Frequently Asked Questions:
Who are you and why did you write this book?
I'm Catherine Price, science journalist, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, and founder of Screen/Life Balance. I was inspired to write the book when I realized that my own relationship with my phone felt out of whack. I wanted to have more control over how and when I used it, so I called upon my experience as a writer and researcher to figure out what the time we spend on our phones could be doing to us—and to come up with a plan to help people change.
What does it mean to “break up” with your phone?
Breaking up with your phone doesn’t mean throwing your phone under a bus. It means giving yourself the space, time, and tools necessary to create a new, long-term relationship with it, one that keeps what you love about your phone and gets rid of what you don’t. Think of it as going from an obsessive, romantic relationship with your phone–one where you bring it with you to bed and can’t bear to be apart—to just being friends with your phone. Maybe friends with benefits.
Why should I bother?
The average person spends more than four hours a day on their phone. That’s 60 days a year—a quarter of our waking lives. If you do anything for four hours a day, it’s going to change your brain, and as I explain in more detail in the book, the changes don’t look good. The time we’re spending on our phones is negatively affecting our attention spans, memories, creativity, productivity, relationships, stress levels and sleep. In fact, if you wanted to come up with a device that could create a society of people who were perpetually isolated and distracted, that could impede our ability to have insights and creative thoughts, that would encourage self-absorption and reduce empathy, and sap joy and meaning from our lives . . . you’d likely come up with a smartphone. Are you addicted to your phone? Take the quiz.
It sounds like you hate phones.
Not at all. Phones are amazing! But they’re also designed to addict us. In order to enjoy them in a healthy way, we need to set firm boundaries and remain on guard.
I would think that you hate social media. Why are you asking me to follow you?
I do hate lots of things about social media. I hate that the business model of social media is based on data collection and surveillance, and that the apps are deliberately designed to be addictive. With that said, I also believe that social media can be a great tool for sharing information and inspiration (we've even created some social sharing icons to help you spread the #phonebreakup love!)
My philosophy toward social media is:
I only use it for business-related purposes or to promote other people's work
Whenever I check social media or post material, I remind myself that my activity and data are being tracked and sold (and make sure that I feel okay about this trade-off)
I create most of the content myself, but outsource the actual posting, and strategy to the lovely Nikki Brafman so that I can spend my attention on things that I actually enjoy
I limit the time I spend on social media to specific—and pre-defined—days and periods
Doing this makes it possible for me to use social media as a tool, without letting it take over my life.
What do you think an ideal relationship with your phone looks like?
There’s no such thing. Everyone’s ideal relationship is different—our goal is to figure out what that means to you . . . and then to make it happen. Regardless, your relationship will never be perfect. If you think that’s the goal, you’re guaranteed to fail.
What should I expect?
In some ways it’ll be easier than you think, and in some ways it’ll be harder. You’ll probably feel jittery and uncomfortable in some moments and surprisingly calm in the others. Just try to be present with whatever you’re experiencing. And remember: it’s all an experiment—we’re going to try a bunch of things, and you get to keep what you like and get rid of what you don’t. For meditation and mindfulness resources that can help, click here.
What if I totally fail?
You can’t totally fail. Just by thinking about your relationship with your phone, you’re already succeeding. Also, progress is not all or nothing. If you check your email five times an hour instead of ten, that’s an improvement. That being said, I've outlined some solutions to common problems that I believe are useful.
Any intervention can have side effects . . . is there anything else I should be worried about?
When you become more conscious of how you spend time on your phone, you will also become more conscious of how you’re spending time off your phone, and how that does or does not match up to what you actually want to be doing with your life. Figuring that out can be difficult, or even uncomfortable. But trust me: it’s worth it.
Also, once you start noticing people on their phones, you won’t be able to stop noticing. You might become very annoyed—and (if you call them out on it) very annoying. But you’ll also be more present in your life.
Are there any apps that I can download to help me in this process?
While it may seem counterintuitive, I highly recommend using apps to improve your relationship with your phone. If you have suggestions beyond the ones listed here, please reach out.
Phone-Usage Tracking Apps:
Phone-usage tracking apps can help you get a sense of how much time you're spending on your phone each day, and how often you're reaching for it—which can be a very useful wakeup call. Most of these apps also allow you to set goals for yourself, and can send you reminders and alerts when you're reaching your self-defined limit.
Note that some of these tracking apps require you to let the app track your location. This isn’t for a creepy reason; it’s how the app knows when you’re using your phone. Check out the apps’ FAQ pages for more detailed explanations. To learn how to download your usage data from Moment, click here.
You also may want to check out RescueTime, which helps you increase productivity by tracking the time you spend on various websites.
App- and Internet-Blocking Apps:
These are exactly what they sound like: apps that can block your access to websites and other apps. I highly recommend the paid versions, which (at least in Freedom's case) allows you to preschedule sessions for yourself in advance. The most obvious use of these blockers is to keep yourself focused at work (e.g. set a 2-hour session for yourself where you can't check your email or the news). But I also find them to be very useful in helping to set limits at home. For example, if you're trying to break the habit of checking social media before bed, set a recurring session that doesn't allow you access to those apps for the two hours beforehand. Similarly, if you would like to have a morning without your phone, schedule a session that blocks all your websites and apps till later in the morning. That way, even if you end up reaching for your phone, you won't actually be able to indulge in the habit that you're trying to break.
At the moment, my favorite app-blockers are Freedom for Apple and Windows products, and Quality Time for Android—though I suspect/hope that others may soon be on their way. (If you know of any, please leave a comment.) Freedom allows you to block apps and sites across your devices, and its paid version is well worth it, because it lets you schedule recurring sessions in advance. NOTE: AS OF SEPTEMBER 2018 FREEDOM IS TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE FOR iOS DEVICES BECAUSE—GET THIS—APPLE BLOCKED IT FROM THE APP STORE! HOPEFULLY IT'LL BE UP AND RUNNING AGAIN SOON, BUT IN THE MEANTIME YOU CAN TRY IT OUT ON YOUR DESKTOP.
What to do about Phones and Kids?
The long and short of it? It's complicated.
First, the bad: the more time kids (and adults) spend on phones, the less time they spend actually socializing with other human beings, exploring the world through their senses (after all, when you're on your phone you're only using two out of five), cultivating creativity, and developing the ability to maintain focus and stick with tough problems. The time we spend on our phones rewires our brains in a way that encourages distraction (see Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains for more on this and/or his controversial article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?")—which is particularly concerning with kids, since their brains are still developing. And if that phone also is a portal to social media, it's even worse. Check out Jean Twenge's article in the Atlantic, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" for a sobering look at possible links between heavy social media use and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
What is the best way for me to help others break up with their phones?
Want to make your phone breakup more fun—and more effective? Invite other people to join you.
If you're just starting out, invite them to take the 7-Day Challenge. Or, if you've already got the book (or are hosting a book club or community event), invite them to take the full 30-Day Challenge.
I also recommend hosting a phone breakup party. It's an interactive evening designed to help you and your friends, colleagues, relatives, community groups and book club members develop better relationships with your devices.
Step 1: Get the book.
Step 2: Get the downloads
Here are some resources you can use to get your breakup party started (and to spread the word about what you've done):
Step 3: Sign up for one of the breakup challenges (see links above)
Step 4: Have the party!
When guests arrive, ask them to leave their phones at the door. (You could use a basket, or even put out a stack of envelopes and markers that guests can use as temporary "sleeping bags" for their devices.) Have some food, have some drinks, and when the time feels right, use the conversation prompts to get things started!