Switch off to Switch on
Phones are Addictive
I didn’t think I had an addiction to my phone until one night when my Wife and I had two of our closest friends round for a meal. These friends are the type of friends that you spend all night laughing with and you never want them to leave at the end of the evening. Time with them is so precious. During the meal I got up to “go to the loo”, I ran the basin tap so people would think I was washing my hands and I got my phone out and looked through Facebook and Instagram to see how much engagement my posts were getting from earlier on that day. I felt relieved after checking, my phone went back in my pocket and I turned the tap off and went back into the dining room where my friends were. This might not sound horrendous to you. I didn’t spend the whole evening on my phone, I wasn’t using my mobile for criminal activity (you’ll be pleased to know Mum), I wasn’t gambling or looking at suspect material. What it did highlight to me though was that I felt like I needed to interrupt a brilliant evening with close friends and my Wife to check pointless stuff on this piece of plastic and metal that I keep in my pocket all day and beside my bed all night. It had started to control me.
I’d be checking emails last thing at night before going to sleep. I’d be waking up and the first thing I’d want to do is look at instagram stories. I’d finish work in my study, go into the lounge to “spend time with the kids” and just sit on the sofa and look at Facebook. I was also seeing what an effect phone addiction was having on others. I was at a wedding eating with 8 other people. Six adults were all chatting to each other and laughing and there were two teenagers on the table just sat looking at their phones all meal, not saying a word to anyone. Heads down. If this is what a phone could do to someone I didn’t want to be part of that club.
Technology can be good
This isn’t a blog slating technology and saying that we should all bin our mobiles and live as monks with no outside interference in life. I really appreciate the capabilities of smart phones. I love the ability to use Google maps to get to different places, I love the fact that I can call my Mum when I’m walking back from town and that I can see my calendar and update it on the move. I can listen to podcasts on the train, I can record voice memos for song ideas and take good pictures using the in built camera.
I knew it wasn’t a case of getting rid of my phone (although I did consider going back to a Nokia 3210 for a while- remember the game “snake” anyone?!) It was those times when I wasn’t working and was just twiddling my thumbs and instantly reaching for my phone that I needed to do something about.
First Attempts at Tech Breaks
One afternoon, a couple of years ago, I’d finished work early and decided to switch off my phone for a couple of hours and see the kids. This was a totally new thing for me. I went into the lounge and chatted with Caleb and he said “Daddy shall we sing together?” So we both went into my study, I grabbed a guitar and we started singing some praise songs together. This wouldn’t have happened if I’d have had my phone on me. I’d have walked into the lounge, Caleb would have asked that question and the likely response would have been “oh just a minute love, I’ve just got to reply to this message” as I’d have been on my phone. I really felt God speak to me in that moment that in order to spend more time with Him and with my family I needed to do something about the phone.
I started to turn my phone off when we went on family holidays. This was quite a big thing for me because as well as being employed part time by my Church to lead the worship team I also work self employed as a wedding photographer so with my phone off for a week think of the amount of email enquiries and phone calls I’d have missed and that business might have chosen to go elsewhere. Honestly though, the peace and the relaxation that came from not having my phone on was bliss during those holidays. Not feeling like I needed to reply to that message and not seeing everyone else’s best lives on social media. It allowed me more time with my family, more time to read and more time to spend with God. There were drawbacks- poor Kirsty would need to tell me the time regularly and would also need to tell me the news or football scores (sorry love!) These first attempts at tech breaks were refreshing for my soul.
Turning off Notifications
What I found really key was to turn off notifications on my phone. That way I could check my phone when I wanted and I wasn’t constantly buzzed or beeped with a new notification “you have a new email” or “you have 77 new Whatsapp messages in that huge group you never really wanted to be in” or “Breaking News- Donald Trump sends a provocative tweet to another world leader”.
I also started to rearrange my apps. In the past without thinking I’d just press the email app, check those, press the Facebook app, check that, press the instagram app, check that, look at some stories, press WhatsApp, want to scream then repeat the whole process 10 minutes later. By moving these apps that I checked the most to page 3 of my apps I wouldn’t be on autopilot checking them for the sake of it. I’d still have news, calendar, messages (who uses that app these days- just 02 priority and my Mum*) *Update my Mum is now on WhatsApp.
I also started to restrict the amount of things on my timelines for Facebook, insta and twitter. If I just saw a few things on those timelines rather than endless people and endless groups and pages then I wouldn’t need to always feel like I was scrolling through them.
I started going to a small group at my Church that was called “Emotionally Healthy Leadership” and was based on a cracking book by Pete Scazzero called “The Emotionally Healthy Leader”. I’d really recommend to anyone to buy that book- leader or not- it’s fantastic. What I appreciated about the book was it’s emphasis on slowing down rather than running at break neck speed through life. I think I’ll write a blog about slowing down in general soon but for this blog (my first in 3 years I think! Might do more blogs now I’m not on my phone as much…) it was the rhythm of having a weekly Sabbath that really got me excited. It’s not a deliciously appealing word “Sabbath” but it’s foundational to how we should live in this world as believers. Where the world says “work work work then holiday then work again” God says to rest even before we start working. Adam and Eve’s first day was a rest day (the 7th day) interesting isn’t it? Start with rest then work then come back to rest. Biblical Sabbath is a 24 hour period each week of switching off from work and switching onto God, family, friends and things that bring you joy.
My Sabbath is either a Saturday (if I don’t have a wedding to photograph) or a Monday (if I do have a wedding to photograph on the Saturday). Before my Sabbath starts I make sure I’ve arranged any social things I’m doing on my Sabbath or anything that needs sorting out for the day afterwards then after work on the Friday my phone is switched off, it goes in my pants drawer for 24 hours (other drawers are available… that’s a pants joke) and then the following evening I’ll pick it back up. The only times I’ll pick it back up would be if I’m going on a run and need the GPS (but wouldn’t check anything else) or in an emergency situation.
Since Christmas (where I had my phone off for 2 weeks and partly why I’m writing this blog) I realised that I don’t really need my phone in the mornings or in the evenings. I used to reach for my phone first thing in the morning to check everything. Now I’ve started to get into the rhythm of getting up, getting ready, helping with the kids (although Kirsty definitely does more than I do) and then having time with God in scripture and prayer and only after this at 9am when I start work for the day will I switch on the phone and check comms.
If I’m working in the evening I’ll keep my phone on (2 to 3 evenings a week) but if I’ve got the evening off work (4 to 5 evenings a week) I’ll just put my phone away once I finish work at 5/6pm. This saves me endlessly scrolling through news feeds and makes me want to chat more to Kirsty, play Monopoly together (yeah we are wild) or watch a box set together and actually watch it (rather than play on phones pretending to watch it).
Time with God
Jesus often withdrew from the crowds in order to spend time alone with his Father in prayer. We live in a time where it’s probably harder to withdraw from everything going on around us than it’s ever even before. So much noise, so much going on, so many messages. I must admit I’ve loved having a simpler life that’s slower in it’s pace and where I can prioritise quiet times, times walking and praying and times with other believers worshipping and praying without the nag of the phone in my mind. I’m not a huge reader but having extra time now without my phone I’ve been able to start reading books I wouldn’t have otherwise started. I picked up Francis Chan’s book “Letters to the Church” and really enjoyed it. I’ve been able to listen to podcasts without distraction that help me think and consider the goodness of God. If un-rushed and uninterrupted time with the Father was important to Jesus then it should be important to us too. Let’s pursue this kind of relationship with our Father.
Switching off hasn’t been the biggest benefit of this journey for me. Switching on to God, family and other good things has been the win.
Give it a go and let me know in the comments what you think or any tips you have for getting over phone addiction…
May 2020 Update during CV19 Lockdown
So, the coronavirus came along and in the week after lockdown was announced I had a notification on my phone from Apple saying that my screen time had gone up 96%(!!) Wowzers. My life has changed a bit since lockdown and I wanted to share honestly how it has been going in relation to screen time...
- I'm using my phone more now for live Facebook broadcasts. I'm doing something called "Come and Sing with me" on my Facebook music page each weekday morning. I can't believe that something so simple has been used by God to serve many people. At the time of writing these morning sessions have had 150,000 views over the two months! Phone use has gone up.
- I'm using Zoom for most Church meetings which would have been face to face. I enjoy some of these but I do find that my eyes just ache at the end of the day after all the screen time. We have a regular games night with our friends on Saturday nights on Zoom but on a weekday the last thing I'd want to do is video call after spending the day doing that.
- Church is on our TV on Sunday mornings
- I'm finding that I'm able to leave my phone at home when we go out for family walks. These are daily and usually take an hour or two so that's a good discipline to leave my phone behind.
- I'm also able to keep on doing my weekly rhythm of sabbath where I don't use technology for 24 hours (these are on Saturdays now as I don't have any weddings to photograph!)
- What I'm not doing so well on is having my phone on me in the evenings. I've caught myself going back to my old habits of just refreshing social media feeds constantly. This needs to change!
Thought it was good to be honest in a world that has changed a lot over the last few months!