The long summer holidays are all about enjoying and looking after ourselves: sleeping enough, exercising regularly, seeing friends, preparing well-balanced meals. It’s all been coming so easily for us all. But one very negative habit has also taken hold of me. I’ve grown attached, and I mean almost physically to my mobile phone.
This has come as a surprise. I rejected Facebook for a long time. I barely knew what Instagram was a year ago. Also, I’m pretty certain that I never previously, felt the need to check my email more than two or three times a day. I was more likely to be lecturing colleagues, friends and students on the evils of overusing technology.
There’s no reason why anything changed. I’ve just allowed bad habits to slip in. And because of the nature of how new routines form, some effort will be needed to un-form them. Or rather replace them with something else.
I know I’m not alone. Estimates for how often the typical office worker checks their email can range from forty-odd times a day, to the high eighties. More than one day a week is spent checking or answering emails. We’re all forgetting how precious our time is.
In a classroom, things are obviously different but the rules around phone use in school are slowly changing. It’s becoming normal to see staff checking phones whilst on yard duty or school leadership expecting responses to emails, whilst a teacher is in front of the class or even late at night. Something which was supposed to make life easier is just adding to our workload and inability to switch off.
During the holidays, I’m most concerned about the effect that my phone is having on my relaxation and focus. I fully understand the importance of single-tasking, yet when I’m cooking dinner, it’s a struggle not to pick up my phone and check the weather forecast. Last weekend I checked the news headlines during a wedding reception. Instead of focusing on the present moment, I’m using my phone to take me elsewhere. And that’s bad.
In The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, author Nicholas Carr describes how the process of reading changes the structure of our brains for the better.
Now, as reading from a page becomes less everyday we’re reading differently. When faced with a hyperlinked screen of information we’re less focused on the content and more on the decisions about where to look next. Studies show that we typically read less than half of a screen of text. The ways we learn about the world around us are changing. We shouldn’t be naïve to it.
Most of all, I simply don’t like being dependent on a device that connects me constantly to the world. I don’t need to check the news headlines every half hour – the world keeps turning regardless.
For me the solution is to use a rationing system – decide how often and when I can check my phone. I know that it’s also important to reward myself when I do stick to this. Eventually the reward will be having more time for what really counts. I’ll also feel more focused relaxed. I’ll be able to chat more, read more and sleep more.
Let’s start using our mobile phones like it’s 1996 again. We have lots to gain and nothing to lose but eye strain.

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