Spend Less Time on Your Phone Might Be Easier Than You Think

According to Nielsen and ComScore research, four hours per day is the time that average American adult spend scrolling through his phone. Depression, anxiety, loss of productivity, and many other consequences, conditions, and traits are now linked by the scientific community to the time we spend on the internet, particularly social media. Rehman Ata, scientist and the founder of GoGray.Today was shocked when he started to measure the time he spends on his phone daily. He found himself using the phone five hours per day on average, mostly Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. He knew he needed to change something and came up with very simple method how to reduce his phone usage. We have an interview with him and ask him about his thoughts on various related subjects.

First of all, Mr. Rehman, please explain to our readers what you mean by “going gray. 

Gogray.today is a movement to turn our phone screens grayscale. This drains all the colour from our phones and quite frankly makes it boring to look at. Many people that have gone gray, myself included, would also say they feel more “calm“ when looking at a gray phone. 

By how many hours a day have you been able to reduce your browsing time since going gray? 

Initially, I was on my phone for almost 5 hours a day. Before learning about grayscale mode, I tried to reduce my phone use but was only able to reduce my time spent by about 20 minutes. After going gray, my daily phone use dropped by more almost 2 hours. I average 2-2.5 hours a day on my phone now – and none of my current time consists of social media.

How has this affected the quality of your life? 

I look up a lot more now. That may sound weird, but it’s very obvious that people don’t look up as much. You begin to notice how many people have their heads down, glued to their phone screens. By going gray I started to see the colour in the world again, instead of on my phone. 

I speak to more people around me, and I appreciate the small things in life and the quiet, boring moments. I think many of us like to escape from the quiet and boring moments of our lives and fill it with endless scrolling on Facebook or Instagram or any other social media, but there’s quite a lot of work showing that boredom is a necessary part of life. Some of the most creative ideas you have are when your brain is bored! 

Have you been able to delve into the research that has been published by scientists who have linked the increase in mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, to the amount of time spent by the young on the internet and in particular on social media? 

As a scientist myself, I aim to be driven by data and research. I definitely did a deep dive into the scientific literature. 

Before jumping ahead, I think it’s important to define what smartphone addiction is, because I think many people hear the word “addiction“ and jump back and say “I like to be on my phone, but I’m definitely not addicted.“ 

In a scientific journal article by Yu-Hsuan Lin et al. (2015), smartphone addiction was defined as “using a smartphone for longer than intended and having a recurrent failure to resist the impulse to use a phone despite being aware of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem.“ 

That sounds like a lot of people today – young people especially. Studies which come to mind are the ones in which students are told to give up their phones for a day (1). They all report anxiety around the idea of not having their phones. Another study examined how students would perform on mental puzzles while forbidding them from checking their vibrating iPhones (2). The researchers found that the students performed poorly on the puzzle, had higher blood pressure, anxiety, and feelings of unpleasantness due to phone separation. 

If that isn’t troubling enough, other researchers have found a strong correlation between mental health and ‘screen activity.‘ They found that 48% of people who spend 5 or more hours on their phones a day have suicidal thoughts or have planned to commit suicide. Comparatively, 28% of people that spend 1 hour on their phone a day or less have had similar thoughts (3). 

Off the the top of my head, what’s likely happening from a very young age is comparison. It’s easier than ever to see the highlights of other peoples lives and compare. What’s scary is that even as you get older, you’re still comparing your life to others – a common example around my age group would be getting married. My friends have started to get engaged and some married and some of my peers have started to feel pressure to be engaged or married soon. The issue here is comparing one relationship to another, and if adults can’t help but compare to others, then what about pre-teens or teenagers whose brains are still developing? Every aspect of our lives is on social media, so anything is up for comparison now – including the number of likes you get on your photos. That’s a very negative space to grow up in. 

What was that one nudge that prompted you to start the movement of going gray? 

When I looked at my phone use data before and after going gray, I was shocked at the difference. And then I thought “if it helped me with my phone use, then this can definitely help others.“  I launched gogray.today that night to bring awareness to the idea and to start a global movement. 

What is the age group of those who have joined your movement? 

That’s a great question! More than half of the people are between the ages of 25-34. The 18-24 age-group is definitely interested, but they make up less than 20% of the traffic to the website right now. 

Could you tell us about the approximate number of individuals who join the movement each week or month? 

That’s hard to say right now! We will have a lot more data once our app is fully developed. Sign up for the waitlist. 

Our readers are mainly the youth in different parts of the world. What would be your message to them on going gray and improving the quality of their lives? 

The first thing I want to say is that online life is not real life. I’m sure many of the readers are bright and young individuals that know this, so I say it more as a reminder. Secondly, going gray is one solution to get us to put down our screens and be present with the people we care about more. I think it’s important to try going gray and see if it works for you, but to also explore your own solutions! Whether that’s leaving your phone on silent and in your bag when you’re with friends or family, leaving it screen faced down, going gray or all of the above. This is seriously one of the most important things to become aware of – the damaging effects of phones – and your future self will thank you. 

Surviving a Day Without SmartphonesThe Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology
Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time 

Why would a person even consider to Go Gray?

Time saving is a reason that should be clear enough. If we start measuring the time spent on our phones, which is not dedicated to calls and messages, we quickly realize majority of our phone-time is dedicated to scrolling through social media apps.

Mobile apps are becoming more visual and less textual, which is increasing our interest and consequently, our browsing time. When you turn the phone to gray scale nothing stands out anymore. Videos and photos without the color become terribly boring and unappealing and as humans we have a natural aversion for things that we found unattractive. 

How to turn on the gray scale on your phone 

Step 1) Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations

Step 2) Turn Color Filters on

Step 3) Turn on Grayscale.

The article is written in cooperation with Maja Mezan.

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