102. That’s the number of times I picked up my phone last Thursday, according to Apple’s new iPhone setting that tracks all your darkest digital habits, called Screen Time.
I already know I use my phone a lot. I’m a tech journalist – I can always stake a claim to it being part of the job. But I also know I’m not solving the world’s social algorithm crises while staring at that screen in the palm of my hand. It’s mostly time spent reading random crap and watching cute animal videos.
Some of you might think it’s not that big a number. That’s only… seven times an hour! Just once every eight and a half minutes! Pfffttt. I can do that by lunchtime!
Sure, maybe you like the idea of setting a new personal best as often as possible. For me, just two days after starting to use Screen Time, I decided cracking the century was a good line in the sand to try to avoid hitting again in future.
Screen Time has some helpful tools beyond just rubbing horror stats in your face when you peer into its iPanopticon. You can set limits for categories of apps you want to cut down on using, and you can set downtime to cut yourself off between certain hours of the day.
The Apple take on setting limits is very liberal. A pleasant hourglass icon takes over your screen and tells you you’ve hit your limit for the day, but a simple tap on an ‘Ignore limit’ button lets you choose whether to continue for 15 minutes or to just give up and ignore warnings for the rest of the day.
The thing is, this isn’t about punishing yourself in an annoying way. It’s about building personal guilt. The old “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” routine.
If it was a hard cutoff (like a similar option found on Android phones) I’d be less likely to use it in the first place. Don’t make it too fussy, just make me check myself before I digitally wreck myself.
A few days later, the stats now show I’m closing in on a full 24 hours of staring at my phone’s screen since Screen Time started monitoring less than a week ago. Over 11 hours of that time? Social media apps.
But the tide is turning! I’m working on deleting the standing-at-the-pedestrian-crossing phone fidget response from my repertoire. I’m trying to make myself have a reason to get out my phone, not just out of habit. And to remember what it’s like to not mainline news and information feeds at every possible moment my eyes happen to be open.
I’ve also turned off umpteen app notifications to reduce that fidget factor of pulling out the screen in the first place. Screen Time actually shows you a ranked list of what’s sending the most notifications and gives quick access to the settings that can turn them off.
And, very kindly, Screen Time is already offering me some positive feedback. Apparently I’m “down 48% from last week”, however that is measured.
But I’ll take every victory I can get. Chin up. Shoulders back. Screen in the pocket a little more often.