In this post I am going to talk a bit about the “origin story” that helped inspire the idea for the No Phone Challenge. However, it really is more like “origin stories” as there were several experiences that combined to inspire the challenge.
Starting several years ago I started becoming fascinated with a couple, related aspects of phone abuse & addiction. Those two aspects were social media and using our phone cameras to hyper-document (over-document) our experiences.
A few years ago I was traveling solo through Europe. I would spend some time every morning doing some good, old-fashioned people watching while enjoying my morning coffee. I would do this interspersed with working on my laptop in whatever local village cafe or waterfront bench I found myself sitting at that day.
I remember feeling amazed at how many people were focused more on staging the perfect picture or video as opposed to being present and experiencing the beauty of the place they were visiting. I remember chuckling while watching annoyed “Instagram husbands and boyfriends” as well as their stressed out “models” who were worrying more about editing their pictures and picking out the perfect filters to create the maximum amount of FOMO in their communities back home than in enjoying their trip and the beautiful place that they had worked so hard to be able to visit.
I also recall some of the experiences I had with an ex-girlfriend. She and I would go to a lot of concerts. Sometimes splurging on good seats with great sightlines. However, she would end up watching the entire concert through her 3 inch iphone screen as she recorded video of the show. It would get so bad that she would run out of storage or her battery would die mid-concert and she would ask to borrow my phone to continue the recordings! I would sometimes get frustrated and encourage her to try and be more present there with me. I would remind her that plenty of people were recording the concert and posting their videos on YouTube so that if she really wanted to ever go back and relive the concert at a later date the whole thing would be available from 40 different angles in perpetuity online.
The crazy thing was, she never really did much of anything with any of these pictures or videos. Out of the hours of video and hundreds of pictures that she’d take, maybe she’d post a couple pictures to her social media but that’s it. As a student of psychology I was fascinated by this behavior. When we’d go for dinner or drinks after the show I’d ask her if she ever went back and watched the videos she made or looked through the pictures. She admitted that she never did. I really don’t think she even really knew exactly what was making her so obsessed with hyper-documenting these types of experiences.
I’ll admit that I was no better. All too often while traveling abroad I would be sitting at lunch in a beautiful village square, or a quaint cafe with a mountain vista, or a picturesque waterfront view. And instead of being fully present, focusing on my surroundings, the people around me, and the experience I was there to have I would catch myself trying to take the perfect picture or video.
Or even worse, I wasn’t even “there”. I’d catch myself mindlessly scrolling Instagram. I would “wake up” to realize I had been “zombie scrolling” for a half hour straight. Even more concerning, I would realize that I hadn’t even made a conscious decision to open my social media app in the first place. I probably was procrastinating because I didn’t feel like dealing with some email or piece of work I had in front of me at the time. However, at the moment I couldn’t even remember consciously opening the app. I just knew that almost half an hour had gone by since I started “zombie scrolling”.
What I later learned is that I basically had been programmed to be subconsciously triggered to reach for my phone in an increasing number of circumstances and then go on “auto-pilot” and mindlessly scroll until something interrupted the quasi-hypnotic state that I was under. Sitting at a table at a restaurant, cafe, or bar alone? Reach for my phone. Get in an Uber or on a train or plane? Reach for my phone. Stressed out about a business or personal issue and want to create a distraction to delay actually addressing the challenge? Reach for my phone. At an event where I’m experiencing any sort of social anxiety? Reach for my phone.
It wasn’t just wasting too much time scrolling social media or using my phone as a crutch for social anxiety. For myself, I also became aware that I was also getting to the point with taking pictures and video where I was more focused on documenting the experience than in actually experiencing the experience. It was no different than my ex watching an entire concert through her phone screen. See a beautiful sunset? Grab my phone. A rainbow or an interesting weather event? Grab my phone. Hiking through a park or out on the water and happen across some cool wildlife? Grab my phone.
I believe that there’s a couple of different reasons why we tend to spend so much time documenting an experience vs. just “experiencing” the experience. The first reason is pretty straight-forward. It’s our ego and it’s insatiable need for constant validation in the form of attention via the likes and comments and FOMO that your posts may generate. It’s about curating your idealized “Instagram Life”.
However, it’s more than that too. If it was just about trying to curate your “Instagram life” then you could just quickly get a couple good pictures or video clips and then focus on being present and leaning into the experience. Many of us don’t do that however. We are addicted to over-documenting our experiences even more than what is needed to feed the ego.
Why do we “over-document” our special experiences? Besides ego, I believe the reason is insecurity. Many of us have an insecurity that drives a need to “over-document” every special experience we have. When you analyze the issue, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of logical sense to over-document every special experience that we have. We have a big, gray DVR in between our ears that documents everything we do, every second of every day. We can play it back in our heads anytime we want to re-experience the event. If you don’t trust your memory then that’s fine. There’s already plenty of pictures and videos available online from whatever special event you are attending or whatever scenic beach, historical building, cathedral, or beautiful park that you are visiting.
In regards to social media, we have developed a couple components of the No Phone Challenge that will help you be more intentional, and less unconscious about your use. I think most of us would admit that they receive little benefit from the mindless “zombie-scrolling”. Check out our blog post on the No Phone Challenge guidelines here. Where we dive into some of the fun aspects of the challenge that are related to being more conscious around social media use.
I’ll briefly mention a couple pro-hacks for implementing conscious social media use here. First, you can start scheduling your social media time. Actually put it in your calendar each day for a specific time block or two. For example, put a twenty minute time block on your lunch hour and another after dinner and only access your social accounts during those scheduled periods. This will serve to allow you to consciously manage how much time you are spending on social media and when you want to spend that time.
If you don’t trust yourself to stick to the social media schedule that you set then simply delete the social media apps from your phone altogether. Access the accounts exclusively on your computer. Don’t worry, you won’t lose your data. With most of the apps you can re-download them again at a later date and sign into your account and everything will still be there waiting for you. So you can even do this as a “social media reset”. Try it for a month or two while you develop your conscious social media use skills. Then when you feel comfortable that you are driving the bus and it’s not the algorithms programming your subconscious you can download the apps onto your phone again and see how things go. Rinse and repeat this process as many times as necessary to deprogram yourself from abusing the apps.
If deleting the apps off your phone altogether is a step too far for you right now then another pro tip to help you be more intentional about social media is to train yourself to log out of the apps each time when you are finished using them. Also, don’t click the little box at the login screen where you tell the app to save your login data. That way, the next time you pull up the app on your phone you will have to type out your username and password. You will be much less likely to unconsciously open up your social account and start zombie scrolling. This act of typing your username and password will serve as a pattern interrupt. You will then have the chance to consciously consider whether you actually want to spend some time on social media or you were just being subconsciously triggered to get on the feed and become a set of monetized eyeballs for the advertisers paying the social media companies.
Ok, so what about “over-documenting”. If you feel like you are an “over-documenter” and you’d like to at the very least reel that behavior in then here’s a pro-hack. The next time you start to open your camera, take a moment to consider whether it may be more enjoyable to just focus on being present and leaning into the experience instead of documenting it. If you absolutely have to get a couple pictures then consider taking a couple quick shots and then putting your phone away for the rest of the experience and just being present. You will be surprised at how much more enjoyable and less stressful your experiences may end up being.
Another hack is to create a new folder on your phone’s home screen for your camera app. You can also go into the settings so that your camera isn’t accessible via one-click from your phone’s lock screen. This will mean that you will be forced to take one extra step to get to your camera. That will be enough for many people to trigger you to consider whether you really need to document something or you are just responding to a subconscious trigger toi grab your camera and start recording.
Another pro tip is to give yourself a personal quota. Tell yourself that you are going to take a two minute break from whatever you are doing to get some pictures or video clips. Then take your pictures and close your camera. Edit and post them later after the event or outing. Once your scheduled camera time is up then completely turn off your phone for the rest of the event. If you can’t or won’t turn your phone completely off then at least commit to not opening your camera again for the remainder of the event / outing, etc.
Once again, the good news is that we have actually developed and incorporated a couple specific elements of the No Phone Challenge to help you break your addiction to over-documenting. Check out our blog post on the No Phone Challenge guidelines here.