How To Break Up With Your Phone: A Non-Fiction Review

How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine PriceHow many times a day do you pick up your phone? Now, how many of those times are in response to notifications? How many are just to check?

If the answers to any of those questions is “Way too often,” you’re not alone. You’re not solely responsible either. Social media and, by extension, smartphones are designed to keep you on them and make you part of the attention economy converting your clicks and your time on your device to ad revenue.

If you’re ready to take back your phone (and your life), it’s time to admit this relationship needs some work. You need to breakup and, if you’re like me, you’re going to need some help to do it. Which is where How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life (2018) by Catherine Price comes in.

Find it on Bookshop.

At under 200 pages, Price’s book is a quick and approachable read about all of the things digital devices and sites do to keep people using them. Plus all of the things users can do to combat those ill-effects.

As I mentioned in my review of Digital Minimalism a lot of the aspects of breaking up with a digital device fall apart in the middle of a pandemic that demands you isolate and keep your distance from people.

That said, Price offers a step by step process to use for reducing time on your phone. I also appreciated that Price approaches this problem as one who has dealt with the same issues while acknowledging all of the great things a smartphone can do. Practical tips like turning off notifications and enabling app limits (or using an app blocker) go a long way to help interested readers make permanent changes.

Keeping the guiding questions “What do you love about your smartphone?” and “What do you want to pay attention to?” in mind, How to Break Up With Your Phone guides readers through a 30 day phone breakup including time to assess the damage (how much you use your phone), ways to redirect the energy you want to use on your phone, and how to let go of apps that aren’t working for you.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World: A Non-Fiction Review

Digital Minimalism by Cal NewportHow much time do you think you spend on your phone every day? How much of that time is spent talking to an actual person on a phone call? How much is texting? How much is scrolling different apps?

In one study one in three participants guessed they spent significantly less time on their smart phone than they actually do per day. While the average in this study was around five hours, some participants reported spending as many as twelve hours on their phone.

It’s no wonder, when the attention economy and social media are designed to keep people on their devices, using apps as much as possible.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019) by Cal Newport offers some ways to cut through all the things demanding our attention and decide what really matters.

Find it on Bookshop.

Digital Minimalism is divided into two parts “Foundations” and “Practices.” The first half of the book establishes the problem and details some of the causes while the second half offers actionable strategies for change.

Newport calls his approach “digital minimalism”–a way to gauge exactly how much is enough without ever over-using. While this phrase might conjure an image of Luddites eschewing all technology, the book is quick to point out that rather digital minimalists adopt new technology and apps with caution. If a device or site doesn’t add value to a digital minimalist’s life, they do not use it.

The main tenet of digital minimalism is starting with a clean slate after a 30 day digital break in which you are not using your phone as anything but a phone and avoiding all of its apps and other features. After this detox period, digital minimalists are advised to evaluate what digital apps and devices they reintroduce with the following questions: Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? Is this technology the best way to support this value? How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?

Although Newport’s approach has been widely praised, he fails to acknowledge the intrinsic value in written communication/social media as tools for human connection. In other words, for Newport, friendships and connections are seen as having limited value if they cannot take place in person or at least over a phone call. I found this view dated and, given the number of long distance friendships I have, unrealistic. It is also one facet of digital minimalism that falls apart under the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Digital Minimalism doesn’t tread new ground (and fails to cite books by women who cover similar topics), Newport does present the information clearly and succinctly–particularly in the first half covering the ill effects of this digital age and how ill-equipped we all are for these massive changes. Practical tips including deleting apps in favor of web versions and turning off notifications may feel commonsense but fit in well with the overall approach.

Readers interested in a more practical step-by-step approach to using their phone less will be better served by How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. Readers who want to think more about living with intention and joy should also check out Marie Kondo’s books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Joy at Work (with Scott Sonenshein) and Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski.

Social Media Wellness: A Non-Fiction Review and My Own Social Media Overhaul

Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World (2017) by Ana Homayoun is part textbook and part workbook offering background on the ways social media usage has changed and grown in recent years along with strategies for tweens and teens to manage their social media time along with all of their other school and extracurricular responsibilities.

Although this book (Homayoun’s third on teens and organization) is targeted at parents/educators it also offers useful information and strategies for teens to implement on their own. As a librarian and social media user myself I learned a lot both for working with kids and teens and for my own practices.

The first three chapters of the book introduce social media as an ever-changing phenomenon and some of the bigger players in social media sites for young people. Homayoun also looks at how social media use affects teens and tweens and offers some compelling statistics and facts on how social media is changing sleep patterns, empathy, and other habits for frequent users. Homayoun also offers a quick rundown of how the instant gratification and constant usage of social media can feed into teen development and promote negative traits and offer a warped sense of what is and is not acceptable.

The second half of the book offers organization strategies and successful anecdotes framed within Homayoun’s three-pronged strategy of socialization, self-regulation, and  safety designed to help tweens and teens not just use social media and devices less but also to use both more efficiently.

My main takeaway from this book is that choices matter and when it comes to digital use there is always a choice. It’s also important to remember that friends are not the same as followers/likes even if you might have some great friends that you only know digitally.

In my own life I was inspired after reading Social Media Wellness to take a hard look at what was and wasn’t working for me. I deleted accounts I no longer use, I left sites that brought me no joy (Pinterest), and I made sure I knew all of my accounts and their related information (and if any needed to be made more secure). I also took time to think about privacy settings and what I want to be available to my friends/followers (I will not be keeping an archive of my instagram stories for instance).

Something else that really clicked with me was the idea that social media encourages an “always on” mentality and what that means for anyone using them. It’s exhausting! After reading about this repeatedly in Homayoun’s book and realizing how much I was plugged in I decided it was time to remove my work email/messaging from my phone. I don’t have a job with urgent deadlines and I don’t have to take work home. There’s no reason for me to be plugged in all the time and replying all the time when it will keep until business hours. While I still start my personal and work days checking sites and emails, I try to avoid ending the day in that way and instead try to unplug and either watch TV with my mom or just read before bed instead.

Homayoun also suggests readers try the Pomodoro Technique for monotasking (because multi-tasking never works, especially when it includes checking texts or likes) which has been incredibly helpful for parceling out my own day-to-day tasks and using apps like Moment to monitor phone usage (I tried this right when my compute died which totally skewed the data and I need to try it again now) and also Forest to encourage less phone use. (I’ve also been using Forest as my timer for the Pomodoro modules.)

What I really like about Social Media Wellness is that it offers factual information to back up claims along with a variety of strategies which allow readers to take what works for them and leave the rest. A lot of this is common sense–especially for readers who are already “plugged in” when it comes to social media and digital devices–but the calm and measured approach makes even the simplest changes feel empowering and proves that even small changes can make a huge difference. A must-read in this increasingly digital age.