Screen Addiction

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The first thing I did after arriving at our hotel room was collapse onto the bed and pull out my phone.

I was in a tiny town in Germany with my boyfriend. He had met me after I’d traveled for two weeks for my European modeling tour, and we had traveled all day to get here specifically. At that point, it felt like all I could remember doing my entire life was moving from Point A to Point B.

But we had finally made it—to the next in a series of Point B’s, at least.

Hello, my name is Katja. You may think I model for a living, but really I just professionally move from place to place. Tomorrow would be yet another train, but for now I wanted to introvert. So I started scrolling through Facebook.

After a few minutes—okay, if we’re being honest, it was more than a few—my ignored boyfriend cleared his throat. “You sure are checking your phone a lot,” he said, somehow managing to sound nonjudgmental.

I still bristled. He hadn’t been working on the road for weeks. He was in a completely different headspace than me. He didn’t know how I was feeling…but he was still completely right.

I was missing Germany, and I was missing the experience of our first big international trip together. I wasn’t “there”—I was letting myself be distracted by my familiar screen, and details of people’s lives an ocean away. From that point on, I resolved to be more here, to connect with people that I’m actually in a room with, and to put my phone away. Lesson learned.

*          *          *

After learning a lesson like that, you see it everywhere. Months later, I went with a group of friends to the concert of a lifetime. We had seats practically in the front row, watching our favorite singer perform not on the screen that the rest of the stadium could see, but right there on the stage.

Throughout the concert, even while the music was playing, my friends were on their phones. Not just to juggle logistics within the group and to take pictures, but to text their partners and friends who couldn’t be there. And yes, even to scroll through Facebook.

Worse, seeing my friends do so made it far more tempting to check my own notifications…

But I would clearly never do such a thing, right? I was cured of my screen addiction. I didn’t even have the Facebook app installed on my phone. I mean, sure, I would check things online frequently when I wasn’t around people. Research and keeping up with the news is part of the work of writing. And yes, sometimes I got stuck writing and I’d distract myself with some mindless browsing.

So what if my phone suggested the Facebook icon as the most visited site on my browser? As anybody who follows me knows, I don’t post on social media much. I lurk on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But like I said previously: that’s writing work. That’s research. I clearly did not have a problem.

To prove my point, when I got home I checked my browser (which keeps track of how many times I’ve visited a website since the browser was installed). According to Firefox, I had loaded Facebook pages only…49,222 times. And that was just my computer. I check it from my phone far more frequently.

So, Houston, we have that problem.

On top of feeling like a total hypocrite, I decided I needed to fix that habit quick, fast, and in a hurry. But as soon as I started cutting down my screen time, I felt like I was missing out on different viewpoints and new ideas. I was worried my writing would suffer, and my modeling and my social connections too.

I knew what I was experiencing was just FOMO, but it felt like a threat.

What if I wasn’t keeping up with new writing ideas and was now wrong and outdated? What if something big happened in a friend’s life and I missed it? What modeling information—references, blacklists, industry chatter—was I giving up? Would it ultimately hurt my career? What was I not learning? I knew what I was experiencing was just FOMO, but it felt like a threat.

There are plenty of posts out there about “how” to reduce screen use. They recommend things like deleting the app off your phone, installing programs that block access, and only using your phone at specific times. I tried all of them, and they worked—more or less, if I devoted enough willpower, which I didn’t always do. But what need was my incessant screen-checking fulfilling, and could I meet it another way?

Connection is one of the things I value the most, and tech is now often the medium through which we do it. Sure, there’s a difference between direct connection and disperse, passive connection—say, the difference between a text from a friend and scrolling through Facebook. I’ve heard lots of people decry the latter, but I’m not so sure. For example, there are Twitter personalities that don’t even know I exist who have become a part of my social life. My IRL friends and I discuss their ideas, and I’ve changed what I think and how I view the world because of the power of that passive connection.

Which leads us back to me, and my apparent inability to stop checking Facebook. The lesson that I learned was an important one I seem to keep learning: even when you are positively sure you don’t have the same problem as everybody else, even when you think you’ve already fixed it, you might be wrong.

But I also realized I already had the solution, thanks to a conversation in a little hotel room in Germany. It’s about being present. Previously I thought it was just about being present with the other people in the room—be there for the trip, be there for the concert.

But it’s also about being present for my work. Now when I get stuck with my writing, I try to context-switch with my feet instead of my screen. I change where I’m working or I go for a walk, so I can stay engaged in the project. That cut my Facebook time down drastically, and without feeling like I was missing out.

Most importantly though, I think the trick is to be present with myself. Connecting with people and listening to new ideas is incredibly important and absolutely has its place. I certainly haven’t cut my screen time down to zero. But if I want to be a part of the conversation, I can’t always just listen. I also have to think and create and respond. I can’t constantly drink from the fire hose. I’ve also got to have time to process and interact with it all.

So did I check Facebook while I was writing this? Yes, yes I did. But that page view count is crawling up a lot slower now. And hopefully, I’m more present for the things that matter—present when I’m spending time with people, present when I’m receptive and learning, and present when I’m creating.