I open my eyes to a sea of grey and blue. Soft, simply-colored mountains roll to the horizon where my eyes fall off into the distance where they land on my alarm clock. Quickly, I realize I’m in bed and a quick look again at the alarm clock shows 7:48.

It’s a Sunday. Over the next few minutes, I take my time to get out of bed. I brush my teeth, throw on some clothes, look through the fridge. You know the deal.

For the first time in almost 10 years, however, I break away from millions of Americans and don’t check my phone in bed. My phone lays face-down, far away on my desk along with my laptop, a few books, an empty glass and a napkin that was used a day ago.

I couldn’t find good statistics on how many people check their phones in the morning. It seemed to be anywhere from 40-85% of Americans, but I can’t actually say. There isn’t great data on it–at least not available to the public–but I know that personally for years I would use my phone before falling asleep in bed, plug it in, and wake up hours later just to roll over and continue on my digital journey. In high school, I used to wake up at 6 AM for school and would turn my brightness all the way up in order to wake myself up faster! Yikes.

From 3 Hours A Day To 30 Minutes

The original paper towel I did my math on! Thank you Abhishek for the Sharpie and paper towel.

I, alongside millions of people, went through life using my smartphone for around 3 hours a day while being pretty unconcerned about how often I checked my phone or spent time scrolling. This was an average, ranging from 2 hours on a busy day up to 6 on a Netflix-fueled in-bed Sunday. I don’t remember exactly why I decided to stop using my phone so much (and eventually threw my TV away–article on that later), but I remember I was on the couch at my good friend Abhi’s apartment before going out to get some pizza where I did some quick mental math. I shocked myself. I pulled out my phone to do the calculations again. And again.

Abhi and I are undergraduates in college and we were talking about phone usage. I determined that if we spent 4 hours per day on our phones and slept for a peaceful (and rare) 8 hours of sleep per night, we would spend a full year of our college experience on our phones.

The math is correct. I’ve checked it many times since. Spending 4 hours on a phone per day in college will remove an entire year from your college experience. From weekends at the beach to a summer of interning. From first-time camping in the forest to going to a party. From picking up a book to listening to your favorite artist to the first time you live alone.

From to studying for an exam to failing a class. From a breakup and struggles and heartache and growth to time spent with aging parents–A full 365 days of this was wiped from your college experience to stare at a small rectangular square of tiny flickering lights.

A moment of silence for the years of my life I’ve spent looking at a screen.

Quitting

Getting my screen time down to a steady 30 minutes per day was a herculean effort that took months. But, it started off simple: no phones (or tablets or laptops) in the bedroom.

This relatively simple change reduced my phone time down to below 3 hours per day, and it killed off the long phone binges in bed that used to happen on weekend mornings (wake up at 8, phone ’till 11). It has a twofold benefit: phone usage before bed is known to cause difficulty falling asleep and phone usage after waking up is known to increase daily phone usage and cause stress. Implementing this required me to buy an alarm clock because I used my phone as an alarm and required moving all charging cables out of my bedroom.

After I was able to make it regularly without using my phone in bed, I started working my way off of social media.

I deleted the social media apps off of my phone, instead opting to use Safari (native for my iPhone) to head over to Instagram or Facebook. I deleted Snapchat, which was really hard as it is a place I used to keep in touch with some friends, but I figured I could always re-download the app if I needed to. It turns out the reason why it was so difficult to part ways with these apps is they are addicting. There are actual, medically significant disorders recognized by the World Health Organization and the American Physician Association that are caused by these platforms. Wow!

But, switching from my apps to Safari only reduced my screen time down to an hour and a half per day. I was just going to Safari now, expanding on my Reddit usage as well as allowing for easy access to the same social media websites I deleted. I couldn’t reasonably delete Safari, but going from 3 hours to an hour and a half was a 50% reduction, giving me back 35 days per year of my life. I was stuck at this point for a few months, but recently I decided losing over a month a year to my phone was not acceptable to me.

At this current pace, had I started off my college years with no social media apps or other time-sinks like Netflix and YouTube installed on my phone, I would have re-gained 228 days of my college years. Sadly, I did not.

The Nuclear Option

Well intentioned but misinformed, I’ve been told countless times that if I want to reduce my screen usage I just need to use it less. Sure, I could in theory just use it less, but that doesn’t seem to work. It’s not like I want to spend every fourth year completely on my phone, let alone including the screen time numbers from television and my laptop. I’m hooked, and if the data is correct, you probably are too.

There really was only one logical way forward given I was using Safari for all of my time wasting: Deleting Safari.

So, I did. And along with Safari I deleted every single app that wasn’t fundamentally relevant to the experience of having a phone. The apps I kept includes a 2FA app for UC Berkeley, Messages, FaceTime, Phone, Music, the camera, Clock, Contacts, Settings, Photos, and Maps. That’s it!

Deleting Safari is actually impossible: you can only go into settings and disable it, but it achieves the same result. I deleted the Mail app, I deleted EVERYTHING. If I need to check my e-mail, it would become more like checking the actual mail: once per day, maybe.

I still have my laptop, severely restricted with parental controls locking social media and other websites I wish to severely limit or otherwise keep away behind a password–a velvet rope based on a blog I like called Raptitude. This gentle reminder allows me to use social media but only intentionally. I have made my phone extremely difficult to downright impossible to use for anything other than texting, making phone calls and using maps (the three apps that make up my current 30 minute per day screen time).

Going nuclear also meant officially deleting my social media accounts. The only two I have left are Instagram and LinkedIn, but frankly I’m using both less than 10 minutes per week–a rate I’m actually okay with.

The Pain Of The Real World

Waking up in the morning and not rolling to my phone and it’s dazzling array of colors, I’m confronted with the harsh realities of life: It’s unnaturally hot, most Americans own a smartphone and use it for many hours each day, I’m bored and lonely, a mass shooting or two likely occurred today, and I’m itching to reach for my phone as today people in my country will check their phones 8 billion times.

It’s really hard to cut out phone usage. I have so much time now that I don’t know what to do with it. This may sound like a pro but spending hours each day on the couch, toilet, in bed, or waiting in line while using a smartphone was second nature. Doing all of these things without being connected actually feels weird.

The worst part is realizing how alone you actually are. Checking Instagram and Snapchat stories is a great way to trick your mind into thinking you are connected but severing the social media connection made me realize what a trick and a lie social media is. Most of the people I followed and most of the 850 people who followed me on Instagram I haven’t seen in-person or had a phone call with in years.

Getting My Life Back

Reducing my mobile screen time to 30 minutes means I spend 11 and a half days per year on my phone. Still, almost 10 days straight of phone usage, but it would take almost 35 years at this rate in order to take away a year of my life, compared to every fourth year being lost at my previous pace. This is down a LOT from the 91.5 days that are spent for the 4 hour a day user. Maybe I can cut it down further, since phone usage is NOT a substitute for real life, but for now I am going to just keep working on maintaining this change.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve read almost 6 books. I’ve read the print news at the coffee shop. I’ve been going to the gym regularly, and I’ve gone deep into nature dozens of times. I have a new library card, I feel better, and I’ve made time to actually talk to people that I haven’t in awhile. I’ve started cooking some REALLY great meals (sorry, no Instagram pics for you!) just by going to the local bookstore and reading through cookbooks.

I’ve also slowly started drawing and getting creative again. I’ve played the acoustic guitar I brought with me from home when I moved out for the first time in months.

It’s been a grueling, long journey. I try not to think too much about the past and instead focus on what I can do now, since I’ve almost surely given away well over 3 actual full years of my precious youth to video games, Reddit, Instagram, and more. Life certainly is not perfect, and I have a long way to go.

Conclusion

There are a lot of cons towards screen time, but losing 90 days per year was horrifying. It is one of the key reasons why I’ve decided to actively remove myself from casual internet usage.

Thank you for reading! This is now my second article, and I hope you like it. I don’t really advertise these much, but if you found this interesting (and know someone else who might benefit from this), feel free to send it to them. If you have ANY comments/questions/concerns, leave a comment! I just enabled this feature recently and I have to manually approve each one. For real though, let me know if you liked reading this because I really like to hear that my hard work benefitted someone out there.

Further Reading

This medium article by Tristan Harris, a former Google Design Ethicist, highlights how engineers and designers make their services addicting.

This business insider article about phone usage in the morning.

Your Brain on P***(Amazon affiliate link) is a book by Gary Wilson that talks about a taboo topic that has resulted in higher incidences of erectile disfunction in those under 40 than over 40, and the 1000% increase since 2008 of sexual disorders in young men. If you watch “adult content” on the internet, read this.

My article on how screens display things that aren’t actually there, and how screen time is bad for your health.

Jerry Mander (hilarious name, not related to gerrymander) wrote a book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (Amazon affiliate link) in the ’70s after working at an advertising agency for 15 years. It’s a bit dated and some of it is inaccurate but it’s a great book helped me understand how we got here. Reading around the semi-scientific bits to get to the good stuff is worth it

The alarm clock(Amazon affiliate link) I’ve been using since January. Pain in the ass to set up but works well.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.