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  • Writer's pictureRiver Valley Student Editorial Club

Do you have a life? Your screen time revealed, resolved, reduced

By Wong Zhening (24J12)

Our lives have become inextricably tied to our phones. From checking for endless assignments posted on Google Classroom to your friend's newest life update on Instagram, it is evident that we would be disconnected from our lives without our phones. However, the phone is also a distraction with its incessant notifications and addictive entertainment, creating the generation with the shortest attention span to date. One short trip into TikTok for a break could easily escalate into a thumb-scrolling exercise of a whole 2 hours while you numbly stare at the screen until a rare funny video elicits a chuckle from you. But when does this constant usage fall into the realm of “too much”? Delve into today’s article to find out more about our peers’ screen time and how to overcome phone addiction.

What is your screen time?

Rather than horoscopes or the MBTI personality test, your phone usage statistics can be more telling about your lifestyle and personality than you may think. The types of apps you use or the number of times you turn on your phone screen daily indicate your lifestyle and your personality as well.

According to research done by the Statista Research department in 2023, the average Singaporean uses their phone for 4.51 hours a day. So, how do students compare to that?

I asked various students about their screen times and the results were varied.

On the one hand, we have people with screen times of around 4.45 hours. Following up are people with 7 to 8 hours of screen time who show subtle signs of phone addiction but comment that commitments have fortunately prevented them from becoming depraved creatures like the next group: -those who spend a whopping 10 hours! To put this into perspective, that is almost  42% of your day spent with your eyes glued to your personal metal brick! And I sadly, am also one of them, but what exactly do people like me do on our phones to spend nearly half the day on it?

My atrocious 8 hours of daily screen time :(

What are the culprits?

Common suspects are undoubtedly all entertainment and social apps. But who can blame us for using them, when life is so dull and boring? As students who wake up at the break of dawn and drag ourselves through school, the already meagre amount of motivation is long gone. Tired and heavy-headed, you lie down on your bed, and the easiest thing you can do is to unlock your phone, and numbly scroll through your daily dopamine feed to heal your tattered soul. And what better sources of dopamine than the holy trinity of Instagram, TikTok and YouTube? These apps are unequivocally the top contenders for the most used apps among students!

TikTok seems to be the most common time-sink as the short clips that flow into your For Your Page (FYP) feed you bits of satisfaction that leave you wanting more. Short clips that are also suitable as a little break from your work, filling up the gaps of spare time between activities; but whether they remain as little breaks is another story. 

The runner-up for the biggest offender is Instagram. Double-digit hours on Instagram are not uncommon as people easily sink into Instagram reels, an outlet for people who refuse to use TikTok or try to delete it, but still crave the short-form media that provides so much entertainment. 

Unlike the previous apps, most people who use YouTube watch much longer video content. Video essays that talk about anything, from topics as trivial as the phenomenon of your daily lives to a commentary on a niche movie could easily go on and on for hours, so it’s easy to simply tune in to one of them while doing your work. On that account, it is not hard to see how one can rack up their screen time on YouTube.

The Cure

Now with all that said, how do we tackle our biggest distractor and lock in on anything else we do?

As a victim to the allure of my phone, I have tried out some of the solutions myself and will give a review on the strategies suggested by Google.

  1. Take a ‘screen fast’

There is no better way to reduce screen time than to remove screen time entirely for a period of time. Take a page from overcoming other types of addiction like alcoholism; to overcome phone addiction is to remove the temptation. An average person could start with a 24-hour fast on a weekend. Of course, a fast may not be practical for many of us, whether for work or personal reasons, but the goal is to get as close to a full avoidance as possible.

Bounded by the severe guilt of wasting my days on my phone, I decided to come clean and carry out a 48 hour fast with my phone — with a few twists. As unfortunate as it is, I could not simply escape from my hectic life and run away into the wilderness. Life still has to go on. Therefore, I allowed myself to use my computer when needed. The point is to reduce entertainment as much as possible. You may be expecting withdrawal symptoms, periods of suffering, but it was rather peaceful for me in those 48 hours. The lack of a phone meant no constant notifications pinging me every hour. The overhanging thought to reply to all your messages vanishes and suddenly life does really feel a little more free. With my mind free from all temptations, I could settle down and take things slowly, little by little. Things I have always attempted to escape from surfaced and I was able to process them all gradually. My day felt longer and more productive as I was no longer guilty from mindlessly wasting my time on my phone. As more things were done, I felt more accomplished which helped me take a break from my worries. The temptation to use my phone rarely crossed my mind after a while. All in all, this is a very effective way to cut down on phone usage and get down with things you have to do. 

2. Make your phone less appealing

For starters, change your screen to greyscale or turn off notifications. A dull, greyscale screen has less allure than a bright, vibrant screen. Also, periodically rearranging the apps on your phone makes it harder to find and less likely to lure you into a mindless loop of checking and rechecking simply out of habit. Creating a mental obstacle harder to overcome would naturally discourage you from surrendering to the appeal of your phone. If you do not want to use it, you would not use it. 

However, the effectiveness of this tactic would vary from person to person, and would definitely render itself useless for people like me who are prepared to risk it all just for some dose of TikTok. Therefore, this will only be useful with some discipline.

3. Set rules around your daily phone usage 

Instead of going to an extreme and completely removing your phone from your life, you could find other, less stringent ways to distance yourself from your phone each day. That might mean allocating some time during the day to keep your hands off your phone. It may also mean leaving your phone in another room, keeping it out of your room or entrusting your phone to others when it's time for you to focus.

It may sound trivial, like an old-fashioned analogue solution, but it is effective. If you allow your phone to join you in every moment of your life, you set yourself up for failure; you will be drawn to it and use it, whereas if you cannot physically reach it, you predispose yourself to using it less.

For the less disciplined, like me, a physical hurdle may not be enough to overcome your phone usage. Hence, make your phone block it for you! Use apps that block certain apps or phone usage for a certain period of time to prevent you from accessing your phone during your work times. As an Android user, the settings app provides a function to block apps and create time for zero distractions, which can be very useful to settle in and focus on your work right after arriving at home. For me, this worked best as it was feasible for school life in which I cannot afford to abandon my phone all day, while still allowing pockets of time for me to focus on my priorities.

When 10 hours of screen time is your goal

Ultimately, the questions to ask yourself about your screen time are: what else could I be doing right now? Is there something I could be doing that would be better for me? Remember, our phones can assist us in our lives, but it should not be our lives. Here’s wishing all of the phone addicts out there only the best of luck in breaking this digital spell. We are in this together!

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