In a world where many of us live glued to our smartphones, Dulcie Cowling is a rare breed: she has got rid of hers. This 36-year-old woman decided late last year that giving up her smartphone would improve her mental health.
At Christmas, she told her family and friends that she was going to trade it in for an old Nokia. And she with him she could only make and receive calls and text messages. She remembers that one of the crucial moments that led her to make such a decision was a day in the park with her 2 children, aged 6 and 3.
The episode that marked her
“I was in the park, with the children, staring at the mobile phone. When I looked up, all of the parents —up to 20— were looking at her phones, continually swiping across the screen”, she says. “‘When did this happen to us?’ I thought. We are missing real life! I do not think on your deathbed you will regret not spending more time on Twitter or reading articles on the internet”.
Cowling, who is the creative director of Hell Yeah!, a London-based advertising agency, adds that the idea of ditching her smartphone developed as the Covid pandemic lockdowns progressed. “I thought about how much of my life I spend looking at the phone and what else I could do. Being constantly connected to many services creates a lot of distractions for us and is a lot for the brain to process.” He plans to use the time gained by putting down his smartphone to read and sleep more.
Throwing them in the trashcan
Roughly, 9 out of 10 people in the UK own a smartphone, a figure widely replicated across the developed world. And we’re glued to them: A recent study found that the average person spends 4.8 hours a day on their phone.
However, for a small but growing number of people, it has already been more than enough; Alex Dunedin threw his smartphone in the trash 2 years ago. “Culturally we have become addicted to these tools”, says this educational researcher and technology expert. “They are weakening cognition and impeding productivity”.
Dunedin, who lives and works in Scotland, says another reason behind his decision was environmental concerns. “We are wasting exponential amounts of energy and producing exponential amounts of CO2 emissions”, he says.
He is happier and more productive since he stopped using his smartphone, he notes. He has not replaced it with an old cell phone and does not even have a landline. He can only be contacted through emails that arrive on his home computer. “My life has improved”, he affirms. “I have freed my thoughts from being constantly cognitively connected to a machine that I need to feed energy and money. I think that the danger of technologies is that they are draining our lives”.
She picked it up after a 6-year break
Lynne Voyce, a 53-year-old teacher and writer from Birmingham, central England, moved in the opposite direction; she started using a smartphone again last August, after a 6-year break.
She says that she was reluctantly forced to buy one because she had to deal with QR codes in restaurants and so-called Covid (digital) passports. In addition to facilitating contact with one of her daughters who lives in Paris.
Lynne Voyce stopped using her cell phone to help her daughters leave this dependency
But she plans to leave him again, if she can. “After the pandemic, and when Ella [her eldest daughter] is not living abroad, she could try to leave it again. It sounds like an addiction, doesn’t it?
When Voyce first ditched her smartphone in 2016, she went to encourage her daughters to reduce the time they spent engrossed in her smartphone. “They were glued to their cell phones. I thought the only way to stop it was to get rid of my own. And it made the difference. For example, we would arrive at a restaurant and they would no longer see me pick up the phone”.
Less pressure for some; for others, a dependency
Not having a smartphone “took a lot of pressure off me,” she says. “I no longer felt like I had to respond instantly or be available when I was away.” However, while some worry about how much time they spend on her phone, for millions of people it’s a godsend.
“More than ever, access to health care, education, social services, and often our friends and family, is digital. The smartphone is an essential lifeline for people,” says a spokesperson for the Vodafone mobile network in the UK. “We also create resources to help people get the most out of their technology, as well as stay safe online. This is very important”.
Many people are using their phones to get medical care
Hilda Burke, psychotherapist and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, says there is a strong link between heavy device use and relationship problems, sleep quality.
Smartphones diminish concentration levels
They affect us, also, in our ability to disconnect and relax, as well as concentration levels. “Many people get a constant trickle of requests coming through their device, many with a false sense of urgency”, she explains.
“They feel unable to set limits, with the result that they feel compelled to check their emails and messages late at night and first thing in the morning”.
If getting rid of your smartphone seems like too much, but you are worried about spending too much time on it, there are other steps you can take to reduce its use. Although it may seem contradictory at first, there are more and more applications to reduce meaningless browsing for them.
For example, Freedom lets you temporarily block apps and websites so you can focus more. And Off The Grid allows you to lock the phone for a certain time.
Burke says it would be helpful if more people kept an eye on how much time they spend on their smartphone. “Beginning to realize exactly how much time they waste each day on their phone can be a powerful wake-up call and catalyst for change”. He also recommends starting by turning off your phone or leaving it at home for a short time, gradually lengthening the time.
Finally, he advises putting an image or a word on the cell phone wallpaper. “Considering that most of us check our phones 55 times a day and some of us even 100 times, this is a great visual reminder in a more valuable way to pass the time”, she says.