The fight against the ‘always on’ culture

4th November 2018

At last count, there are currently eight different ways to make contact with me. I, like many others, are available at the touch of a button and while this has certainly proved to be beneficial at times, I’m concerned about the long-term effects this is having.

Four out of five UK adults now have a smartphone. The average person checks their phone every six and a half minutes.

I love my phone and everything it allows me to do, truly. I can work out the best route to get to an event in London, transfer money instantly to friends when we’re out to dinner and buy a last-minute forgotten gift to arrive the very next day on Amazon. But I’m realising more and more that the very thing that widens our potential and possibilities is also the thing that is trapping us.

I am trying to remind myself that while yes, I can technically reply to someone instantly, it doesn’t mean I have to. That in itself is a lesson in resistance. I don’t know about you but every time I see notification ping through, unless I’m busy at work or physically incapable, I’ll always answer it straight away. And you might think, well yeah, why wouldn’t you answer if you’re not busy? My issue is that it is now an instant reaction to reply to that tweet or text message immediately and I’m just not sure that’s healthy. There’s no thought process behind it, weighing up whether a response is needed at that very moment or whether it can be something that’s picked up later.

I’m fairly certain that my friends or family wouldn’t mind if I didn’t reply to a message but it’s not about them. It’s the fact I can’t leave something unanswered. And I’m betting I’m not the only one.

It’s not just notifications, either. I might not get my work emails sent through to my phone but I’ll still log in to check them regardless. I work Monday-Friday but you can bet I’m checking my work emails outside of those hours frequently. The worst is when I’m on holiday. It’s something I get shouted at about regularly by both Matt and my colleagues but I cannot resist popping onto my emails while I’m away to delete unimportant messages and check nothing has exploded while I’ve been gone. Of course, everything is always fine but should there ever be a problem, my out of office is on to direct the problem elsewhere for someone else to handle in my absence.

Part of me wonders if the problem is down to me personally. I’ve spoken on here before about my problems with trying to do too much and while I think there is certainly some truth in my inability to let things go, I do also think there is something to be said for the development of the ‘always on’ culture too.

Technology now means we are available or switched on at all times of our waking hours and while it’s something I’m only recently really thinking about, possessing a smartphone or tablet or wearable tech gives that device an element of ownership over our lives. And to be honest, it’s scary.

I’m not someone who particularly frets if I don’t have signal or wifi, if anything, it forces me to put my phone down because quite simply, there’s nothing I can do about it. There is an actual barrier and it’s refreshing. I remember going away with my boyfriend where we had no signal and not only was it heavenly but I was able to be a lot present in the moment. I find it a lot more difficult to leave my phone in my pocket or upstairs when I know it’s ready and working. In truth, I can never properly switch off and recharge while it is around. A scroll on Instagram or a few emails here and there don’t take long but those minutes soon mount up.

So what can we do? Not having a phone just isn’t an option for most of us in this day and age and as I mentioned earlier, there are masses of useful qualities that come with owning one.

One thing I’m finding massively helpful is a couple of Apple’s new tools with the iOS 12 update. You are now given detailed information on how long you use your phone over the day, what you are spending the time on and most importantly, how to reduce and control that time better. ‘Screen Time’ creates daily and weekly reports which help you see exactly how much time you are spending on your phone and if you’re anything like me, it’s incredibly eye-opening. You can see exactly what apps you are using most and for how long. The App Limits feature then allows you to cap how much time you spend in individual apps which is something I’d really like to work up to. Within Screen Time is Downtime, where you can schedule in time when your device can’t be used, such as before you go to bed and until you wake up. Now as someone guilty of scrolling before they go to sleep, this is definitely something I’m now implementing as part of my bedtime routine.

Is this the solution? No, not necessarily. But I do think it will go some way to help and ultimately tools like these can only take us so far. The majority of the effort has to come from us personally. To recognise the point at which our digital devices are a little too close for comfort and most importantly, be able to take a step back.