Making your phone work for you

Picture the scene.

You’re standing in a queue at your local supermarket. There are so many people in front of you and someone’s just pulled out their receipt to query an overpayment. You find yourself reaching for your phone and you automatically open Instagram, wanting to be distracted from all that is going on around you. As you swipe through pictures of idyllic picnics, beautiful houses and filtered selfies, you suddenly find yourself at the front of the queue and can speedily pay for your goods and move on with your day.

Sound familiar?

In so many ways, our phones enhance our daily lives. They allow us to freely access information, maintain old friendships and make new connections, keep track of our activity levels or sleep and learn new skills, amongst other things.

However, by choosing to reach for our phones in every quiet moment, what are we missing out on?

Not so long ago, I listened to an interesting interview with the comedian, Miranda Hart. She expressed her concern that people no longer have the space to daydream or use their imaginations because they are constantly plugged into technology. The ability to dream, imagine and conjure up stories are central to the creation of literature, films, TV series and music – media that I am sure that we have all appreciated during the lockdowns.

In his highly celebrated book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport raises a similar concern. He discusses ‘solitude deprivation’, suggesting that individuals, particularly younger people who are ‘digitally native’, are so constantly plugged in to electronic forms of media that they have very little time on their own to process their own thoughts, feelings and emotions. Interestingly, Newport questions what impact this has on mental health, as the ability and space to regulate, understand and process your own emotions is crucial to mental wellbeing.

Another key question that we may need to reflect on is – what are we looking at when we are reaching for our phones? For many of us, we gravitate towards familiar social media apps, where we can chat with friends, explore media linked to our hobbies or interests or see what’s going on in the world. All of these things are good and social media can be a really positive tool that helps us to stay connected. However, it’s important to remember that social media companies deliberately design their products to engage us and keep our attention, ensuring that we stay on certain platforms for multiple hours each day. Moreover, when we’re scrolling social media, it’s so easy to start comparing ourselves with others. For example, in her book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, Sarah Frier clarifies the ways in which Instagram values carefully curated, beautiful images which are then rewarded with ‘likes’. We can often forget that we are looking at the ‘highlight reel’ of someone else’s life, which has been heavily edited, and then feel bad about ourselves as a result.

This all sounds pretty negative – as I’ve said before, there are many benefits associated with social media. Yet it’s so important to engage with it in a healthy way and it’s especially important for adults to help younger people, the first generations to experience these new opportunities but also pressures, to navigate such technologies in a way that helps, not hinders them.

Here are some top tips to bear in mind when engaging with our phones/social media:

  1. Make a choice about how long you want to spend on your phone – you can use the Screen Time settings in your phone to set app limits or you could download apps such as OffScreen or Flora which encourage you to spend time away from your phone.
  2. Unfollow or unlike pages on social media which make you feel bad about yourself or encourage you to compare yourself with others – it’s really important to look after your mental health when you’re online.
  3. Try not to always reach for your phone when you have a spare moment- I know, it’s a challenge! Instead, you could notice what is going on around you, be present and maybe even chat to someone new.
  4. Connecting via social media is great but it really is no substitute for meeting our friends in person. Now that restrictions are easing, why not arrange to meet up with your friends for a coffee/pizza/whatever! You could also connect with some of the local youth activities run by Jigsaw, Krunch South West or Thornbury Baptist Church, to name a few of our local partners.

By Rhi Ashford