Priscilla Ho

@phohop

Results from a self-induced airplane mode experiment

You got a notification!

Made you look.

It’s getting trickier not to look at our phones the minute a notification pops up. Whether it’s in the car, at work or in the gym, the only thing missing in order to turn our phones into another appendage is flesh-like body glue.

Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash

Have you ever taken a photo of a photo?

Or flopped onto the bed to check Face-ter-gram quickly before getting some shut-eye, and then realizing 3 hours later you’re still scrolling?

One too many times, I’ve reflected on how sickened I felt knowing that my phone’s notifications had so much control of my thumbs, swiping my lock screen to check the latest message.

It was physically effecting my sleep, not just because of screen time, but because of how obliged I felt to go to every single Facebook event that I was invited to. And yet, each new event was full of silent conversation and glazed eyes with the exception for the minute minute when the filter-perfect group selfie with forced grins.

Current status

Sherry Turkle (2012) notably claims that we are “sacrificing conversation for mere connection” and that it has led us to a new “I share, therefore I am” way of being that actually makes us more disconnected from our social circles (Turkle, 2012). Oulasvirta (2011) furthers that sentiment by stating in a news release that what is most concerning is that if our “habitual response to boredom is to pick up the phone to find interesting stimuli, you will be systematically distracted from the more important things happening around you” (Aalto University, 2011).

Video thumbnail: https://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together

Turkle (2014) adamantly continues the published conversations about the “tiring performances” of constantly checking our phones by claiming that they “leave little space for creativity and reflection”, advocating for mindfulness in consciously considering where we live and what we live for (Turkle, 2014). Over 60% of people admit that they feel burnout from being constantly connected to social media (Australian Psychological Society, 2015). In a report from an Irish media company, Thinkhouse (2014) found that 90% of people check their phone when they wake up, while on public transport and while watching TV.

Choosing slow instead of low

One of the best decisions I’ve made since switching from Qwerty keyboards to touchscreen was putting my phone on airplane mode each night, charging it in another room that was hard to reach without getting out of bed. I had to 12-step my way into this conscious effort, from physically joining a dragon boat team where phones would otherwise get destroyed by the fishy salt water during practice.

Next came the flip phone method — turning my phone upside down at the table every time I was eating with family and friends. Eventually this turned into keeping my phone in my bag the whole time I was trying to listen to what my comrade had to say.

Before I knew it, I even put my phone on airplane mode for hours straight during the day, just so I could focus on whatever I was doing. Miraculously yet logically, I was able to accomplish so many more things in the day. I finished reading books that had been piled up for four years. I started fitting an hour more of exercise in each day, which helped me feel better about how I looked. Silence was reveled smelling flora and fauna up close and personal, instead of being treated as an automatic trigger for my hands to unlock my phone in order to live vicariously through friends’ travel photos.

It so happened that this time of my life was also the time I finished my Masters thesis and ended up speaking about my design research in conferences and workshops.

At the Q&A sessions from these workshops, hearing the doubt in university graduates who raised the concern that they didn’t think it was possible to turn off their notifications saddened me. I struggled with an answer.

How would you have responded?

My only response to reassure them was:

Taking the time to put my phone on airplane mode helped me.

Making the conscious effort to wean off immediate gratification was like retraining the child in me who wanted to eat the marshmallow right away.

Source: CBC Radio (2015)

What I found

  1. Taking time to delay before replying to messages actually made conversations more meaningful and friendships stronger
  2. Time management and goal-setting helped me feel better about myself
  3. Better focus at the task at hand through training myself to be less distracted from notifications made problem-solving at work and in the home more efficient and actually more creative

If that doesn’t incentivize trying out that nifty airplane mode function, what will? I’m actually curious in this never-ending experiment. Let me know @phohop or at priscillaho.com — would love to hear your thoughts.

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