How to Break Up With Your Phone

By: Sophia Erickson

Have you ever considered what your life would be like without your phone? 

No texting, no emailing, no Tweeting, Instagramming, or Snapchatting. No Tik Tok, Spotify or Uber. No camera, alarm clock, calculator, notes, fitness tracker, daily weather forecast, or Googling the actress’ name from that one movie you can never remember. Many Gen Zers would find this scenario a nightmare, but what if I told you that life with less screen time could make you more productive, more connected and overall happier? Now, I’m not suggesting that after reading this article you throw your phone off a bridge, but I do urge you to reconsider the relationship you have with your phone in order to better understand what role technology plays in your life.

Are We Addicted? 

According to a study done by Deloitte, the average young adult checks his or her phone 74 times a day and spends approximately four hours a day starting at its screen (Eadicicco, 2015).  Just to put it in perspective for you, that’s roughly a sixth of our total time alive. But what about our phones makes us so obsessed?

As highlighted in the popular Netflix movie, The Social Dilemma, big tech companies have evolved to manipulate our brain chemistry in order to maximize the amount of time that we spend on our devices. In their efforts, they are mainly targeting dopamine, which is a brain chemical important for pleasure, reward and addiction (Berridge, 2015). Smartphones provide us with unlimited social stimuli – texts, “likes” on Instagram and Snapchat notifications- that activate dopaminergic reward pathways. 

Over time, our brains are trained to expect a dopamine influx from our phones and this dynamic can lead to craving, dependence and addiction (Roberts, 2014). Simply, if your brain learns that checking your phone typically results in a reward, it will begin to release dopamine any time it is reminded of your phone. This explains our incessant need to check our phones because we are anticipating a dopamine influx. However, when we check our phone and there are no “likes”, texts or notifications, our brains become disappointed. The lack of dopamine leads to poorer mental health, negative self-esteem and an urge to keep scrolling in search of reward (Shoukat, 2019). 

You might be feeling a little taken advantage of or disgusted by the fact that a seemingly harmless device is actually wreaking havoc on your emotions, but now what? I am here to tell you that it is time for the breakup.

The Breakup

  1. Reflect on how you use your phone and decide what you want to change. Ask yourself these three questions before using your phone: What am I picking up my phone to do? Why am I picking up my phone at this moment? What else could I do right now instead of checking my phone? These questions allow you to re-evaluate the real reasons why you reach for your phone and can even help you recognize the difference between using your phone for practical reasons and using it to, “counteract a dysphoric mood.” (De-Sola Gutiérrez, 2016). 
  1. Create boundaries and commit yourself to them. Start by establishing no phone zones in rooms such as your bedroom or wherever you eat. To facilitate this transition, purchase an alarm clock and keep a book by your bedside as an alternative to using your phone. Another technique is to establish no phone times. I suggest starting with 30 mins phone free in the morning and before bed in the evening. Now obviously I am not asking you to never use your phone, but when you do I also recommend setting a time limit to prevent hours of mindless scrolling. 
  1. Use your phone as a tool, not as temptation. Phones have evolved from  practical devices into distractions that disconnect us from the social world. It’s no secret that we are emotionally connected to our phones, but by depersonalizing our devices we can start to see phones as nothing but a useful tool. 
  • Change your homescreen to black instead of a personal picture.
  • Reorganize your home screen by deleting (or moving) any apps that waste your time and download more apps that support a positive habit such as Headspace or Duolingo. 
  • Turn off notifications. 
  • For Apple users, turn on the Downtime feature in settings. It cuts off access to all apps during certain timeframes, such as 8PM to 8AM.
  1. Focus on enjoying the moment and be mindful of how you use your phones when you are around others. Being on your phone in the presence of others is basically a way of saying that the person you are with isn’t important, so don’t check your phone in the middle of conversations and call out your friends when they do it to you. Also, train yourself to stop multitasking. For instance, when you are watching a movie, don’t scroll through Instagram and when you are on the phone don’t check your email- I promise it can wait. 

With all this new information, I urge you to really think about how technology has changed your life. As Steve Jobs once said in 2007 when he first introduced the Phone, “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” Now fourteen years later, the question isn’t whether he was right- it’s whether we like the way we have changed. 

Resource List:

Berridge, K. C., & Kringelbach, M. L. (2015). Pleasure systems in the brain. Neuron, 86(3), 646–664. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2015.02.018

De-Sola Gutiérrez, J., Rodríguez de Fonseca, F., & Rubio, G. (2016). Cell-Phone Addiction: A Review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 7, 175. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00175

Eadicicco, L. (2015, December 15). Americans Check Their Phones 8 Billion Times Per Day. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://time.com/4147614/smartphone-usage-us-2015/

Roberts, J. A., Yaya, L. H., & Manolis, C. (2014). The invisible addiction: cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students. Journal of behavioral addictions, 3(4), 254–265. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.3.2014.015

Shoukat S. (2019). Cell phone addiction and psychological and physiological health in adolescents. EXCLI journal, 18, 47–50.

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