Here’s a pro tip for improving your digital well-being: Put down your phone

Smartphones are convenient, but they can also be addicting. If you look around in a restaurant, for example, you’ll probably see couples using their phones instead of talking to each other. What can you do to improve your well-being, especially if you’re one of the people who can’t tear their eyes away from their phone screen?

Mobile technology and well-being

In 2018, Apple and Google announced features in upcoming mobile operating systems that were designed to “reduce interruptions and manage screen time.” With these features, both Android and iOS users can sleep soundly without being distracted by their phones. They can also activate the “Do Not Disturb” mode as needed or receive prompts to stop the minute they reach a personally chosen time limit for using certain apps. But will these features be enough to curb excessive phone usage?

There is mounting evidence that smartphone use is negatively affecting sleep quality or distracting users from other nondigital activities. According to Kostadin Kushlev, assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University, data from a study that he conducted with fellow researchers suggest that “consistent evidence that smartphones can also distract users from the family and friends right in front of them.”

While the new features on Apple’s and Google’s upcoming operating systems can help limited screen time, Kushlev warned that based on the findings, smartphones could be making users unhappy in different kinds of social situations.

Phone use and personal “opportunity costs”

At its core, people who are always on their phones fail to judge “opportunity costs,” something economists define as the value of what you give up when you “make a choice to do one thing and not another.”

Kushlev cites a series of studies he conducted with Jason Proulx and Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia. The results of the study suggest that individuals often forget a critical side effect of relying on their phones for information, that they miss out on chances that will boost their sense of social connectedness.

Technological convenience will significantly reduce the need for social interaction, and this can affect your social well-being. Surprisingly, most people use their phones to socialize, but usually while they’re already socializing with others in person.

You might also be guilty of this scenario: you’re on a date or having lunch with friends, but you keep getting distracted by your phone, so you lose track of ongoing conversations. (Related: Signs of smartphone addiction and tips for a “screen detox.”)

In another study that he conducted with fellow researcher Samantha Heintzelman, Kushlev found that combining digital and face-to-face socializing is not as enjoyable as putting your phone away and enjoying the time you spend with your friends or family.

For the study, which was conducted at the University of Virginia, the researchers tracked the social behavior and well-being of 174 millennials for a week. The researchers sent each participant a one-minute survey that they needed to complete on their mobile phone at five random times each day.

The surveys asked volunteers questions such as:

  • What they were doing in the previous 15 minutes,
  • Were they socializing in person or digitally (e.g., texting or using social media),
  • How close or distant they were feeling to others; and,
  • How good or bad they were feeling overall.

Findings revealed that the participants felt better and more connected when they were only socializing face-to-face, unlike when they weren’t socializing at all. These confirm decades of existing research.

The results also showed that when they were only socializing face-to-face, the volunteers “felt happier and more connected to others” compared to when they were only socializing using their phones. This detail is essential because the millennials involved in the study are known as a generation of “digital natives” who had been using various gadgets to interact since very young ages. Even people from this age group preferred talking face-to-face instead of digital communication.

Additionally, the participants felt worse and less connected when they were simultaneously interacting face-to-face and digitally, unlike when they only socialized in person. The results imply that digital socializing doesn’t enhance but subtracts from the psychological benefits of nondigital socializing.

Controlling your phone usage

Instead of using your phone’s features to decide which app’s notifications are going to be on mute, use Do Not Disturb mode as the default, so you only get notifications when you want to. This way, you don’t stress out over missing urgent work emails when you disable your notifications.

Prioritize your tasks and use social media apps only when you’re done working or studying. Practicing self-discipline also gives you more time to work instead of procrastinating on Facebook.

If you find that you’re wasting too much time on your phone when you should be working, take a quick walk outside. It’s better to get some fresh air and sunshine instead of wasting time on social media.

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