Monday, October 22, 2018 | ePaper

It's time to take back control of smartphone

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Rayhan Ahmed Topader :
With more than half of young adults admitting to excessive use of smartphones, we look at the apps designed to break the habit
Stuart Dredge.As a tech writer who has written regularly about apps, I'm well aware of the addictive nature of smartphones. It was during a 2am panic attack after waking up, reaching for my smartphone and reading a tweet storm about the latest Donald Trump controversy that I realised I may have a problem. That, and the fact that even my 10-year-old son had started telling me to put my phone down when he caught me not paying attention. I'm not alone. When Deloitte surveyed 4,150 British adults in 2017 about their mobile habits, 38% said they thought they were using their smartphone too much. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, that rose to more than half. Habits such as checking apps in the hour before we go to sleep (79% of us do this, according to the study) or within 15 minutes of waking up (55%) may be taking their toll on our mental health. It's not necessarily the top thing when my clients come in, but it's often in the mix, tied in with anxiety or insomnia or relationship issues," says psychotherapist Hilda Burke, a spokesperson for National Unplugging Day in 2016 and 2017. Particularly when anxiety and insomnia's there, it's rare that it's not related in some way to heavy use of digital devices Often, the apps themselves aren't helping: from games to social networks, they're precision engineered to create and feed our interaction neediness.
According to British apps developer Nick Kuh: A lot of these companies are employing behavioural psychologists to really nail that: finding ways to draw you back in. I've worked on apps like that myself, and it's not something I'm proud of. It's so powerful to be truly bored: nothing in your head, so you can daydream. I think that's when great ideas come.Kuh is trying to make amends: his latest app is called Mute, and launched for iPhone this month (free). It's one of several apps Space and Moment are others that track how often you unlock your phone and how much time you spend using it, in order to help you reduce your time on it. For Space CEO Georgie Powell, the wake-up moment for me was when I was breastfeeding my daughter while looking at photos of her on my phone. I was so distracted by my phone, I wasn't present with her!. Norwegian app Hold even tries to incentivise its student users by offering points for reducing their smartphone habit, which they can exchange for snacks and cinema tickets. Raising awareness of one's own smartphone use can be the first step in the right direction of decreasing smartphone use, says Dr Daria Kuss from Nottingham Trent University. Often, individuals are not aware of the frequency and extent of their smartphone use. Dr Sarita Robinson, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, says: It is a little like getting on the scales after Christmas and being confronted with how much weight you have really put on when adding up your phone use over a week, the amount of time you are wasting can come as a big surprise.
Smartphone addiction, sometimes colloquially known as nomophobia (fear of being without a mobile phone), is often fueled by an Internet overuse problem or Internet addiction disorder After all, it's rarely the phone or tablet itself that creates the compulsion, but rather the games, apps, and online worlds it connects us to. Smartphone addiction can encompass a variety of impulse-control problems, including: Virtual relationships. Addiction to social networking, dating apps, texting and messaging can extend to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real-life relationships. We've all seen the couples sitting together in a restaurant ignoring each other and engaging with their smartphones instead. While the Internet can be a great place to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, or even start romantic relationships, online relationships are not a healthy substitute for real-life interactions. Online friendships can be appealing, as they tend to exist in a bubble, not subject to the same demands or stresses as messy, real-world relationships. Compulsive use of dating apps can change your focus to short-term hookups instead of developing long-term relationships. While a smartphone, tablet, or computer can be a hugely productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school, and relationships. When you spend more time on social media or playing games than you do interacting with real people, or you can't stop yourself from repeatedly checking texts, emails, or apps even when it has negative consequences in your life it may be time to reassess your technology use.
By learning about the signs and symptoms of smartphone and Internet addiction and how to break free of the habit, you can better balance your life, online and off. Information overload. Compulsive web surfing, watching videos, playing games, or checking news feeds can lead to lower productivity at work or school and isolate you for hours at a time. Compulsive use of the Internet and smartphone apps can cause you to neglect other aspects of your life, from real-world relationships to hobbies and social pursuits.
Cybersex addiction. Compulsive use of Internet pornography, sexting, nude-swapping, or adult messaging services can impact negatively on your real-life intimate relationships and overall emotional health. While online pornography and cybersex addictions are types of sexual addiction, the Internet makes it more accessible, relatively anonymous, and very convenient. It's easy to spend hours engaging in fantasies impossible in real life. Excessive use of dating apps that facilitate casual sex can make it more difficult to develop long-term intimate relationships or damage an existing relationship. There's a parallel here with fitness apps and activity trackers: owning a Fitbit tells you how many daily steps you're taking, but it's actions like jumping off the tube or bus a couple of stops early, or taking a daily walk, that get you fitter. Many changes seem common sense. Kuss suggests deleting the most distracting apps from your smartphone, and not sleeping with it next to your bed. Hypnotherapist and anxiety expert Chloe Brotheridge agrees, suggesting that I buy a bedside clock rather than use my phone's built-in alarm.
Turn off notifications on your phone, she adds. Each notification  whether it's due to gaining a follower on Twitter, or an email is prompting you to pick up your phone. Without notifications, you're in control of when you log in to Twitter or check your emails, and it could mean you check your phone less. Kuh relates his own family's method. We plug all our phones in at a certain time of night, mute the phones and put them face-down, he says. It's a simple but effective way to not be constantly checking social media. Within that first fortnight of tracking my usage, and following this advice, I find myself in a vein of creativity, coming up with and pitching more feature ideas in my job as a freelance journalist than I had in the last several months of 2017. This may be no coincidence. It's good to be bored sometimes, to have that dead time, says Burke. That's when ideas come. If we're on our phone checking Facebook, we lose some precious time that previously we used for daydreaming: gazing out of the window and having ideas blossom. Powell agrees. It's so powerful to be truly bored: nothing in your head and nothing in your hands, so you can daydream. I really think that's when great ideas come. Technology is fantastic, but we've got to be more conscious about how we use it. Apps like Space, Mute and Moment won't be for everyone: some people may see their notifications as over-naggy, while others may be wary of the data that's being shared  including location, on iOS, as a workaround to enable the apps to run constantly in the background. Nearly 240,000 people have paid for Moment Premium.
So there's clearly a market one that may well grow as the topic of problematic smartphone usage attracts more media attention. Even Apple is under pressure over this issue, with two of its major investors recently calling on the company to do more to help parents tackle problematic smartphone usage by their children. As another positive sign, Powell cites Silicon Valley initiative Time Well Spent, which is trying to push back against technology that hijacks our attention. I'm very optimistic, she says. It's amazing how many people are searching for help with this issue, but I also see more joy from people celebrating being phone-free. Encourage other interests and social activities. Get your child away from screens by exposing them to other hobbies and activities, such as team sports, Scouts, and afterschool clubs. Spend time as a family unplugged. Talk to your child about underlying issues. Compulsive smartphone use can be the sign of deeper problems. Is your child having problems fitting in? Has there been a recent major change, like a move or divorce, which is causing stress? Is your child suffering with other issues at school or home? Get help. Teenagers often rebel against their parents, but if they hear the same information from a different authority figure, they may be more inclined to listen. Try a sports coach, doctor, or respected family friend. Don't be afraid to seek professional counseling if you are concerned about your child's smartphone use.

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