Wrapping my hands around my mug of hot tea, I looked through the steam to the window beyond. Time stands still in the shed; a place to contemplate, observe. A chair, and a blanket, and a tiny spider spinning webs in the corner.
It’s cold today. I make dragon-breath with my exhalations, pulling my hood over my head and hunkering down into the chair. A pen loops across paper as I pull shed-thoughts out of the ether. A blue tit trills from somewhere inside the holly tree. A leaf falls downward from above.
I’d put my phone away for the day. Checking in on the usage app that morning, looking at my 7 hours spent mindlessly scrolling my life away the previous day. It terrifies me, how so much time can be swallowed by that small glowing screen, time spent hunched and tense, other’s shining lives reflected vacantly in the pools of my eyes. I’m embarrassed to say, that 7 hours isn’t out of the ordinary. My phone usage averages around 5 hours a day. I hate it. But it’s so hard to stop.
But those hours! Those wonderful, freeing hours, just there for the taking, whilst I crunch my soul into a 4-inch screen and feel them whisper to me as they slide on by.
So, instead, I pottered in the garden. The greyscale of winter is closing in, so spending time with even the muted greens of a greenhouse settling down brings a positive surge. I flitted between one job and the next, adding activities, tidying up, packing away, planting tiny salads. Just little, simple things, trundling about on the land, being a human.
And in those small movements, I found joy. Just to exist, wholly, in my body and my space. To do things, with no pressure, no judgement or rating from people I’ve never met. My phone pulls me away from the things that make me happy. I find myself thinking, what did I do, before I had a phone?
I was given my first mobile phone at the age of 12, for a Christmas present. I was the 2nd person in school to get one, and I took it everywhere from that day forwards, even though no one would message or ring me, because no one had a phone. But of course, steadily, phone use began to grow, slowly at first, and then that familiar explosion into full on addiction once the smartphone arrived. I never felt beholden to my phone, until I got ill, and it was the only way of staying in contact with the world going on outside my brain.
My smartphone was a lifeline whilst I was exhausted, whilst I was depressed. I could type happy words and exclamation marks into endless social media sites and feel that on some level I was still a functioning human. And it did help, of course it did. The alternative was no contact at all. But that time spent relying on social media as, well, as my self… I’m finding it hard to extract those claws and get back to existing in the real world.
So, I drink tea, and sit in my shed breathing earth and wood and leaves, stretching out phone-free time as far as possible. I meet friends for coffee and walks and find freedom in talking and laughing with people face-to-face. But, there’s a flip side. I walk more but still have to post it on Instagram. I read more but still have to tweet about the book. I remove apps and delete accounts, but find myself lasting only a matter of hours before signing in again. It’s a hard road.
Does smartphone addiction exist? In my personal experience, yes. I’ve never found it so, so hard to try and change any other habit. I’ve given up social media countless times (and here, and here), always squirming back and resolving that next time I’ll be stronger. So, how do I make this time different?
Simple things. The tiny, comforting, everyday slowness of keeping just busy enough. No huge changes, no all-or-nothing. A gradual swap of one thing for another. Another step towards a future I can control. Living honestly. Living slowly. Living simply. I try to search for things that inspire me, reading lovely blogs that inspire me (such as Louise Ann Knight, Catherine Elizabeth Gordon and A Bookish Baker) and planning walks and adventures. And I hope as time goes on, real life will gradually begin to replace virtual life once more.