Step away from the digital detox

Image: public domain

My name is Eleanor and I'm addicted to my phone.

Every morning, I get up, check my emails, then open up Twitter and the Guardian app to update them for when I head to the Underground (no signal and very dodgy Wi-Fi – eek!) so I can catch up with what's been happening around the globe overnight.

If I'm reading a novel, I open iBooks or the Kindle app and settle down to immerse myself in another world.

I once read Anna Karenina on my phone. It took me three months to finish it and then another three months for the thumb I used to swipe the pages to return to its normal size. (It’s a very long book.)

On a normal day I will do at least three of the following before I've finished my first cup of tea in the morning: check my bank balance; catch up with what's happening to my extended family in America via Facebook; download music; read the news; find out which Tottenham players are supposedly about to be sold to Real Madrid/Barcelona/Man United (delete as appropriate) this week.

In an article last year, the author pleaded with readers: don't let your smart phone 'be the boss of you'. Peter Fleming quoted the example of a hardworking employee who was ordered by his bosses to take two weeks' leave to avoid burn out. But while he was off supposedly digitally detoxing in sunny climes, the emails in his office inbox kept mysteriously disappearing.

It turned out he was popping to the toilet at regular intervals with his mobile, accessing his office emails, then reading and deleting them in batches. So addicted was he to his job, the piece of tech that originally made calling the babysitter easier if you were on a night out without the kids, had now become the carefully warmed spoon to his career crack cocaine, facilitating his addiction, even when he was being paid not to work.

That poor man hiding in a beachside loo trying to get a signal isn't alone. The internet has given us many wonderful things that I don't need to go into here, but once it was squeezed into a device small enough to pop into your pocket it became an evil, time-consuming tech monster, with the capacity to smear the boundaries between work and rest, and enslave us all.

And it's not just the office email that leeches into our daily lives. The camera phone also has a lot to answer for.

Whether it’s people in restaurants Instagramming their soufflé, or a teenager puckering their lips for a selfie on Snapchat, it can sometimes feel like every moment of modern life is pixelated and shared in cyberspace.

In fact, we now spend so much time taking pictures of our life that we're in danger of forgetting to live it.

I remember when I first realised I was addicted to recording every moment.

It was a warm night in London during the summer of 2014. I’d happened upon Spectra – a beautiful, illuminated installation staged to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda had positioned 49 beams of light to shoot up into the darkening sky next to the House of Lords. It was said to be visible for 12 miles, but standing there in the middle of it all, as the flies and dust danced in the light, was an incredibly moving experience.

And then I became aware of the crowd. Most of the people around me seemed to be viewing it via their mobile phone screens as they snapped and videoed away.

They may as well have been sitting in the nearest Costa coffee watching it on YouTube. So busy were they saving the moment for posterity, they were in danger of missing out on the sheer joy of actually being in it. And even though I tutted as loudly as any British person would do who didn't want to attract too much attention to themselves but still wanted to show displeasure, I couldn't resist joining in.

The fact is, we live in a 'click and capture' world. In 2015, Instragram passed 400 million users. And it's not just Millennials and Generation Z. A report from Ofcom found that nearly a third of UK adults admitted to taking a selfie, with one in 10 doing so at least once a week. All in all, an estimated 1.2 billion ‘selfies’ were posed for in the UK that year.

Former Loaded and GQ editor James Brown, writing in the Telegraph, admitted that after ditching his iPhone he now carries an old Nokia around with him.

'I’m now happily enjoying being in the space where I actually am. I notice a lot more,' he writes.

As for me, I'm not going to pretend that I'm about to follow suit. My phone is too useful – and too darn sexy – for me to give it up completely.

I'm not sure how I would cope without Google Maps to guide me when I'm visiting an area of the country I don't know, or IMDB when I'm out with friends and none of us can remember which film former footballer Vinnie Jones starred in with John Travolta. (It was Swordfish, in case you're interested.)

And asking your teenagers to give up their phones is cutting off their means of communication with friends and a vital online support network at the very time they need it most.

But I do think it's time to show a little restraint. I want to own my phone, not be owned by it. I want it to go back to being an accessory to my life, not life itself.

Interestingly, Nokia has announced it's about to start making mobile phones again. While I suspect we won't see a return to the simplicity of a 5110 or the space age sliding cover of the 7110, it will be interesting to see if there is a market for a real back to basics handset for those suffering from a digital overdose.

Less sometimes really can be more.

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