I Tried To Break My iPhone Addiction — & Here's What Happened

Photo: Courtesy of Rockie Nolan.
My phone is my best friend. She is smart, supportive, and beautiful. But while she didn't mind (yes, she's a she), I started to feel I was becoming too clingy. It felt like my smartphone had become an extra limb; I would get lost without that slab of metal and glass in my hand. It was time for a change.

A number of things slowly began to raise those red flags. I was less and less present at social engagements or dinner with friends and family. I felt that I had to document everything that I was doing — I needed that ego boosting verification that came in the form of "likes." I actually started living by a stupid phrase I made fun of all the time: "If it's not on Instagram (or Snapchat), it's like it didn't even happen." Sometimes I fell asleep with my phone in hand. And I cared more about the life of my smartphone than my own! If my phone hit 20% battery life, I went into crisis mode.

When 2016 rolled around, and everyone began making resolutions, I did too. I knew I needed more space from my smartphone — and not the storage kind. I wanted to hear more of what people were saying. I wanted to see and experience the world through my eyes, not through a carefully crafted Instagram filter. And I wanted to stop watching movies while also playing Candy Crush, insisting that I was a "two screener."

I'm certainly not alone in this sentiment. It seems nearly everyone is going on a tech diet, breaking up with the internet, not checking emails, or finding healthier ways to consume social media. I'm not the only one struggling to unglue a phone from my hands.

So just in time for those bleak middle of winter blues, when most people start to forget about how they wanted to eat less sugar, exercise more, and by absolutely no means eat gluten, I decided to start monitoring exactly how often I checked my phone, and even what I spent the most time doing on it. This, I hoped, would hold me accountable and keep me on track.

First, I downloaded Checky app as this article suggested, and asked two fellow R29ers to join me. (Strength in numbers!) We were so excited to see how often we checked our phones each day. Research points out that the average person opens their smartphone 150 times a day.

How did we measure up?

Checky said I only checked my phone once on a Wednesday, and three times on Thursday. Uhhh, that's not right.

It wasn't just me — my coworkers had similar experiences. One of our beauty editors said the app reported her checking her phone 40 times on a Friday (in the realm of normal, but seemingly low) but only twice the day before. Maybe the app worked in the past, but it's in dire need of a serious update at the present time.

Instead, I decided to download Hooked. This app promises a breakdown of your daily app usage. I was excited about being able to identify patterns and figure out what I could change. According to the app, on January 16th I spent one hour and 39 minutes on my smartphone, broken down like this:
I knew I used Instagram a lot, but Hooked definitely helped me see my social app usage in numbers, and I started to become more mindful about it. I switched to checking Instagram once in the morning, and once in the evening. Then, weirdly, I lost patience in scrolling through my Instagram account, and no longer felt the need to “catch up” and see every single post. A phone habit change win!

I also tried a third screen time-tracking app called Moment. This app had one feature the other two did not: I could set a limit for myself of how much screen time I was allowed, and when I reached that limit, an alarm would sound and force me off. I was intrigued, but opted out for fear of having my phone privileges taken away. I guess I still have some progress to make.

When I went to check my results for January 20th, Moment showed a much higher number than Hooked: three hours and 36 minutes compared to two hours and 14 minutes. Moment doesn't just count time in apps, but also anytime the screen is on. Does having the phone open to the home screen count as using my phone? (I'm going with no.)

Still, after learning more about my own phone habits, my resolve in trying to change them only strengthened.

Apps such as Hooked are really helpful to use for a few days, if you’re curious about how much time you spend playing iPhone games or mindlessly looking at your Venmo feed. But in the end, they are also a time suck. You don’t need an app to be more mindful — just start by unfollowing Instagram or Snapchat accounts that only give you #fomo or waste your time (I really don’t need to obsessively check Kylie Jenner’s snapchats). Turning off some push notifications helps, too.

Surprisingly, once I whittled down my Instagram stalking, my favorite app suddenly started to feel like a chore. Now my Candy Crush vice, that's another story.

I personally thought this would simply be an experiment, and not lead to any long-term changes. I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was, and how much happier I feel after making a few relatively simple tweaks. That said, if my phone dies on me, nothing else in the world matters until I can get it charged with life again.

This phone thing — it's a work in progress.

More from Tech