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Is it time to ditch your smart phone?

Image: Rawpixel, CC0

Parent Zone editor Eleanor Levy argues that we owe it to ourselves to take a break from our mobiles

My name is Eleanor and I'm addicted to my smart phone.

Every morning, I get up, check my emails, then open up Twitter and the Guardian app to update them for when I head to the Underground (no signal - horrors) so I can catch up with what's been happening around the globe overnight.

If I'm reading a novel, I open iBooks or the Kindle app and settle down to immerse myself in another world.

I once read Anna Karenina on my phone. It took me three months to finish it and then another three months for the thumb I used to swipe the pages to return to its normal size. It's a VERY long book.

On a normal day I will do at least three of the following before I've finished my first cup of tea in the morning: check my bank balance, catch up with what's happening to my family in America via Facebook, download music, listen to music, organise a drink with friends on WhatsApp, watch my old colleague Simon wander around Manchester filming the city at dawn on Periscope. (This last one I highly recommend.)

A recent article in The Guardian pleaded with readers: don't let your smart phone 'be the boss of you'. Writer Peter Fleming quoted the example of a hardworking employee who was ordered by his bosses to take two weeks' leave to avoid burn out. But while he was off supposedly digitally detoxing in sunny climes, the emails in his office inbox kept mysteriously disappearing. It turned out he was popping to the toilet at regular intervals with his mobile, accessing his office emails, reading and deleting them in batches. So addicted was he to his job, the piece of tech that originally just made calling the babysitter easier if you were on a night out without the kids, had now become the carefully warmed spoon to his career crack cocaine, facilitating his addiction, even when he was being paid not to work.

Say cheese

That poor man hiding in a beachside loo trying to get a signal isn't alone. The internet has given us many wonderful things that I don't need to go into here, but once it was squeezed into a device small enough to pop into your pocket it became an EVIL TIME-CONSUMING TECH MONSTER with the capacity to smear the boundaries between work and rest, and enslave us all.

Or, at least, those of us with no willpower.

And it's not just the office email that leeches into our daily lives. The camera phone also has a lot to answer for.

Whether it’s people in restaurants snapping their soufflé to share on Twitter, or a teenager puckering their lips for a selfie on Instagram, it can sometimes feel like every moment of modern life is pixelated and shared in cyberspace.

In fact, we now spend so much time taking pictures of our life that we're in danger of forgetting to live it.

I remember when I first realised I was addicted to recording every moment. It was a warm night in London during the summer of 2014. I’d happened upon Spectra – a beautiful, illuminated installation staged to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda had positioned 49 beams of light to shoot up into the darkening sky in gardens next to the House of Lords, on the banks of the river Thames. It was said to be visible for 12 miles, but standing there in the middle of it all as the flies and dust danced in the light was an incredibly moving experience.

And then I became aware of the crowd. Most of the people around me seemed to be viewing it by way of their mobile phone screens as they snapped and videoed away. They may as well have been sitting in the nearest Costa coffee watching it on YouTube. So busy were they saving the moment that they were in danger of missing out on the sheer joy of actually being in it. And even though I tutted as loudly as any British person would do who didn't want to attract too much attention to themselves but still wanted to show displeasure, I couldn't resist joining in.

The fact is, we live in a 'click and capture' world. 2015 was the year that Instragram passed 400 million users, while a report from Ofcom in August found that nearly a third of UK adults (31%)  admitted to taking a selfie, with one in ten (11%) doing so at least once a week. All in all, an estimated 1.2 billion ‘selfies’ were posed for in the UK that year. Sadly, the number that featured people pulling a duck face wasn't recorded.

The fascinating thing about all this is that the obsession with capturing every waking moment on camera isn't confined to young people. If children learn from the example of the adults in their lives, then are we in danger of breeding a generation of narcissists who will use technology to store the memories that would once have been locked firmly in their brains?

If that wasn't bad enough, we are apparently also in danger of breeding a generation of hunchbacks and couch potatoes, from all the hours our children spend sitting down slumped over their phones. Possibly even hunchback, couch potato narcissists

Step away from the smart phone

Former Loaded editor James Brown, writing in the Telegraph recently, admitted that after ditching his iPhone he now carries an old Nokia around with him.

'I’m now happily enjoying being in the space where I actually am. I notice a lot more,' he writes.

Interestingly, Nokia has announced it's about to start making mobile phones again. While I suspect we won't see a return to the simplicity of a 5110 or the space age sliding cover of the 7110, it will be interesting to see if there is a market for a real back to basics handset for those suffering from a digital overdose. Less sometimes really can be more.

As for me, I'm not going to pretend that I'm about to follow suit. My phone is too useful - and too darn sexy - for me to give it up completely.

I'm not sure how I would cope without Google Maps to guide me when I'm visiting an area of the country I don't know, or IMDB when I'm out with friends and none of us can remember which film former footballer Vinnie Jones starred in with John Travolta. (It was Swordfish, in case  you're interested.)

But I do think it's time to show a little restraint. So instead of Dry January, I'm launching Let Phones Be Phones February. Rather than giving up wine or beer, I will be giving up apps, email and the internet, and spend the month using my mobile for what nature intended - calling people.

Wish me luck.