Kashmir Hill feels she spends too much time on her phone. That’s why for a month in December, she traded her state-of-the-art iPhone 15 for an old-school flip phone.
Kashmir Hill downgraded after estimating she was using her iPhone 5-6 hours a day
Mouhamad Rachini · CBC Radio
· Posted: Jan 17, 2024 5:49 PM EST | Last Updated: January 17
Japanese mobile operator DoCoMo introduces a flip phone on Oct. 3, 2001. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
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As 2023 came to a close, New York Times technology reporter Kashmir Hill didn’t want to upgrade to the latest smartphone. She wanted to go back in time, to the glory days of the flip phone.
Hill’s urge was driven by a feeling that she was looking at her current phone — a flashy, state-of-the-art iPhone 15 — too much. She said that her Apple screen time reports showed that she was picking up her phone around 100 times per day, and she was spending about five to six hours every day on her phone.
“I realized when I added that up for 2023, I had spent three months just staring at my phone,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway. “I felt like it was out of control.”
Kashmir Hill feels she spends too much time on her phone. That’s why for a month in December, she traded her state-of-the-art iPhone 15 for an old-school flip phone. (Submitted by Kashmir Hill; Earl Wilson/New York Times)Hill isn’t alone. Last year, a Canadian study found that around one third of people around the world may be at a high risk for smartphone addiction.
The study asked more than 50,000 people, between the ages of 18 and 90 and from 195 countries, their opinion of how problematic their smartphone use was — and if it negatively interfered with their life.
Jay Olson, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga and the lead researcher on the study, told Galloway that they found that problematic smartphone use is rising across the world.
“This kind of confirmed that this is kind of a global problem and a growing problem,” he said, adding that problematic usage tended to be more common among women than men.
Adjusting the day-to-dayHill bought an Orbic Journey flip phone for just over $100 US, to use instead of her smartphone for one month. She describes it as a “little black clamshell,” with a dull screen on the inside and nine plastic keys.
When her daughters saw the phone, she said they couldn’t believe what they were looking at.
“They start playing with the flip phone and touching the little, you know, plastic keys,” she said. “And my daughter said, ‘Are you joking? This is really the phone you want?'”
The switch wasn’t easy. Her new phone only offered standard calling and texting — and Hill soon realized just how reliant she was on some of her smartphone’s apps in her day-to-day life, like Google Maps.
“I realized I didn’t know how to get anywhere more than 15 minutes away,” she said, forcing her to look up directions in advance.
“It wasn’t just about changing the relationship with my phone. It was also kind of just changing my relationship with my life and how I do things.”
Hill said she spent about five to six hours on her phone every day — approximately three months of her year were spent scrolling on her phone. (Sergey Causelove/Shutterstock)Without easy access to the Internet, Hill initially felt less informed — but she found that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“The internet lived on my computer rather than living attached to my body,” she said. “And so I was still, you know, getting the news, reading emails, reading newsletters, you know, looking at social media. But … it was confined to my computer.”
A healthier lifeAlthough it took some getting used to at first, Hill noticed over the course of the month that she had lost what she called her “thumb twitch”: the physical urge to reach for the phone, and run her thumb along it.
“I would pull out my flip phone, and it’s just, there’s nothing there. There’s nothing stimulating,” she said. “After about two weeks, I stopped having that urge to kind of look at my phone every time I was slightly bored or my mind was able to wander.”
The positive impact it was having on Hill’s wellbeing was also noticed by her loved ones. Her husband said that she looked less stressed, and that she should try using a flip phone for a whole year.
“You don’t look at your phone as much and you have more time to play with me,” Hill recalled her daughter saying.
To reduce phone usage, Jay Olson, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, recommends keeping notifications from social apps like Instagram and Facebook to a minimum. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)How can I reduce phone usage?In the study he led, Olson said that by reducing phone usage, participants felt they had more free time to do things they’ve always wanted to do, such as socializing more or getting more sleep.
One participant even had time to polish their boots, something they’ve wanted to do for years.
“Because smartphones kind of vacuum up all of the free time that we have, once you remove or reduce this kind of smartphone use, then you have more free time to do these behaviours that can improve well-being,” he said.
Olson said that his philosophy is to use a smaller phone for as long as possible, instead of upgrading to the newest — and often largest — flagship model every year or two.
“Maybe having, like, a giant screen and a super-fast phone kind of draws you into it more,” he said. “And so I kind of lag behind the technology and I kind of live in the past there, and that seems to help.”
In Canada, most providers offer at least one non-smartphone option for consumers.
But even if a person can’t replace their smartphone with a “dumbphone,” Olson says you could try keeping phone notifications and alerts to a minimum so their beeps and alerts don’t constantly nudge you to check it.
“Trying to keep your phone as quiet as possible so that when you check it, you’re checking it more intentionally and not because your phone is pulling you into it,” he said.
Alex Merrick, a mother of three and a graduate student, deleted Instagram from her phone after she felt excessively pulled in by the app.
“In the fall of 2023, I was going to be starting a new role, new course, supporting my kids in school, and I thought, ‘I don’t even have like 10 to 20 minutes to spare in an evening or in a day just reaching for this phone,'” she said.
Olson also recommended keeping your phone away from your bedside when trying to sleep — something Hill admits she used to do.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night and I would end up reaching for it, and then I would be up for an hour, two hours, three hours [looking at my smartphone],” Hill said.
“And while I was on the flip phone, I would wake up and after a few minutes I would just go back to sleep.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mouhamad Rachini is a Canadian-Lebanese writer and producer for CBC Radio’s digital team. He’s worked for several CBC Radio shows including The Current, Day 6 and Cross Country Checkup. He’s particularly passionate about stories from Muslim and Middle Eastern communities. He also writes about soccer on his website Between the Sticks. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Produced by Amanda Grant