top of page

Your smart phone may steal away 5 years of your life

There I was, reveling in the early afternoon peace of the toddler asleep beside me, aware of the rustle of the older boy downstairs, and I'm thinking. "Just a couple more minutes, a few more hits of Instagram, a quick check of my emails. A brief scratch at the Facebook itch..."

Scroll, scroll, hard to put this shiny thing down. The rustle moving up the stairs and onto the landing.

Just a little bit more... and then I'll get up...

A creaking open of the door. Guilty. Caught. I hide my phone away.

"Mama.. what are you DOING?"


Hands up now. Who is happy with the addition of the smartphone to their lives? Who thinks it occupies just the right amount of time in their day, that shiny box?

Which of us, at the end of our days, would appreciate being greeted with the news that we spent a total of five years of our lives engaged in online activity?

Research from the UK shows on average people spend 2.5 hours a day online on smartphones. That's 17 hours a week, or one full waking day. So counting from now, and assuming continuing that rate of activity online for another 35 years, that is almost 5 years.

Yes. Five years.

Ok caveats. The day a week probably isn't only checking out kansasmom2013 and her 1890 farmhouse renovations and crafting with the kids (all while dressed in matching denim dungarees). Some of it might be work related, some of it might be personal or family admin stuff. Some of the social media stuff might be lifelines of support to other adults when the kids are running riot in the sitting room.

But five years of it? Would you look back in bewilderment and wonder if there was something else you wanted to do with that five years?

Okay, so time doesn't exactly work like that. We make decisions on how to spend our time moment to moment and you're not going to be faced with the tally of the hours at the final moments of your life (if this was the case the 10 years spent picking up after your kids might just push you over the edge).

But more and more, online activities that don't seem to be improving our mental states have become the norm. Many of us want to spend less time on our phones. Nearly 6 out of 10 people in Ireland feel they spend too much time on their phones. It's nearly 4 out of every 10 in the UK. Mobile phone addiction is not officially recognised by psychiatrists as an addiction, but research has compared it to gambling addition, which is recognised, and Social Media Anxiety Disorder is widely discussed by professionals online.

Most of us worry about our kids screen time, but how much thought do we give to our own?

More and more people are searching for ways to reduce their screen time, by going back to old style phones, by turning off notifications, putting their phone into grayscale.

If you find yourself disappearing regularly into internet/social media holes, you notice a compulsion to check Facebook/Instagram every time you go to the toilet. You feel a little anxious at not being able to check your notifications, you obsess over comments (or lack of them) on your latest post. You compare your own life and kitchen to the curated vision of someones perfect insta-life and you find yourself lacking.

If you have serious anxiety relating to your phone use, or if it's only a niggling feeling that something is not right here...

First, you are most definitely not alone.

Secondly, it is not your fault. The technology is designed to keep you online. There are hundreds, if not thousands of highly paid, highly skilled professionals are working hard to keep you online.

Those notifications promising a dopamine hit when you click on them. Former

Here is a really interesting explanation from a Harvard Professor of how those dopamine hits work and how they're exploited by the social media companies. Have you noticed that when you open Instagram, there's sometimes this little pause before your get the notifications for any likes or comments? This is designed to give you an initial negative outcome (no likes!!) which primes your dopamine centres to respond all the more to the sudden influx of social appraisal when the notifications appear after the delay. All designed to keep you checking the app more frequently in search of that hit.

What about the videos that play on Facebook without you clicking on them (this wasn;t always the case.. remember when you had to choose to play them?). The ( completely unnecessary, given the ability of the applications to refresh every couple of seconds in the background) 'pull to refresh' feature for email is likened (by it's creator) to a slot machine hit.

Did you know the guy who invented the 'like button' wishes he hadn't?

That a former vice-president for user growth in Facebook has talked about feeling “tremendous guilt” over his work . He has said “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society work" (see the Harvard article above).

You may know that Steve Jobs didn't let his kids use ipads? That many of the people developing the infrastructure of the attention economy don't let their own kids anywhere near the stuff?

That Google's, one-time 'design ethicist', now has the mission to reverse the harms created by technology platforms aims to educate people about the technology in manipulating them, and has published advice to allow people to use the technology in a way that limits this manipulation and hijacking of their time?


Ok, enough with the evil social media engineers.

If you want to use your phone less, here are a few ideas to reduce the time you spend on your phone and/or to become more conscious about your usage.

  • Disable notifications if the pings are making your feel anxious or overwhelmed.

  • Keep the phone out of the bedroom (get an alarm clock instead) to allow wind-down time.

  • Install an app to understand how you spend your time online. The newer iPhones for example have this built in.

  • Delete any apps that you tend to waste a lot of time on (by whatever your own definition of 'waste' is.. not mine!)

  • Use an app to restrict access to certain apps or time-wasters when you need a period of focus.

  • Move apps into folders on your phone, so you have to do a little more digging to open up the time-wasters.

  • Consider downgrading to a regular phone.

  • Take time off from your phone, leave it behind on walks with the kids etc. Yes they will do cute stuff that you'd like to capture, but you might end up capturing it in your memory instead (rather than on the memory of the smartphone where it joins the million other photos you never look at anyway.)

  • Next time you're on your social media of choice, could you take a moment to check in with your breath and your body. A few slow breaths and a quick body scan to assess your mood. Do this regularly and maybe you might start to recognise patterns. Which apps make you feel good, which anxious or depressed. Do you follow people who make your feel better or worse about about your life ? How do you feel immediately after posting something and waiting for the likes to come in?

It's a powerful piece of technology this shiny little toy. Let's use it so we don't have to feel guilty about it when the four-year-old catches us in the bedroom... and let's claw back some of those years for things we really want to be doing...

19 views0 comments


bottom of page