Meetings, apps, Netflix: we are inextricably linked to our laptops and telephones. It is inevitable that our screen time will increase. But how do we ensure that gazing at screens does not become an addiction?
“A smartphone addiction, just like a cocaine addiction, appeals to the reward center in the brain,” says Paul Jansen, founder of AfkickkliniekWijzer.nl. And like other behavioral addictions, screen addiction can lead to withdrawal symptoms and even hospital admissions.
Most of them do not get that far, but there are problems such as distraction from work, overstimulation or health problems such as eye complaints. When you are really addicted to screen, it is difficult to say, according to Jansen. It is a relatively new problem and researchers use different definitions. “But in general, if you really can’t live without it and experience withdrawal symptoms when you can’t reach your smartphone.”
Whether you really experience a lot of inconvenience or just want to spend less time on your phone: with these tips you can arm yourself against an overkill of screen time.
1. Map screen time
“Nowadays there are tools to tackle your screen behavior,” says Jansen. For example, there are more and more standard options on laptops, smartphones and browsers that show what your screen time is. For those who want to tackle it even more rigorously, there is the Pavlok, a kind of bracelet that gives a shock if you are online longer than your set screen time.
Only when you become aware of your behavior can you change that behavior. “And it’s important to keep that awareness, if you want to keep it up.”
“Just like with smoking, you think you choose to sit on your phone.”
Rens van der Vorst, technophilosopher
2. Increase the dremPeel
“Just like with smoking, you think you choose to sit on your phone,” says Rens van der Vorst, technophilosopher and author of the book. Apping is the new smoking. “But apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.”
What can we learn from the history of smoking to better use our phone? Where smokers were first dismissed as perpetrators, there are now lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Similarly, you should not punish smartphone users, but create a helping environment. “I am a great supporter of app-free spaces, for example in cinemas or special train compartments”, says Van der Vorst.
“Before the smartphone was introduced, nobody was into food porn.”
Rens van der Vorst, technophilosopher
Apps are rewarding and respond to convenience. “Before the smartphone was launched, nobody turned on food porn. Then you had to take a camera with you to the restaurant, connect it to your laptop at home and upload it. “Make your phone use less easy and attractive: put it behind a zipper, put it in another room, switch off notifications or turn off your phone on grayscale (grayscale only).
3. Choose the right apps
You can also use the rewarding effect of apps to your advantage. “It’s a bit meta, but you can download apps that help you use other apps less,” says Van der Vorst. An example is Forest, which allows you to grow a bush as you use your phone less.
4: Go for quality
Van der Vorst: “When it comes to smoking, it is of course clear that you should do that less. Screen time is more about how to do that.” And that certainly applies to these times when we are more dependent on our screens.
“You better do it the best you can. For example by watching something interesting that you will remember seeing in five days, instead of a big blur of TikTok movies.”
5. Find alternatives
Screen time has become a big part of our lives, says Jansen of AfkickkliniekWijzer.nl. Still, he advises setting rules for yourself if you find yourself really finding it too much. “Say, for example: I watch Netflix for a maximum of an hour and then I walk around, grab a book or meditate. Make sure you do enough other things.”
6. Take baby steps
In view of all these tips, Van der Vorst has another overarching tip: don’t go from everything to nothing. The challenge is to use your devices in moderation. “So don’t immediately do a digital detox, but take small steps.”
Buy a watch, for example, so that you don’t keep checking your phone for the time. And read the newspaper in the morning with a cup of coffee, before opening your laptop. And when we’re back in the pub or restaurant again, don’t pick up your phone as soon as you go to the toilet. “And congratulate yourself on that if you succeed.”