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NICKY MARR: Surely I'm not the only one struggling with phone addiction

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Nicky Marr. Picture: James Mackenzie.

My name is Nicky Marr, and I am an addict.

Do I feel better for the admission? Not really. I feel deep shame, but I can’t seem to help myself. I am addicted to my phone.

I wish I could break the habit, but that dopamine hit when I see a flurry of notifications is stronger than my ability to leave my phone alone. I crave the arrival of new messages and notifications. I need to know if anyone is trying to reach me. So I check, and then I check again, just in case somebody, somewhere might be making contact. Sad, isn’t it?

Somebody will – likely as not – have been in touch since the last time I picked up my phone, even if it was just a few minutes ago. It might be a friend I’d been longing to hear from, or a good-news email, but it’s just as likely to be an unwanted sales message, or a notification from a Facebook group I should have left months ago.

I know it’s not healthy to be continuously checking my phone, or to immediately react to every vibration. It’s not good for my productivity, for my sleep patterns, or for the people I’m with in real life. Something needs to change.

It’s not yet 9.30am on Monday and I’ve already (so my phone tells me) picked it up 21 times. That’s 22 now. Three of those times were to snooze my alarm, another questionable habit.

Finally awake, I checked how well I had slept; it seems I’ve handed that decision over to my Fitbit app. I checked my social media (19 overnight notifications), the news headlines, then my emails (nine new), before dealing with an alert from the bank. All of this before the kettle had boiled.

Then there was Wordle and a Duolingo lesson, and a reminder from my phone to do my daily plank. Showered, and caffeinated, I took the car to be serviced.

I filled in the online booking form on my phone, and listened to music on the walk back home. There have since been further alerts from the garage, messages from a friend I’m meeting later, and an email from this afternoon’s coaching client.

Lots of this is legitimate phone use, so I can’t dump the beast altogether. So if my phone is evil (which I doubt) it has gradually, insidiously, become a necessary evil.

Not all my phone pick-ups are legitimate, not even close. On Sunday, a day which included a fantastic morning walk, some gardening, a couple of hours of cooking, and an early night with a book, I managed to pick it up 120 times. Saturday was even worse. Who is in charge here? Me or the machine? I crave my phone, but I crave better habits too. More discipline. Less FOMO.

Click here to read more from Nicky Marr

So, I have taken measures; it had to happen. The first was a drastic social media cull (who are all these people I’m connected to?), and the second, a mass ‘unsubscribe’ from email lists.

My phone is also, deep breath, now in ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode between 8pm and 8am – only close family phone calls will get through overnight.

I’ve switched my screen to black and white, to escape those red, dopamine-inducing alerts. And I’ve set myself a social media limit of two hours a day. That’s more than enough, isn’t it? It should be. Especially if I’m only seeing Instagram in black and white.

I know I’m not the only one struggling with phone addiction. This is still new technology, and apps are deliberately designed to keep us coming back to them. But I’m getting to the stage where I need to release the phone’s control over my life. It’s supposed to be a tool to enhance communication and learning, not a drain on time, energy, and attention.

It’s time to pull up my Big Girl pants and show it who’s boss. All advice welcome.

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