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I tried… A digital detox

Illustration by Rosa Morgan

I tried… A digital detox

Our intrepid columnist, Cat Rodie, decides to confront her phone addiction by spending an entire weekend tech-free ... with no texts, emails or social media - a digital detox.

I tried… A digital detox

know it’s a terrible way to start the day, but as soon as I wake up, I reach across my bedside table and pluck my phone from its charger. And that’s just one of the bad phone habits I’ve developed over time. No matter where I am, my phone is never far away, and I check it almost constantly throughout the day.

I find myself scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, mindlessly liking photos of my friends’ kids, or dogs, or dinners. And when I’m not doing that, I’m obsessively checking my email, or the weather forecast, or even my daily step count.

Given my patent phone addiction, I was not at all surprised to read that a recent UK poll found 25 per cent of women in their thirties and 20 per cent in their forties check their phones 200 times a day. That’s nearly once every seven minutes and sadly, I know I am no different. I know something has to change. So in an attempt to reset my phone habits, I embark on a terrifying digital detox: a weekend totally tech-free. No mobile phone, no iPad, no laptop and – most significantly – no social media.

On the Friday, I force myself to go cold turkey. I let my phone run out of battery, practically twitching as the power drains past 10 per cent, then five per cent, two per cent … zero.

I lovingly hide it away in a drawer – but within half an hour I find myself absent-mindedly reaching for it. Going phone-free is harder than I think. On Saturday morning I’m grumpy when I can’t check social media, and I fret that I am missing important messages and emails. My FOMO is on high alert.

But later, at the shops, I start to see the benefits of not being tied to a device. I read the paper in a café, and while I can’t Instagram my coffee, I can enjoy it in peace. Back at home, I realise I’m being more attentive to my family. I sit and draw with my kids, and realise that this simple scroll-free activity feels pretty good.

During my phast (get it?) I read the weekend papers and a whole book. I start to recognise how much time I usually waste, and vow to do better.

But on Sunday afternoon, in a brief moment of weakness, I charge my phone so I can check for messages. It turns out that the world can survive without me – all I’ve received is one text from a friend and a couple of comments on Instagram.

So what did I learn? My biggest takeaway is an acknowledgment that my phone plays too great a role in my life. But while taking a break was good for my head space, it’s not enough to significantly change my phone habits.

Kelly Exeter is the co-host of the self-improvement podcast Straight & Curly. “Taking a break from our phone breaks the cycle of twitchiness (that constant reaching for our phones when we’re bored) – but it won’t stop you binging on social media when your digital detox is over,” she tells me.

For a healthier relationship with my phone, Exeter suggests some rules: “Never have it on the table when in conversation with someone else, and restrict phone use to a certain period of the day (like 7am to 7pm). Never sleep with your phone by your bed.”

So tonight I’ll put my phone on to charge in the kitchen and give myself the gift of waking up with the sun, and not a screen.

Want to use your phone less?

  • Use an app blocker such as Freedom to temporarily lock you out of social media while you focus on a specific task.
  • Turn off push notifications. Without that little ping, you’re less likely to pick up your phone.
  • Set up family rules such as ‘no phones at the dinner table’. You’ll enjoy each other’s company more, and keep each other accountable.
  • Turn your phone to grayscale – it will become infinitely less appealing. (iPhone users can find this in settings/general/accessibility/display accommodations/colour filters.)
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