My mobile phone is sucking the life out of me…

Now there’s an attention-grabbing title for you! Don’t worry – this isn’t clickbait. It’s exactly how I feel right now. I imagine some of you may have gasped when you first read that title? Possibly even recoiled in horror at such an outlandish thought? If you did react in that way, good. I’m pleased about that, especially as this is a serious issue within society today. I’ve alluded to mobile phone addiction in previous posts but that feeling is stronger than ever now – we are becoming a nation of zombies, if we’re not already. Some may be happy with that – the vast majority, it seems – but right now, I’m not, which is why this post may be more brutal than any other I’ve written. Spoiler alert – I enter minor-rant mode on a few occasions here…

The catalyst for this post has been a growing feeling over recent months that I’m still not anywhere near as productive as I want to be, and much of that I blame on phone usage. It came to a head a couple of weeks ago. I had the half-term week off work and had a specific to-do list of tasks which I was going to achieve during those 7 days. It was a significant list but not unachievable. The following Monday, I reviewed that list and hadn’t even completed 20% of them, which really hacked me off. The excuses were flimsy and unacceptable – lately I’ve been feeling much more tired than normal, but that’s a rotten excuse. I told myself that I wanted to devote more time to family activities, which we did to a degree but it’s still a rotten excuse – the balance is certainly achievable. Ultimately, the real reason for my lack of achievement is quite simple – I spent far too much time procrastinating and aimlessly surfing the web on my laptop whilst also spending a ridiculous amount of non-productive time on my phone, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, football websites, music playlists, and meaningless apps.

This isn’t new for me though. Having previously identified this problem, I took action. For instance, I’ve previously deleted the Facebook app from my phone, though it soon came back. I justified that decision by telling myself that I needed the app for Yes, You Can Do It posts and updates, but that is absolute nonsense. The website version of Facebook is all I need, especially if I check it just once a day. But no – I needed that damned app. I craved the instantaneous access to frequently check if my posts were getting likes, comments, or shares. The voice in the back of my head was telling me to constantly validate if there was interaction – if my posts were still relevant to people. Again, that is nonsense. I don’t really need that justification. Whether I reach 1 person or 1001 people is irrelevant – it won’t stop me from blogging, so why do I need that constant fix? More on that later…

I use the same excuse for Instagram though I can’t delete that as the website functionality is rubbish and, yet again, I need it for YYCDI updates. Call me a cynic but perhaps there’s a reason for that, eh? Call me a conspiracy theorist but perhaps the dark shadowy cabals behind these apps want us to have the app at our fingertips 24/7 rather than sporadic access to a website? It’s a wild thought but perhaps there’s a nugget of truth there? Perhaps that’s why I tell myself that I can’t delete the app when we all know damn well that I can get rid of it in an instant.

For crying out loud – I even struggle watching a TV programme or film right now without interrupting it by reaching for the phone. Not just during adverts either – it happens all the bloody time. I’m 10 minutes into a great show I recorded but I just need to quickly check the phone in case there’s a zinger of a WhatsApp thread taking shape. Perish the thought if I leave it an hour and miss out on contributing to an epic ‘conversation’. There may be a notification on Facebook that I need to see right now. Someone may be reporting that the end of the world is nigh and I’ll miss out if I don’t keep right on top of this important news. I’d better check the weather app for tomorrow as it may have changed significantly since I last checked an hour ago. I’ll just take a quick look at HotUkDeals for the 20th time today as that vinyl version of Definitely Maybe I’ve been keeping my eye on for months may finally have reduced from £25 to £5 and I don’t want to miss out on a deal like that. All of these examples are absolute tosh, of course, but these are the justifications I play over in my head time and time and time again when I’m looking to justify grabbing that damned mobile phone for just a minute or two (or 5, or 30, or 60…). It’s completely insane.

These aren’t just the ramblings of a man who is finally losing the plot – much of this is backed up by research, though I think we all secretly know that, don’t we? I’ve watched half of the Netflix documentary / drama The Social Dilemma, which explores ‘the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations’. I guess I didn’t watch it all as it was hitting home too much at the time, plus I probably had a WhatsApp thread to catch up on, though I now need to watch the rest of it, and potentially watch it again following that, as there is a lot to take in. Again, it comes as no great surprise that the Silicon Valley whistleblowers regret getting involved with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. It also comes as no surprise that the vast majority of us access these social media sites via our mobile phones or devices. If you haven’t seen The Social Dilemma yet, consider watching what The Independent called ‘the most important documentary of our times’.

If this side of things is of interest to you, a quick search on the addictive nature of social media will generate thousands of articles. One which recently caught my eye is a recent article on an American website: Addiction Center. It states that social media addiction is a behavioural addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas. The article goes on to say:

The phenomena of social media addiction can largely be contributed to the dopamine-inducing social environments that social networks provide. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram produce the same neural circuitry that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs to keep consumers using their products as much as possible. Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites have affected the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction as other drugs, such as cocaine. In fact, neuroscientists have compared social media interaction to a syringe of dopamine being injected straight into the system.

Pretty horrific, isn’t it? Of course, we don’t just use our phones for social media apps. This week, the BBC summarised statistics from a new Ofcom report, following an annual survey which was conducted to determine how much time people in the UK spent online since Covid began. It seems that adults spent on average three hours and 47 minutes each day surfing the web on computers, smartphones and tablets in 2020. Additionally, data from the research company CHILDWISE found that between September and November 2020, children between the ages of seven and sixteen estimated that they were spending an average of three hours and 48 minutes online each day.

Just think about that. The average adult supposedly spends an average of 3hrs 47mins per day on computers or devices. I’m guessing for many of us, that time will be spent on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, playing games, checking e-mails, or aimlessly surfing the internet. This equates to just over 26hrs per week, around 117hrs per month, and an eye-watering 1381hrs per year. You will know if you are above or below that daily average but if those 3hrs 47mins sound about right to you, just imagine how much time you could claw back if you could reduce that by just a third? You’d have an extra 8hrs per week / 460 hrs per year. If you could reduce the time by 50%, you would have an astonishing 13hrs per week / 700hrs per year. Just think what you could do with that time? It’s potentially life-changing. For me, it is huge, and I’ve started to try and reclaim some of that valuable time. The Facebook app has been deleted again. I’ve deleted a significant number of bookmarked Twitter accounts as I’ve realised that they add very little to my life. WhatsApp notifications have been turned off for a while now and I’m trying to check the app just 3 or 4 times per day (it’s difficult but I’m getting there). Mastering this will leave me with much more time to do the things I truly love – write, read the hundreds of unread books I have, learn new songs on the guitar, workout more, cook more, get outside more, visit new places, even watch a classic film or two that I haven’t yet seen. It excites me just typing this so why the hell haven’t I knuckled down earlier? The answers can all be found earlier in this article. I still have more tough decisions to make, more apps to delete, and more bookmarked websites to get rid of, but it isn’t easy and I’m getting there slowly. Digital detox is difficult and I certainly don’t want to cut off completely.

So, to conclude, if any of this rings true, and I’m guessing it will with a lot of people, please take a look at your online time, especially how much time you spend glued to your mobile, and see if there’s anything you can do to start to break that addiction (and it is an addiction with most of us, whether we like to admit it or not). It isn’t easy – quite the opposite in fact – though I’m certain that our lives can be greatly enhanced if we can start reclaiming just a little of that time we spend glued to screens.

Oh, and if anyone I know needs to urgently reach me, please phone or send a text. Chances are it may be a few hours before I see and respond to WhatsApp messages, Facebook messages and the like…

As always, thanks for reading, stay safe, and please do try to be kind to others and to yourself. Especially to yourself…

Best wishes and take care.

Mick

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