Digital detox or Doctor, I’m attached to my smartphone — is it normal?

Did you have a nice chat with your friends last time you met them? Or were you all only taking pictures of the meals for Instagram, and commenting each other on Facebook?

Do you remember what you did when you last met your best friend?  Did you have a nice chat with your friends last time you met them, or were you taking pictures of the meal to post on Instagram?

Sadly, this is becoming more and more common. It’s fashionable to speak about smartphone addiction and it has many other names today such as ‘nomophobia’, or cell phone vibration syndrome… It’s great that the disease is not embarrassing and that it’s gaining better recognition in the public eye.

However, if we’ll look into the matter a little more, is it at all a disease at all?  Or are we making a mountain out of a molehill?  Are we being frightened by horror stories, written by people who want to see us a “cure”?  We’re all too quick to label somebody as an “addict” if they spend a large portion of time on their phone.

After all, what’s so terrible about the fact that every half an hour I check my email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, Google+ and some 20 more applications?

Whether I am a trembling creature?..

The need to know everything that is going on around us falls under the category of primitive instincts, says psychologist Nicholas Carr, who studied the issue of what the Internet is doing to our brains. There was a time when “hunger for information” helped our cave dwelling ancestors to survive. Today, when the information available is, mildly speaking, excessive, the instinct doesn’t always work to our advantage — it, rather, hampers the normal life.

It is the same as gaining body fat: there was a time when the store of fat around the waist helped people to live through the times of hunger, thus increasing their chances to survive.  Today, with our sedentary lives, it’s quite the opposite.

Destructive addictions are, generally speaking, easier to diagnose than nomophobia and internet addiction.  With classic addictions, people generally need to increase their dosage overtime due to a growing tolerance to the given addiction.

However, trying to find out if you’re addicted to your phone can be difficult: there’s a whole host of questionnaires and tests designed to tell you’re struggling with the problem.  These tests can be good to give you an idea but they don’t help you to get to the bottom of the issue.

Lets suppose for a second that your addiction is obvious: you constantly check your phone and you feel helpless if you can’t locate it.  You could then look at some simple steps and advice, created by psychologists to help un-glue you from your mobile.

But there’s a difference between not looking at your phone and not being able to look at your phone.  Some app developers have created apps that actually lock your phone, rendering it useless to you.  Is this a clever way of helping you beat the problem or is it just giving you another app on your phone?

Similia Similibus Curantur

This idea has struck more than one developer and both the Apple store and Play store have hundreds of digital detox apps available.

However, something that a lot of people aren’t aware of is that your mobile actually gives you a lot of these controls, out the box.  Android version 5.0 and up along with iOS gives you a “do not disturb” option, allowing you to cut out the digital “noise” but still get that important call from your boss.

Most digital detox apps do similar things.  Here’s a few good examples:

You have to look your enemy in the face, the authors of BreakFree Cell Phone Addiction (Android and iOS) program think. The developers lay major emphasis on monitoring functions. The program monitors the following: the time you spend on talks, how often you unblock the device, which applications consume the most of your time (the latter in the paid version); and on the basis of the information it calculates your “addiction level”. A simpler variant of the same idea is realized in Checky (Android and iOS).

Designed for the weak-willed, Digital Detox (Android) application simply punch your smartphone’s lights out for as long as you want. Want to change your mind?  Too late! (In fact, you can, of course,  reset the phone settings, losing all the data, or use the loopholes for the developers.)


Big Red Stop (Android) application automatically responds to incoming messages in Facebook/Twitter, showing that you are busy and will be free at certain time. Offline mode can be set with respect to time, or you can simply push “the big red button”.

Despite the abundance of variants, there are no obvious leaders in this category of applications.

The power of art

However, unsophisticated decisions sometimes work even better than complex ones. When designer Molly McLeod caught herself wanting to check her phone constantly, she decided to create wallpapers with a reminder “Stop looking at your phone. Look around you.”

Unexpectedly, the idea worked well.  Now anybody can download wallpapers by Molly on her site. And the number of the visitors has sharply increased after Fast Company and Huffington Post wrote about McLeod’s ideas.

iPhone pro tem

We can do it the other way round, though. We can leave our smartphone with all its temptations at home, as the authors of Light Phone project suggest, taking with us the simplest device suitable only for voice calls. It doesn’t have a normal screen, and word processing is not available. So you won’t be able to idle away, however hard you try, staring at the credit-card-size piece of plastic.

Not to have too much trouble with SIM cards change, your smartphone can serve as the gate. The app run on the smartphone will selectively redirect the calls from preset list of emergency contacts to Light Phone. Unnecessary informational noise will not bother you.

“Instead of using text messaging, just talk to people in person. Instead of using a camera, just look at things around you,” — say Light Phone developers. It’s a good decision for those who practice detox periodically, but cannot imagine themselves leaving home without a telephone.

The only minus — Light Phone exists only as a prototype and a rather successful campaign on Kickstarter so far. The deliveries are due only in May 2016.

For those unable to wait so long, there exist a simpler analogue — NoPhone. For as little as 12 dollars you receive a piece of plastic, imitating a shape and size of a smartphone.

As the developers claim, the project has a lot of advantages. It is shockproof, water-resistant, doesn’t need charging, nor distract you from communication with friends. While at the same time you can press NoPhone to your bosom at night, touch it in the pocket, palm it gently to calm yourself down… you can finish the list with whatever you like. An awfully useful thing. Besides, you don’t have to buy it; you can simply carve it out of any material on hand.

Have a happy detox!