How To Break Up With Your Phone
© 2018 Catherine Price
In just over a decade, smartphones have become ubiquitous and transformative. But for all the ease they add to our lives, smartphones also have an inherent capacity to be abused. In How To Break Up With Your Phone, Catherine Price shares various psychological studies from the last decade covering wireless devices’ effects on memory, attention, social skills, and users’ mental states, before offering a thirty day plan for phasing out some of the worst smartphone abuses and arriving at a more healthy relationship with our phones.
In the first half of her work, Price draws on both formal studies and more popular works (The Shallows, for instance) to probe the more problematic aspects of global civilizations’ ubiquitous phone use. In addition to the aforementioned coverage of memory, social skills, and mental health, she also argues that phones are addictive by design, their constant stream of feedback and notifications keeping us wired, like gamblers fixated on a slot machine. It’s the unpredictability that’s irresistible: we don’t know if someone will have liked our most recent photos, or upvoted our snarky comment on reddit, but there’s always that chance, that hope. The addiction is made worse through its practical justification: smartphones, unlike gambling devices, are incredibly useful machines for communication, information, and entertainment.
Having served as a one-woman intervention for you and your devices, Price offers a path out: a thirty day program in which the concerned reader tries one practice every day that will ease them out of their smartphone addiction, downshifting to a healthier relationship with gadgets. These include an initial period where the mindful reader is encouraged to install an app that will monitor how many times a day their phone is picked up, and how long the screen stays active, just to gauge their own habits. Simply being aware of behavior often helps to curb excesses of it: if we could see ourselves growing heated in an argument, or gorging on a plate of food, or losing an entire hour cruising a facebook timeline, we’d be far more likely to pull back from the behavior. She goes on to challenge the reader to think about the apps on our phones, and to sort them into different categories; some apps, “junk food” apps like mindless games, she encourages the reader to simply uninstall. One of the practices introduced within the month is that of meditation, which is not surprising given the general mindful emphasis of the work.
Although fairly brief, How To Break Up With Your Cellphone is definitely an eye-opener. I’m familiar with some of the research Price included here, but there were more studies which I wasn’t aware of it. I don’t think the problem ends with our cellphones, however — although they are the fast road to digital addiction, the same issues can occur on a computer just as easily. Prior to reading this book, I reflected on my own phone use, and while reading it I realized the parts that I resonated with most were so much about the phone, but about social media and email.