A few days before New Year’s, I made a special trip to Target to buy an antique-looking, rustic alarm clock. Though it’s cute and simple and matches the warm dusty rose tones of my bedroom decor, I didn’t buy the clock as a decoration piece. On the contrary, the alarm clock is part of my new plan for 2018: to start and end my day screenless.
According to the Huffington Post, new research by British psychologists shows that young adults use their phones almost twice as much as they say they do—almost five hours a day, which is approximately one-third of a young adult’s total time awake.
Now, I’m not going to try to estimate how much time I spend on my phone (the above statistic doesn’t make me very confident in my guessing abilities), but even so, I’ll be the first to admit that I spend too much time scrolling through apps and social media. And, on top of that, I’ll be the first to admit that while I enjoy checking in on social media at first, scrolling through it doesn’t make me any happier in the end.
Adam Alter talks about social media and happiness in his 2017 TED Talk “Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy.” He says that apps focused on dating, social networking, gaming, entertainment, news, and web browsing actually take away from people’s overall happiness.
Now, the negative effects of social media is not a new research topic, so you may not find this statistic very shocking. However, Alter continues by saying that we spend three times longer on these apps than the ones that add to our happiness, such as apps focused on relaxation, exercise, weather, reading, education, and health.
Why is this?
The main reason Alter gives is the lack of stopping cues on apps and social media. “A stopping cue is basically a signal that it’s time to move on, to do something new, to do something different,” Alter says. He points out that with readily available technology, we don’t have natural stopping points anymore: “The news feed just rolls on, and everything’s bottomless: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messaging, the news.”
His observation almost knocked me off my chair. What would a stopping cue look like for me?
Well, I knew my apps weren’t going to suggest I log off for bed, so I’d have to do it myself. The only way I saw that working was to remove my phone from the bedtime equation entirely—hence the old-school alarm clock.
I’ll be honest with you—I thought it would be easy. I thought replacing my phone alarm clock with a real alarm clock and keeping my phone downstairs by 9 p.m. would be a piece of cake.
I was very wrong! At least at first.
What I didn’t realize until my first completely phoneless night was how heavily I relied on my phone for my nighttime activities. Before falling asleep, I would keep up with friends via texting or Snapchat, mindlessly scroll through Tumblr and Instagram, find new music on Spotify, and spend too much time watching silly videos on Buzzfeed’s Snapchat story or random videos from famous YouTubers until way (way) too late into the night.
Without my phone, I needed a different set of activities. I started picking books off my shelf that I wanted to read. I also retrieved some knitting that I hadn’t touched in a while. I grabbed a few sudoku books that had gathered dust on the corner of my desk. These are just some of the things I enjoy doing but sometimes don’t get to because of my busy schedule and (you guessed it) my endless scrolling.
By the time the clock hit 11 p.m., I was surprised to find myself calmer and sleepier. For the first time in forever, I let myself fall asleep naturally, without any form of technology pining for my attention.
It was absolutely lovely. I woke up the next morning and got ready for the day without touching my phone. The desire to check my phone didn’t go away (Dr. Sally Andrews was right about the habits of phone usage), but keeping it tucked away in the kitchen out of sight helped me focus on my morning routine without pointless scrolling sprees.
It’s only been five days since exiling my phone from my bedtime and morning routines, but I am determined to keep this resolution. An alarm clock is a simple, rather old-fashioned idea, but I encourage my fellow social media users: What would a stopping cue look like for you? And what do you have to gain from it?