first where the remote control was out for use as normal, the second where the remote control was kept out of arm’s reach at all times and the third where the remote control was kept out of sight, in a drawer at the other side of the room.

The first group continued with their TV consumption as normal. The second, where the remote control was out of reach, saw a small drop in usage. The third group, where the remote control was out of sight completely, saw a huge drop in TV consumption during the observation.

It goes to show that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is true. Clearly convenience plays a huge part in how we choose to spend our time. When you consider the fact that we have a device that’s connected to almost anything and everything in the world, right in our pockets, there’s no wonder we’re spending so much time distracted by it.

It all comes down to making a conscious choice rather than defaulting to the easiest option – the device in your pocket.

Scroll Hole

I’ve heard the hours lost to the never-ending stream of content on social media called a few things, but a ‘scroll hole’ has to be the most accurate. How many hours have you lost in a scroll hole? It’s a black hole for time!phone

Social media is designed to keep you scrolling for as long as possible. I’ve blogged about the great ‘brain hack’ before. Last year Sean Parker, ex-president of Facebook, explained that the social network exploits a part of our human psychology, in the same way a hacker would exploit technology.

He explained how the social network fulfils our basic need for social validation: You post content, which gets you likes. Those likes release dopamine, the happy hormone. This chemical release encourages you to repeat the behaviour, thus posting more content and engaging further. This activity gains you more likes, and so on. It’s a “social validation feedback loop”.

Look at the way social media feeds have to be dragged down to refresh – it mimics pulling the handle of a slot machine to see what you could win. So when the big tech firms are actively encouraging you to spend more time scrolling, how do you combat that?

Learning to step away

Apps like iOS’s Screen Time are invaluable for showing us just how we’re inadvertently using our time. It’s certainly eye-opening.

So what can you do about it?

Bearing in mind the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ theory, for me, the first step is keeping the phone either overturned or in a bag or drawer.

Secondly, I look to stay entertained in other ways. Do you have a book with you? Could you read that instead of scrolling through Reddit? Could you go for a run rather than playing that game?

In our home, we have phone-free zones. Smartphones are banned from upstairs, they’re left downstairs at night, and are left in another room at mealtimes.

Wales walk - mental health, wellbeing, fitness, taking a break

Taking a walk and chatting with friends away from the hubbub of daily life and constant buzz of phones is an essential escape.

Equally, try splitting out what you use each device for. Researching, shopping and work activities can be split out by using a laptop or iPad instead. Of course, not everyone has access to multiple devices and this is where screen time shoots up. However, it’s worth being mindful of how often you turn to your smartphone to answer a question, to find something or to kill a bit of time.

With a focussed effort on ignoring the phone, the teammate in question dropped her screen time by almost a quarter in one week! Excluding work-related tasks, her phone activity changed to include ‘creativity’ as a category. Non-work activities like scrolling Reddit fell dramatically too. It’s incredible how being more aware of how you use your time changes behaviour.

Do you track your screen time? What have you learned in the process and how are you taking action? Let me know in the comments below.

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