Larry Rosen, PhD, a research psychologist who explores our relationship with technology, says that over the years, we've become increasingly dependent on our phones, to the point that they're now just a part of our lives and how we communicate with each other.
Dr. Rosen says that we've essentially created a sense of social responsibility based around communicating on our phones.
"We feel that we need to fulfill a social obligation that we have set up, and we have been reinforced for over and over (or punished for), meaning that if you 'like' something immediately, people are happy," he says. "If you don’t like something, people get upset with you."
It's easy enough to see how we got here, but unlearning the habit of checking your phone in the middle of an IRL conversation is a lot harder. As Dr. Rosen puts it, it took us years to get into these habits, and it's going to take years if we want to break them. So right off the bat, Dr. Rosen says it's a good idea to let people know that you're trying to minimise your time on your phone. That way, you won't offend them by not answering an Instagram DM immediately, and it takes some pressure off of you to make sure you're not unintentionally ignoring someone.
I think we’ve kind of boxed ourselves in a corner, it’s what I would argue is something like social responsibility.
Larry Rosen, PhD
Then, he says, turn off all your notifications so that you're not pinged if someone's trying to get in touch with you unless it's someone important (most apps let you filter to get notifications from certain people).
Another tip? Moving all your social media apps into one folder, putting that folder into another folder, and moving it to the last screen of your phone. It sounds like overkill, but the idea here is to make it harder to access the apps that are keeping you glued to your phone.
The same goes with another one of Dr. Rosen's tips: Don't save your passwords on the social media apps, if you can help it.
"The more effort we have to put in, the more likely our brains will click and go, why am I doing this?" he says. "And then you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it."
It might not be worth it if, say, you're waiting at your dentist's office and need to look for the app and type your password in — by the time you're logged in, you might be called for your appointment and have no time to actually scroll through your feed.
"Then you start to get this sense of, do I need to be doing this all the time?" Dr. Rosen says.
And then, he says, you want to start checking your phone slowly on schedule instead of just on a whim when you’re bored. So instead of just scrolling through Twitter when you're waiting in line for coffee, you intentionally do it at the end of your day for 10 minutes.
"So eventually, what you’re doing is breaking a habit — but it’s a tough one to break," Dr. Rosen says.