Mark Casci: Use this summer to wean yourself away from the smartphone

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I recently came across an intriguing neologism which struck terror into my soul, to such an extent that I took an immediate decision to make radical changes to my life.

The words ‘text zombie’, uttered on a podcast I listen to, perturbed me greatly, principally as I knew the second I heard it that it referred to me.

We see them every day. People, hurrying around with both eyes and hands glued to their mobile phones, almost oblivious to what is going on around them.

It is a sad and unfortunate by-product of modern life.

The smart phone allows us to access any kind of information we desire in an instant, with news, commentary, videos and rare Bruce Springsteen bootlegs available at the touch of a screen (although I suspect my interest in the latter will comfortably outstrip that of most normal people).

All of this miraculous technology within our pockets or bags is unquestionably impressive but also highly addictive.

Holidays should be enjoyed as time away from work

Holidays should be enjoyed as time away from work

I quickly realised that I was utterly hooked into an intense and serious dependency.

The ‘text zombie’ barn led me to a period of introspection, when was the last time I truly underwent a sustained period of abstinence from my phone?

After travelling back in time through my history as a phone consumer (aided naturally with a few web searches on my phone to establish chronology) I came to the uncomfortable realisation that it had been well over more than a decade since I truly “switched off”.

Holidays, including my own honeymoon and even my own paternity leave, had been interrupted, however briefly with checks of my work emails and social media.

It was of no comfort to me whatsoever that I was not alone in this.

This kind of addictive behaviour is replicated by thousands of people.

A recent LinkedIn survey suggested more than 80 per cent of holidaymakers checked their work emails during their annual leave.

Not only is this deeply anti-social and at odds with the whole purpose of a restorative break from work, it is also counterproductive.

Recent research from the University of Mannheim in Germany showed staff were better equipped to deal with fresh challenges and had a more energetic approach to the job if they took periodic clean breaks from work.

This has been recognised by many major employers.

Car giant Volkswagen introduced a system wherein staff would have their work emails closed down after their shift ended and restarted 30 minutes before they returned to work. Fellow car firm Daimler gave staff the option to have emails received while on holiday automatically deleted.

Having received all of this information, I like so many addicts in history, experienced a moment of clarity. Things had to change.

And now, like all addicts, I had to prove a point.

Accordingly, I resolved that during my two-week family holiday to Greece, I would enter a period of digital seclusion. Aware of my habits as an addict I knew I could not trust myself and resolved to temporarily delete my social media apps from my phone, as well as disengaging my work email and calendar feed.

From arriving at the airport I placed my phone in ‘aeroplane mode’, effectively cutting it off from the web and only switched it on for five minutes each day for the remainder of the holiday, just in case someone tried to get hold of me in an emergency (they didn’t naturally).

Perhaps the worst aspect of realising how much I used my phone was coming to terms with the arrogance it entails, the idea that I must check my messages or the world will end.

Of course it didn’t, indeed life continued as normal and I returned to work reinvigorated and genuinely rested.

More importantly, I have changed my usage since returning limiting my phone use to five minutes every night.

The results are invigorating and, as many readers prepare to head off on holiday themselves, I would urge you to try the experience.