How many times do you look at your phone each day? Ten? Twenty? Turns out we’re checking our phones around 58 times (according to a 2019 report – the number is likely much higher now), and spending an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes glued to our screens once we get there.
It’s an issue the team at Phone Free Day are hoping to make New Zealanders more aware of. Now in its second year, it’s a day to shift your habits away from phone-related things and setting some positive intentions around how you interact with your devices.
Founder Taino Bendz came up with the idea for a phone-free day in December 2019, after noticing how distracted parents were around their kids at the local playground. As he played with his children, he saw that all the other adults were watching their screens rather than watching their kids.
“I’ve been that parent glued to my phone,” Taino explains. “But is this really what we want our kids to see?”
This prompted Taino to change his behaviour around his phone use, and start encouraging others to do the same.
Phone Free Day, held on Friday 19 March, isn’t about locking your phone away for the day, potentially missing important messages and calls. It’s more about reconsidering how you use your phone, and using it in an intentional way, rather than mindlessly scrolling.
“It’s not about taking something away,” says Taino. “It’s about changing some of those behaviours to actually improve your life. It’s also a fun chance to challenge friends, family, and colleagues to reconsider their phone use!”
Going phone free isn’t as hard as you might think. It could involve doing an audit of your apps, deleting anything that doesn’t bring you joy. It could be turning off notifications on the apps you do use to reduce distractions. You could put your phone in a drawer while you’re working, or have a phone-free morning tea with work colleagues.
“As soon as one person pulls out their phone, it gives permission for everyone to do it,” Taino says. “That’s the sort of behaviour we’re trying to change.”
Sohail Kashkari, who runs a business helping people struggling with discipline and tech distractions, works with the Phone Free Day team as a kind of co-organiser.
“I’ve got clients who are spending up to 10 hours a day on their phones,” he says. “Their lives are just passing them by. They have ambitions and goals, and they know they need to make a change, but they just get so distracted that those changes aren’t made.”
So when you put the phone down, where does your attention go?
“It goes inwards,” Sohail explains. “It gives you time to think, process and reflect on yourself, experiences and emotions. That time has so many benefits.”
When you’re away from your phone – even if it’s just keeping your device out of sight – the effects are almost instant. Participants in last year’s Phone Free Day said they felt more focussed, more creative, less stressed and ‘lighter’. Time away from phones has also been shown to improve quality of sleep, relationships and communication skills.
The Phone Free team are quick to point out that they’re not about demonising technology; advancements in tech are incredible and there are multiple benefits to having a supercomputer in your pocket. But when you’re forced to actively connect with others – say, by asking for direction instead of checking your map app – that’s when the magic happens. That interaction might lead to a great restaurant tip (that you’d never find on your own), spark a conversation, or even result in a friendship.
“It’s just about making small changes,” Sohail says. “If you go for a 30 minute walk every day – without your phone, so you’re seeing and hearing what’s going on around you – you’re going to be in a much different place than if you were to scroll through your phone for half an hour. You need to think about what makes you feel good, and find that balance.”