Paul Maskall is Director of Jungo, a Cyber Security, Privacy and Digital Wellbeing company looking to find balance and improve relationships with technology. Paul was previously a Cyber Security adviser for Suffolk and Norfolk Constabulary and frequently hosts talks and seminars around digital identity, as well as Cyber Security, Risk Perception and GDPR.
You can hear it, that familiar and engrained sound of your alarm piercing through your head, rudely interrupting the peaceful tranquillity of sleep. You reluctantly begin to move your hand from under the covers, across to the side of the bed and instinctively find your phone. You’re barely conscious, your eyelids still feel heavy and now you have the eternal choice of whether to press snooze or not. Before your eyes are even open, you can feel the glare on your eyelids and the warmth of the freshly charged phone in your hand. Like a sledgehammer to the face, you open your eyes and painfully struggle to get them accustomed to the light of the screen, this is where it starts.
‘You’re the last thing I think of at night and the first thing I think of in the morning,’ one of those slightly sickly-sweet quotes that belong written over a beautiful landscape, or a stock image of a couple found on a relationship goals Instagram profile. Although normally shared by that friend in an irritatingly affectionate, yet dysfunctional relationship, this actually describes our relationship with our phones much more than it would any romantic interest.
With a steady stream of push notifications and vibrations, from a potent cocktail of social media, emails, apps and instant messaging, no wonder we are finding that our phones are having a much greater impact upon our health and focus than we like to admit. From the moment you wake up, the habit kicks in. How many times have you been lost in an endless playlist of Facebook or YouTube videos before you’ve even got up? Checking Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, only to repeat the same lap repeatedly into the late hours. The average person checks their phone over 28 times a day, but often students will spend upwards of 8-10 hours a day on their phone. The idea of reducing our social media or device usage feels like climbing a mountain while strapped to a boulder, as a large part of our identity is online. It’s tough to break the habit.
Our relationship with our devices and social media, does not have to be a toxic one though. Just recognising and questioning the amount of time that you spend checking it is the first step. Take an average day, start by either writing down or mentally noting how many times you check your device. What notifications do you have? What apps do you check most frequently? Review how much time you have spent on your phone or social media to no real reward. Use this time as well to think about what it has taken your attention away from. Have you got an essay to write? An exam to revise for? Do you feel that pressure and anxiety building in the centre of your chest, knowing that you are using your phone to procrastinate, instead of what you could be spending your time doing?
The next step is to introduce small little changes to our routine once we have an idea of our own habits and patterns. The most effective of these, is what you do with your phone during both your evening and morning rituals. We charge them by our pillows and we let them eat into the amount of sleep we have and how quickly we get up in the morning. Try, just for a day or so, charging your phone in another room. “Its my alarm?!” I hear you cry? You can pick up an alarm for a couple of quid, or if you must, put your phone just out of reach of your bed, so you have to get up to turn the alarm off. You may just find that you have much better sleep, much more energy and increased focus. Try also to have a screen free time for an hour before bed and an hour after you get up, this will make all the difference, but I know this is a big request.
Go through your apps and notification settings and start pruning, try to reduce as many of those distractions as possible. If you need to focus on a task, put the phone out of eyeline and out of reach, take a deep breath and bring your attention back to what you need to do.
We are in a very committed, mostly positive relationship with our phones, but like all relationships it’s about finding balance and ensuring the negative influences don’t take hold and sour it.