How to get off your phone

Hope Brusstar

We are stuck to our screens in the same way that we always leave Walmart with armfuls of things we didn’t even know we wanted. We enter the store because we needed milk and eggs; we stay because we’re trying to pick a sugary cereal — or, even worse, analyzing nutrition facts on product after product — a form of procrastination that seems OK because it’s ostensibly “productive.” Similarly, we pick up our phones because we need to send an important text; we stay on our phones because we want to see who liked our last Instagram post.

So, how do we get the most out of these impressively innovative handheld tools without getting lost for five hours in Clash of Clans?

The key is to front-load the responsibility. Take one step now so that you can relax afterwards, and not have to constantly practice self-control at every moment.

Buy an alarm clock. Yes, a digital alarm clock. Don’t use your iPad’s alarm app; don’t use your laptop, either. Get the cheap kind that plugs into your wall and sounds annoying when it goes off. Charge your phone outside of your bedroom — really, do this — and set your alarm clock before you go to sleep at night. You may even want to place it across the room, out of reach of your bed. Ironically, to get one of these, you may have to go to Walmart.

When you wake up in the morning, you won’t be able to grab your phone immediately, and laying in your bed with your phone for hours after you wake up will require extra steps.

Hide your phone from yourself, or ask a friend to hide it for you. If your phone is sitting in your attic, or if you’ve intentionally dropped it between your bed and the wall, you’ll be less inclined to go back and get it. It won’t be so easy to retrieve, and that puts one barrier between you and wasted time on Twitter. Having a friend hide it is an added bonus because you won’t even know where it is, and you can have fun looking for it when you’re done studying.

Download an app. Though this option ironically requires you to use your phone, it can actually be quite effective. There are apps out there that employ different methods to keep you off of your phone.

For example, Forest is an app available for both iPhone and Android that rewards points for time away from the phone. Once you get enough points, you can use them to cause a real tree to be planted somewhere in the world. In this app, using your phone simply causes you to stop earning points. It can’t keep you off of your phone, but it can pressure you.

Flipd, an app also available for both Android and iPhone, is a bit more aggressive. Its “full lock” mode, once turned on, cannot be turned off until the timer has expired. During a full lock, the app allows only a few basic phone functions, including Google Maps, calculator, calendar, texting and calling. Thus you can keep your phone available for the things you need, and be actually forced to avoid all other distractions. Flipd cannot be thwarted, even if you restart your phone.

There are many other ways to avoid using one’s phone, but these are some of the most effective. Some people take the dive and actually switch back to a flip phone to “unplug” themselves from the artificial reassurance that smartphones seem to be so good at providing.

When you walk around campus and other public spaces, notice how many people are using their phones, staring at it rather than connecting with those around them. Of course the phone is also a tool for making and strengthening relationships, but the incidental connections we might make in the elevator or in the hall can be just as valuable, if not more so.

It helps to think of our dependence on smartphones like we’re six-year-old children still sucking our thumbs. It’s pleasant to do and difficult to stop, but we’re much better off if we quit. It’s time that we learn how.