An embarrassingly honest dive into my screen time report
Ashton Weber | Monday, March 2, 2020
Every Sunday morning at 9 a.m., a purple notification blinks on my phone, letting me know that my weekly screen time report is available. When it happens, I’m usually sleeping (what kind of person is awake before 9 a.m. on a Sunday?!), so it’s often the first thing I see when I reach for my phone to turn off the incessant chime of my 9:45 alarm.
I don’t know how you feel about the whole screen time report thing, but let’s see if we’re on the same page. Do you ever look at it and freak out because the ten seconds you spend reading the report are the same ten seconds it takes to realize you’re wasting your life away on a screened-in facade of reality that’s just, uh, not real? Then do you fall into a thought spiral of all the other things you could’ve done with your life for that many hours a day? And then do you resolve to do better next week (knowing deep, deep down that you won’t)?
If you’re with me, great! I’m so glad we can find solidarity in how scary we think our screen time reports are! If you’re not with me, you probably think I’m crazy and have a screen overuse problem. OK, boomer. (I’m kidding!! Thank you for your concern.)
When Apple first decided to add the feature to iOS 12 in 2018, I checked my screen time occasionally. But I never got weekly push notifications about it, so I found it much easier to avoid the truth of my overuse.
I switched phones at the beginning of this year and my new device came preset with the pushes. I’m an economics major, so I know that default bias was 100% at play when I decided not to opt out of receiving them.
I’m glad I didn’t. Because, for the month of January, my screen time was disturbing. Yes, I was at home. Yes, it was winter break. But, seriously, how can one person stare at a 6.1 inch screen for an average time of seven hours per day? That’s absurd!
At first, I tried to justify it:
“I watched a movie, so that’s why it looks like I was on my phone all day!”
“I had to check a lot of emails!”
“Basically all the time I spend on my phone is productive. I would just be on my laptop if I wasn’t on my phone. It’s fine.”
But, unfortunately, the people who work at Apple are very smart and would not allow my pathetic justifications to fly. They included a breakdown of which apps my time was spent on and tracked everything down to the minute. So, when I saw that I spent almost two hours scrolling through Instagram every day, I knew something had to be done.
I started by setting a one-hour time limit on all my social media. After the hour was up, the app wouldn’t run anymore. Instead, I would be shown a screen that said “You’ve reached your limit.” But, every time that pesky message came up, I felt like my phone was judging me for using it. And I hate to be judged, so I just ignored it in favor of 15 more minutes. And then 15 more and 15 more and soon, I was at or past the two hours I had been trying to avoid.
After break, I came back to campus and my screen time went down a whole hour! Some weeks, it went down an hour and a half! That’s right, I was no longer spending 7 hours on my phone every day. I was only spending around 5.5 hours on my phone! Victory!
Again, the number seemed a little concerning, but not terribly so, and it was a lot better than before and I knew plenty of people who seemed to be on their phones just as often as me, if not more. But, on the second-to-last night of January, I was sitting with my best friend in LaFun, talking about how much we use technology. We decided to compare screen time reports. He looked at his and gasped.
“Oh my gosh! This is so bad!’’
“What is it?!” I asked, sure his number would be much higher than mine and I could gloat about my amazing self-control abilities.
“Three and a half hours!’’
“Oh,” I glanced down at my own screen, which said I spent five and a half hours a day on my phone that week.
It was completely embarrassing, and writing this is also completely embarrassing. Like, how did I do that? How did I assume it was normal to do that?
The moment was a wakeup call. I started thinking about the moments in which I grab my phone and start scrolling and realized that it’s always during little moments. The ones where I’m waiting for class to start or where I’m standing in a long line for something or really just any time I have a few free seconds.
I check my phone all the time because I’m desperately afraid of missing something. Did someone text? Do I have notifications on social media? Did I get any more emails? Hm, I should probably check to make sure nothing’s happening without me.
But is it possible that, in trying not to miss things online, I’ve been missing out on the real world?
I decided this constant anxiety-induced, obsessive phone-checking had to stop. So, I devised a plan. I set a 40-minute limit for Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter and I put a ban on all apps (except for the essentials, like Gmail and my daily reflection app, Reflectly) between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Within the first week, my screen time dropped to three hours. According to the categorical breakdown of my report, the thing that went away was my social media use. I went from 18 hours of social media a week (I know, I’m judging me too!) to nine hours. Instead of seeing pictures of “healthy food” and fitness guides splayed all over my Instagram explore page for hours a week and feeding my food anxiety even more, I’ve been using social media for the sole purpose of human interaction. And I’ve found it much easier to be less anxious and more happy.
I feel myself reaching for my phone less and instead engaging with the world around me. When I wait for class to start, I talk to my classmates. When I stand in line, I observe my surroundings. When I walk down the quad, I pay attention to the sun and the birds (and, of course, the squirrels).
My February screen time slim-down has helped me find more happiness living in the real world. It might be bitterly cold, but it’s pretty nice out here. If you, too, have lived in the cloud for too long, I invite you to join me.
Ashton Weber is a sophomore with lots of opinions. She is majoring in economics and film, television and theatre with a JED minor. Making new friends is one of her favorite things, so feel free to contact her at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.