On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, writer Catherine Price talks with Kara Swisher, Lauren Goode and Kara’s son Louie about her latest book, “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” Price says our attitudes about tech addiction need adjusting — rather than taking a “tech detox,” the goal should be to use our phones in ways that are useful and enjoyable, and using them less when they make us sad or distracted. She explains the brain science that makes that goal so difficult for so many people, and recommends tricks and habits that people who are looking for more balance in their lives can adopt.
You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
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Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.
KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
LG: It could be anything at all, like what’s the best peer-to-peer payments app, or how can I improve Wi-Fi at home, or when will Kara find a wearable she actually wants to wear?
KS: I’m wearing a wearable right now, I’m wearing pants, they’re very nice, I like them a lot.
LG: Are they smart pants?
KS: Anyway, send us your questions ... I hate wearables. Send us your questions, find us on Twitter or tweet them to @Recode, or to myself, or to Lauren, with a hashtag #TooEmbarrassed.
LG: We also have an email address, it’s TooEmbarrassed@Recode.net. A friendly reminder, as always, there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed. Kara, we need to talk.
KS: We do? Okay. What do we need to talk about?
KS: For the last time, I’m not interested in going surfing with you, we’re not going to go.
LG: No. No, no, no. This is not about water sports.
KS: All right.
LG: Although, last week at Code Media, when I asked a bunch of people how they managed to take a break from tech, a few of them did say water sports, for what it’s worth. This is about your phone. I think you might have a problem and you need some help. Now, I’ve thought about what I would say to you at this moment, but I do think you need help and it’s help I can’t give you. Otherwise, I don’t think this podcast relationship can move forward. So, either you need to consciously uncouple from your phone or I’m going to have to leave you on this podcast, and eventually you’re just going to be stuck with some bespectacled guy named Rob or Will or Alex, who speaks in thoughtful tones and is going to want to turn this podcast into a 90-minute discussion about obscure films.
KS: I’m sorry, were you talking? I was looking at my phone. I love my phone, Lauren, and I’ll be honest with you ...
LG: This is going to be a long, long road.
KS: I’ve got to tell you, I love my phone more than you. I’m sorry to give you that piece of information, but it’s true.
LG: Kara, that is one of the meanest things. You know what?
KS: Why is it mean?
LG: Friends, family, anybody who’s listening to this podcast ...
KS: The phone is fantastic. Why would you be mad at being left by someone who’s ...
LG: Leave remarks in the comments section of iTunes if you have any thoughts and feelings on what Kara Swisher just said. I’m just going to leave it at that.
KS: The truth hurts.
LG: Listen, I’m bringing in some outside help for us. On today’s show, I’m delighted to have Catherine Price join us. Catherine is the author of “How To Break Up With Your Phone, Kara Swisher.” That’s not the title, but it’s a new book about our codependent relationships with our phones and how all this connectivity is affecting our well-being.
Catherine, thank you for coming on the show.
Catherine Price: Thank you for having me.
KS: Yeah, you’ve got a big problem here, Catherine. Catherine is joining us from Philadelphia, Lauren is in San Francisco, and I’m here in Washington, D.C. And here with me in the studio is another person who thinks I’m too addicted to my phone: My son, Louie Swisher, who’s making his third appearance on Too Embarrassed to Ask, largely because you want to goose our ratings. Every time Louie comes on, it goes up.
LG: Back by popular demand.
Louie Swisher: Exactly.
KS: Exactly. Louie, I’m not addicted to my phone, am I?
Louie: Yes, you are.
KS: All right. Okay. Okay.
LG: Thank you, Louie.
KS: But so are you.
Louie: Except ... Well, yes.
LG: This is how interventions go.
Louie: Yes. It takes one to know one.
LG: We all get together and ...
KS: It takes one to know one. All right. Well, we’re going to be talking about this and more with Catherine. And Louie, you might want to jump in whenever you have thoughts on things. We’ll ask you questions, we’ll ask Catherine questions. I’m happy to explore the issue.
I know tech addiction has been become a big issue, Tristan Harris and others have been talking about it for a year or more. A lot of the companies are under siege for creating an environment of phone addiction and tech addiction, so it’s really important to talk about it. I don’t mean to make light of it, but I do happen to love my phone.
Just a short story, when Louie was born, I was actually holding a phone in my hand.
Louie: You were texting.
KS: I was texting.
Louie: You were texting Walt Mossberg.
KS: Yes, I was, when Louie was born. I had an emergency caesarian and it was in my hand, and they forgot it was there, and then they had to wrap it in plastic while Louie was being born
Louie: They put a Ziploc bag over it.
KS: Over it, exactly, and taped it up. Then it kept buzzing during the birth. So I have to say, I think I really have a bad problem, probably.
Louie: Admitting it is the first step.
LG: So, Louie’s first image when he came into this world was your BlackBerry keyboard.
KS: Yes. Yeah. All right, Catherine, let’s start to talk about this: What does breaking up with your phone really mean? In the intro to your book, you said this is not about throwing your phone under a bus or going back to the rotary phone. And by the way, I think I’m the only one among us that actually actively used a rotary phone. I’m not sure how old you are, Catherine, but ...
LG: I’ve used a rotary phone.
KS: Have you? Okay.
CP: Oh yeah, I’ve used ... You hate the people with nines in their number.
KS: Nine, right, exactly. What’s a healthy breakup with tech? Not just phones, because phones are sort of the center of that, but there’s all kinds of screens happening. So can you talk a little bit, what does a healthy breakup mean?
CP: Sure. I would actually reframe it a little bit and say, what does a healthy relationship look like?
CP: Because that’s the ultimate goal. We shouldn’t focus too much on the breakup part. Just as if you breakup with a human, it’d be better not to dwell on the relationship that was, it’d be better to move forward and figure out the one that you want it to be. So, a relationship with your phone and with tech that is healthy is definitely a subjective, personal thing. So, Kara, maybe, maybe you’re better than it sounds like from that ... That’s a crazy story with the Ziploc bag.
KS: I have worse. I have worse.
CP: I look forward to hearing them.
KS: I will tell them through the course of this thing, but I’ve got worse.
CP: It’s funny because when people ask me that question, “How do I tell if I’ve got a healthy relationship?” I normally say, “Well, first of all, you should ask how you feel when you’re on your phone? Do you feel good about the time you’re spending on your phone?”
CP: The next thing you might want to do is, yeah, actually track the time that you’re spending on your phone using an app like Moment, which is for the iPhone, and then Quality Time. Then the third thing I say to people is, “Ask your loved ones what they think about your relationship with your phone.” It looks like you’ve done that, too, so you passed the first one, but the third question seems like we have some stuff to talk about.
KS: Louis, I think I’ve gotten better, correct?
CP: That’s a leading question.
KS: Come on, last night at dinner?
Louie: Well, yeah. Sometimes it’s out and then you’re just texting, or writing a story, writing an email or something. You’re aware of it, that’s good.
KS: That’s the first step.
Louie: It is. Admitting it is the first step.
KS: Right, but I have done less of it around you guys than I used to, correct? Is that correct? I think I have. No? Really? Come on.
Louie: I don’t know.
KS: I don’t text and drive.
Louie: At least you don’t do that, that’s good.
CP: That’s really not a very good defense. If that’s your line right there, “I don’t almost kill people every time I’m in the car.”
KS: Many parents do.
Louie: Yeah, yeah, many parents do.
KS: Many parents do.
LG: Kara, do you think that you’d be so addicted to your phone, or attached to your phone, if you didn’t work in the news?
KS: It’s interesting, because I don’t have other addictions. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I never smoked, or drugs, or anything like that. I don’t know, it’s a really interesting thing. I have liked phones from the get-go. I had a suitcase phone, essentially.
Louie: Oh my God.
KS: I know, a long time ago, and I always was riveted to them, and so, I’m not sure. When there wasn’t much on them.
Louie: Well, your phone is like your whole job, so that’s kind of where you work from, mostly.
KS: When they didn’t have uses, I liked them. So, I don’t know. Let’s talk about the bigger issue, Catherine, of addiction, this idea, because it’s getting a lot of ... Let’s get off of Kara for a second, I realize I have a problem.
You were talking about addiction as we continue to seek something out, despite negative consequences. There’s been a lot recently about this idea around phone addiction, just relatively recently about people worried about it and bugging companies about what they’re doing. Do think phones have reached that point of cigarettes or other things that are actually addictive? Can you talk about the science around it?
CP: Sure. I don’t think we’re going to find that phones cause lung cancer, so I think that you’re not going to have that level of an issue here, but I think that it’s certainly ... I feel comfortable using the word addiction based on the fact that you’re triggering the same circuits and chemicals in your brain that typify addiction.
I would also say, just as a more general thing, if you look at how much time the average person is spending on their phone — and I asked the guy who created Moment, that tracking app, what his data is. He’s got almost five million people who have used the app and the average person is spending four hours a day on their phone. That does not count phone calls or listening to music, it’s just times when the screen is on. To me, that was a really striking number.
CP: Especially when I realized the latter part because you’re like, “Oh, it’s just when I’m listening to the podcast,” but it’s not. That’s a quarter of our waking lives. To me, I think the addiction question is very interesting. But I think, taking a step back, the more important kind of philosophical or life-related question is, “Oh my goodness, that’s a lot of time. Do we want to be spending that much time on our phone?” If you do, that’s fine, no judgment, but I think a lot of people would be surprised by how the minutes add up.
LG: We talk about this idea of negative consequences, because addiction is when we continue to seek out something despite negative consequences. How does someone tell when that interaction, despite the length of it, when it becomes negative?
CP: I think there’s a couple of ways to tell when your relationship with your phone is becoming negative or something you might want to look into more. One would be if your son thinks you have a problem.
Louie: Well, it’s not just the son, it’s both.
KS: Both sons, I have two. I’m not letting him in here.
CP: I did look at Twitter and I was like, “What is going on with Kara?” There’s a lot of people really worried about this conversation that we’re going to have. So, that’s one sign. Also, if you start to feel ... From my personal experience, if you read the first journal entry when I started thinking about this project, very few journal entries did I write over the past five years because I’ve been on my phone so much, but it sounds like I’m crazy because I’m jumping back and forth between subjects and thoughts. In the middle of one paragraph I somehow buy three sports bras off of Amazon, there’s like a note about that. I was kind of interested, I was like, “Could this actually be related to the time I’m spending on my phone? Or something about my phone is affecting me? Maybe I’m just getting old, I don’t know, but could it be?”
So I started to look into what we know about phones and then, in a broader sense, internet, because obviously the internet’s been around longer than the phones have, and the phones are essentially internet devices that we carry in our pockets that also have been engineered to keep us on them for as long as possible. What I found from that, I came away with a couple really interesting thoughts, at least to me. One was the realization that our brains are actually ... They really like being distracted.
We actually do not have a natural tendency to be able to focus on things. Which makes sense if you think about an evolutionary perspective where there might be someone that’s trying to kill you, so you kind of want to notice if there’s movement in the periphery of your vision or whatever. So our brains really like to be able to flit away from things quickly. It takes a lot of mental effort and training to do something like read a book, or concentrate enough to decipher symbols off of a page. We often think of concentration just as the act of choosing what to focus on, but it actually, even more so, is the act of ignoring every single thing else in your environment, and that is not what our brains like to do.
When you think about what we’re doing on our phones, we’re very intensely focused on them, but what we’re normally doing on them is not intense focus. We normally are switching between apps, scrolling through a social media feed, texting with someone, lots of quick bursts of stimulation that basically train our brains to be distracted again and again, and kind of work us back towards our default state of distraction and undo some of the hard work that we’ve done over the course of our life to be able to sustain that concentration.
LG: It tends to feel good when you’re productive. If I need to send an email or set reminders for myself to check my calendar, do something just productive in general, I feel good, I’m like, “Oh, I got that thing done and out of the way and I managed to do it while I was mobile.”
Then sometimes like a text message will come through and it’s from someone I like, but it comes through at that moment when I’m trying to focus on something and I just feel this very sort of acute sense of irritation. It’s not at the person necessarily, but the whole situation, and I’m like, “Ah,” it just creates this negative association.
KS: You can turn off your texts, you know. I do it all the time.
LG: Yeah, I know. You can put your phone on airplane mode if you need to, too.
Louie: Is that why you never respond?
KS: No, I’m just saying. I’m wondering, though, if it’s not unlike television addiction. I think we’re replacing something with something else, right?
Louie: Well, I think it’s kind of like with the internet and with the different mobile apps and different services, it’s kind of a different wave of television addiction. An example would be YouTube. I’ll find myself watching half of or most of a YouTube video, then going to the next one. If I see video that’s longer than eight minutes, I’m probably not going to choose that. I think that relates back to the quick bursts of attention, and I find myself getting distracted and getting caught in YouTube for hours, just watching two-minute videos over and over.
KS: What attracts you?
Louie: I watch informational stuff, like historical videos, like stuff about ...
KS: On YouTube? Like is there another one playing or you see someone nearby?
Louie: Well, I’ll just see one that looks interesting or something about something that piques my interest, like cooking videos, or just videos that interest me, and then I’ll see them, and it really just is the short burst thing, I think.
KS: Yeah. Can you talk about the TV addiction thing? Because I think we used to spend those hours watching television, correct? Or not? Is it replacing ...?
CP: Oh no. I actually think it’s different. Yeah, obviously it’s taking some of the time that we used to spend on televisions, but you didn’t have your television in your pocket, looking at it while you’re waiting in line for lunch.
CP: So it’s not filling in ... Or in the elevator, you didn’t pull out one of those giant TVs with the boxes behind them, on the elevator.
LG: Kara had one in her suitcase next to her phone.
KS: I probably did.
CP: Totally. I kind of believe that. I actually do think that they are substantially different from other technologies. And here I’m definitely borrowing from Tristan Harris and the points he’s made, that if you think about it, first of all, you do have them with you, your phone with you, at all times. Probably all of us right now have it within arm’s reach. I think mine is actually across the office, but it’s close to me. So, that’s one thing, it’s with us at all times, it gives you access to the whole internet.
It goes even further because, as Tristan Harris likes to say, if you think about a landline telephone, for example, you didn’t have engineers on the other side of that telephone trying to get you to pick up calls over and over again, and spend as much time as possible on the television, because the business model is different. The business model of most apps is advertising, so they want, as Ramsey Brown likes to say, he talks about this a lot, they want our eyeballs, they’re selling our eyeballs and they’re making money off of that in a way that a long-distance telephone company was not making money off of your eyeballs. I guess they wanted you to call a lot, but point being, it’s very much engineered to tap into our brain chemistry in a way that triggers us to ...
KS: They have, at these companies, those people that know about the brain chemistry. They have psychologists, they’ve got anthropologists, they’ve got all kinds of people working there, and they have people who understanding gambling in a lot of ways. I always call it the slot machine of attention because you can’t pull yourself away from it very easily, for sure.
LG: They also have targeting data. With old TV or terrestrial radio, they had some demographic information as to who was watching, and that age group and where they lived and all that. But now, someone could build a pretty good profile, I’m sure, of Louie’s YouTube watching habits, and then they’re going to serve him videos that are more likely to suck him back into ...
Louie: Yeah, there is ...
LG: Or all of us, I’m not just singling out you, Louie, but all of us, really, they know exactly what we’re into.
CP: Yeah, the amount of data’s crazy.
Louie: Yeah, it is kind of crazy. I’ll be watching these types of videos, I talked about this before, I’ll be watching this one type of video and then for one or two days, I’ll watch a completely different type. Then my entire YouTube category is just all those types of videos, it just switches so quick.
KS: Yeah, absolutely.
Louie: It’s very interesting.
KS: Do you think this is ... One of the things that you were talking about, Catherine, that tech companies aren’t necessarily out to hurt people deliberately, but they have the same features that make smartphones fun, could ... They know about addiction, and could you talk about some of the features? Recently, using grayscale changes, which is turning the apps a different color — to black and white, essentially, making it duller — what do the features ... Is it color that attracts people or what is it? What are the features?
CP: There’s all sorts of things on our phones that make them attractive to us, and I’ll answer that, but just to take a step back, I think one thing we’re kind of circling around but it’s important to point out is that phones are really useful tools and there’s obviously so many great things you can do with a phone. Whether it’s watching a video that you’re genuinely interested in and you want to learn about that, or you’re connecting with someone that you like and when you don’t feel irritated by their text. So, just want to put that out there.
In terms of some of the design things that are there to really appeal to our primal brains and make us want to keep checking them, yeah, the color definitely is a nice thing. If anyone’s experimented with the grayscale option, it is kind of crazy the difference it makes. You probably ...
KS: Yeah, you don’t like it.
CP: Yeah, it’s very difficult to find your apps. I was trying to get an Uber and I was like ... I mean, that’s a black-and-white icon anyway, I couldn’t find it, what happened to it? That’s interesting, but if you start to look at some of the other things, particularly with social media apps, you see other elements built in that are meant to keep us there.
Just to be clear on brain chemistry, what are we talking about? In particular we’re talking about dopamine, which is a salience chemical, it basically tells you when you’ve encountered something interesting that’s worth remembering and paying attention to. That could be good or bad, it’s some kind of emotional excitement or relevance.
So if you think about what happens when you check your phone, you are nearly guaranteed to always find something that matches those. Whether it’s a text or an irritating email or a post that makes you mad or something that makes you happy, whatever, there’s going to be a trigger. When that happens, your brain releases a little bit of dopamine and that basically is teaching your brain to associate checking your phone ... That it’s important to check your phone, which makes you want to check your phone more. Like every time you check and find something, it reinforces the cycle. That’s what really gets us hooked.
Eventually, we start to crave our phones when they’re sitting near us because we can anticipate, our brains know that we’re going to find something on that. That’s really what we’re talking about here. Go ahead.
KS: Let me just interject. It’s interesting, I was just at the White House and the new rules at the White House says they have these boxes that you put your phone in before you go in. They’re worried about leaks or whatever they’re worried about in the Trump White House, lots of things, I’m sure.
Louie: Well, it was in the Obama White House, too.
KS: Was it?
KS: Did they have it?
Louie: They had the boxes.
KS: They had the boxes. So, you put them in and you lock them away, and they’ve checked to make sure you do that, and it was, I have to say, I had a really good conversation. At the same time, I felt like I needed cigarettes. I imagine it’s what it feels like if you don’t have cigarettes around.
Louie: Yeah. Sometimes when I don’t have my phone or something like that, when I leave it in my room or something to go downstairs, I’m always like hitting my pockets going, “Oh no, I lost my phone,” and then I remember it’s upstairs, do you know what I mean?
Louie: It is kind of like a withdrawal, in a sense.
KS: For a short thing.
Louie: For a short, yeah.
CP: It’s interesting, too, there’s even, I think, I’m going to guess all of us may have experienced this, when you think your pocket’s vibrating and then there’s nothing in your pocket.
CP: It’s called phantom vibrations and it’s actually a thing that researchers study. You start to see that you really do ... Again, it’s not going to cause lung cancer, but you do see that there are, that some of these characteristics, if you start paying attention to your own body and the feelings that you get when you’re not near your phone, you’ll start to really pick up on stuff.
In terms of getting back to the question of what else is in the design of the phones that makes this cycle more likely to get established, social media feeds are particularly interesting because they don’t ever end, you just can scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll, and that’s a very deliberate design choice. If you think about even like a Google search result, you’re going to have to click to get to the next page. Which, I’m going to guess if you’re like me, I barely ever get to the second page unless I’ve done a really bad job with my key words.
I think of it as if you’re bingeing on ice cream and your spoon will eventually hit the bottom of the pint of ice cream. That’s basically what’s called a stopping cue, it’s something that makes you stop what you’re doing and decide if you want to continue. You could continue by getting up and getting more ice cream, but you’d have to be proactive about it. With social media feeds, there’s nothing like that, it’s deliberately meant to keep us going and going.
Louie: It’s like a bottomless pit, kind of, bottomless pint of ice cream.
KS: Should they stop doing that? Should these companies make a bottom or not?
CP: It depends on whose interest you’re talking about. I think that they want to make money and that they will make less money if they were to put those stopping cues in there. It’ll be interesting to see if the recent public concern about tech addiction leads to them having a sense of corporate responsibility that goes in a different direction from their shareholders’ interests.
LG: Yeah. In your book, Catherine, you also cite examples of prominent tech executives, including Steve Jobs, shielding or having shielded their own kids from screens, and they’re the people who are working on these products. So, should this be alarming to us? I’m going to ask a leading question, but do you see this as at all hypocritical?
CP: Well, I think that it’s really been interesting to see, just in the past two months, after I finalized the book manuscript, how many tech insiders have started to speak out about this. You even have like Esalen, the super hippie retreat on the Pacific Ocean, is now like burnt-out Silicon Valley people. So it’s definitely been interesting to see that. Wait, I totally forgot your leading question.
KS: Is it hypocritical?
LG: Do you see it as at all ... Yeah, at all as hypocritical when you hear of tech executives who shield their own kids from screens, because they don’t know what’s going on, but they’re building a lot of products that they want us to consume, passively, obsessively?
CP: I guess I actually would say, yeah, definitely, but I think that that’s exactly why you have some of these people speaking out now, that they feel hypocritical about it. I don’t think most people who go into tech are trying to create a generation of addicts and ruin the world. They’re really into the technology and they feel passionately about making these products. I think that a lot of people probably didn’t fully anticipate what the societal effects would be, which of course, we’re still even figuring out, we don’t know yet. Anyway, I think that people in the field themselves are feeling a bit hypocritical about.
KS: Whose responsibility really is it? Because it’s also like me, I do think that they design them and create them so that people ... They put in all kinds of bells and whistles to make you attracted to them, absolutely, just like a casino would, or any other ... Sugar, or something else. It reminds me of sugar more than anything. There is some responsibility on ourselves, right? Or is it these companies that they could just design them differently? Because I don’t see them doing that, I don’t see them ... Until they get some regulatory pressure and there’s scientific studies showing this is killing our people or something like that. Even then, it took forever to get cigarette warnings on there.
CP: Yeah. Man, there’s a lot to talk about in that. To touch on what you said last, it’s interesting, actually, that there never have been randomized control trials linking cigarettes with lung cancer because you can’t do it. Once you suspect it’s a negative consequence, you can’t be like, “Oh, you guys start smoking, let’s see what happens in 20 years.” You can’t do that with phones, either, if you think that it’s a negative consequence, so it’s really interesting to ...
Everyone’s like, “Oh, where are the studies? Where are the studies? I want to see brain scans of someone who has been on their phone a lot compared to someone who hasn’t.” Well, that’s really going to be difficult to get past a review board if you actually want to have a randomized control study because you’re saying, “I’m going to test if phones are negative.” You really have to find somebody who’s been spending a lot of time on their phone and then take the phone away, right?
CP: Yes, maybe you could be one of the subjects.
Louie: I’m sorry, I was texting.
KS: Sorry, he was texting. I don’t believe you’re yelling at me about this when you’re over there. I’m going to take away ... I can turn off Louie’s phone, by the way.
Louie: You say that, yet you haven’t done it yet.
KS: I’m going to, right now, I’m going to do it for you, yeah.
LG: Louie, what app were you using just now?
KS: He’s always using Snapchat.
CP: So we should ask Louie what we were just talking about, see if you were multitasking.
KS: He was not.
KS: Can you talk about your own moment when you realized you were a little too close to your phone? I can think of 10 moments when I understood that, but talk about when you realized it was too much?
CP: Well, for me, the moment that stuck out in my mind — I think it was a process, but the moment that stuck out in my mind was this time, like six months after my daughter was born, I also had an emergency Caesarian section, and I actually also had the phone in the room with me, but it was my husband.
Anyway, I was in this darkened room with her and it was like what should have been ... You could imagine it as this mother/daughter bonding blah-blah-blah moment, and then I had this kind of out-of-body experience because I was incredibly tired, obviously, and I saw this scene from the outside, and she was looking up at me, and their eyes are perfectly developed enough just to see their mother’s or the parent’s face, and I was looking down at my phone, and I was searching for antique doorknobs on eBay. Which is my weird, weird rabbit hole.
I saw that and my heart sank a little bit because I just did not want that to be my daughter’s first impression of the human relationship, let alone with me, was her looking up at me and me looking at my phone. That was really a crystallizing moment for me, but that was within the context of a broader realization and awareness that I just kept finding my phone in my hand any time I had a moment of down time.
CP: I’ve done a lot with mindfulness, and so combining my background in mindfulness with my own habits, I really started to pay attention to what was happening.
KS: Well, so let’s talk about the smartphone compulsion test, action, because I think we realize we have to do something about it. I’ve actually tried at meals to not look at it at all, put it down flat on the table, or move it away or put it somewhere else or put it away. I’m starting with meals and things like that, where you have discussions ...
Louie: Baby steps. Baby steps.
KS: Baby steps. I did that last night, I did it.
Louie: You did.
KS: I did. That was really good. Talk about the smartphone compulsion test, to figure out if they have a problem. Then, how do you develop a healthy relationship? What are the things you need to try?
CP: Sure. So, the smartphone compulsion test was developed by David Greenfield, who runs the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. It’s a 15-question quiz and, just a spoiler alert, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re going to get a score high enough to qualify for a psychiatric evaluation. At first, you’ll be like, “Oh, this is ridiculous, this is just ... everyone feels this way,” but if you actually start thinking about the questions, they’re just talking about how do you feel when you step away from your phone, how often is it a part of your place setting at meals, do you mindlessly pass time on your phone, things like that will be like obviously yes.
If you think about it, actually just because everyone does it does not mean that it’s normal or okay. To me, I did have a comparison in my head of imagining if you’re out on the street or on the subway or whatever, if you swap out the phones for some sort of drugs and imagine that everyone, or even just like alcohol, that people are doing this around you. You start to think, “Oh wow.”
KS: Can I ask you a related question, though?
KS: I read a lot on my phone. I used to read books, I used to have a book with me all the time, and so I’m reading “Hamilton,” or I’m reading whatever book I happen to be reading.
CP: Oh my God, you’re reading “Hamilton” on the phone?
CP: You’re in it for the long haul there.
KS: I know, I am.
Louie: She’s not actually texting, she’s reading “Hamilton.”
KS: But I am doing ... I read news.
KS: I used to have magazines with me all the time, newspapers.
Louie: You did. You were a huge fan of People.
KS: People magazine, for example. I replaced it, so I don’t consider that a compulsion, it’s a compulsion for reading. Is that different or not?
Louie: I don’t know. I think you’re still looking at a screen, but you’re still reading. I definitely do that. I read some articles ...
KS: But I would have a magazine in my hand.
CP: There’s also the potential to be interrupted all the time — unless you put your phone into airplane mode, which I’m guessing you don’t do that often. But that’d be like the equivalent of trying to read a physical book and having a pet or a small child just like every page you turn like jump at you and be like, “I need attention.”
KS: Yeah. I have concentration, but I tend to a read ton on and not look at ... I don’t look at Facebook, Twitter’s my only real compulsion, I think. Don’t laugh, Mr. Snapchat over there.
CP: Well, I think that, again, if this is a use of your phone that makes you feel good and you don’t feel like your attention is being compromised by getting texts every third sentence. Or also links in articles, those can be problematic because every time you encounter a link, your brain has to make a split-second decision about whether or not to click on that link. Even though you’re probably not even conscious that your brain did that, you can’t really absorb what you’re reading and making decisions at the same time.
CP: My biggest concern, though, if you feel okay about your reading on the phone and you’re not being interrupted, I think that my concern would be just the light that you’re getting from the phone. Even if you have it on night mode, the phones will have very blue light and that basically is a cue to our bodies that it’s daytime. So if you’re looking at your phone in the hours before bedtime and you’re getting this blue light — and the closer to your face it is, the more dramatic the effect it will have — then you’re basically giving yourself jet lag.
KS: I better go to a Kindle. I need to go to a Kindle, right?
CP: Yeah. I’m a little bit confused, I have one of those, too. I like the ones that have the old-school little light that shines on the page instead of the ones that are backlit, because that also, to me, seems like it’s a problematic light that you’re exposing your face to right before you go to bed.
Sleep deprivation, even small sleep deprivation, is linked to all sorts of similar things that we’re worried about with phones, about concentration, distraction and also long-term health effects, so that would be my concern with your reading.
KS: All right.
LG: What about when you feel like you need to have the phone ... So, in my case, sometimes I’ll say, “I’m going to stay away from my phone for the week,” like, “Next week I’m going on vacation and I’m planning on not having my phone with me as much as possible,” but I’m going to want to take a lot of photos, so I’ll still have it on me. I guess the obvious solution is just put it in airplane mode and use the camera, but does taking out your phone frequently just to snap some quick photos or look at photos, is that ... Do you consider that to be something that could be potentially harmful?
CP: No. I think it depends ... Well, I think it’s actually a really interesting question because I think that I certainly try with my phone to separate tools from temptations. I love taking photos and so I think that ... I take photos with my phone all the time because I do actually have a different camera, but it’s so convenient, so there’s nothing really wrong with that. If I actually pay attention to how I feel, if I take out my phone to take a picture, even if it’s on airplane mode, it triggers some of the same feelings for me that I have if I’m about to check email or something like that. For me personally, I prefer not to do that, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently good or bad about it.
It makes me think, actually, just as a side note, I have a friend who is a carpenter, and just yesterday he gave me a present, and it is a piece of wood shaped like a phone, kind of like a 5S phone, I would say. It is so smooth, he beveled the edges, and it’s just a rectangle of wood, and everyone I’ve shown it to has this deep physical reaction to the piece of wood, it’s fascinating. Then I gave it to a friend who doesn’t have a smartphone and watched her reaction, and she was like, “Yeah, I get it, it’s a phone,” but she did not get it. She was like, “Yeah, I get it, you’re supposed to be like ha, ha, ha, it’s the shape of a phone.”
Anyway, point being, I think that there is this associations in terms of how we feel when we pick up the phone. I don’t know, it’s your call. I think for the vacation, here’s the bigger thing, I think in terms of our conversation this is important to kind of put it in this context. We’re talking about trying to reduce phone time in this conversation, but I think we should be talking more about what we want to do ... It’s not about less time on your phone, it’s about more time on your life. On your vacation, I wouldn’t say your goal should be not to spend time on your phone, it should be, enjoy your vacation, and what role do you want the phone to play in that enjoyment? What are you going to do instead of the time you spend on your phone? Because that’s the other big question.
KS: Yes, what are you going to do, Lauren?
LG: Not think about Kara.
KS: So, Louie, what do you ...
LG: That’s what Kara would say. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what you did say when you went to Mexico for a week.
KS: I did not.
LG: It was like you didn’t miss me at all.
Louie: I know you still used your phone while you were there.
KS: I did. I did, but I didn’t use it that much.
Louie: You would climb the mountain ... You told me, you’re like, “Oh, I can only get service on this mountain,” and I know you climbed that mountain every day.
KS: I climbed that mountain, but I got in good shape climbing the mountain, so it all turned out for the best. And I got to talk to you, sweetheart.
Louie: That’s sweet.
KS: Let me ask you ...
LG: Wow, between climbing mountains and reading “Hamilton” ...
KS: No, I only climbed it to talk to [Louie].
LG: Kara, you are a master of justification, reading “Hamilton,” climbing mountains, these are the reasons why you have your phone on vacation.
KS: Yeah, I did, but let me ...
LG: The phone is just ancillary.
CP: If that’s what we did with our phones, if it really was about reading long biographies of presidents and hiking mountains, that’d be kind of awesome, right?
KS: It’s a very important book.
CP: We wouldn’t be having this conversation.
KS: It’s a very important book and I’ve been reading it for three years now on the phone. Don’t laugh at me, Louie Swisher. Listen to me, what is your problem with the phone that you need fixing? What do you think you need to fix with your relationship with your phone? Besides extensively Snapchatting with girls, which is what you would do if you had a regular phone, you would do the same thing.
Louie: I don’t know. I’m definitely addicted to my phone. I think everybody in my generation is addicted to their phone if they have one.
KS: But you don’t get on Twitter, you don’t get on ...
Louie: No, I don’t like Twitter. I really only use my phone to talk to people.
KS: Right, so communications.
KS: So, Catherine, is that so bad? Because he really does, I have to say ...
Louie: I only talk to people.
KS: He talks to people, he interacts.
Louie: Video calls.
KS: Video calls, things like that.
KS: Is that a bad way to learn to interact? He does see his friends, too, it’s not as if ...
Louie: Some people think that only texting and stuff like that makes you awkward in person, but I don’t think I’m like that, so that doesn’t ... Maybe to some people.
KS: What do you think of that, Catherine? He does use it primarily for communication, I think.
CP: Yeah. Again, that’s kind of like a personal thing. You certainly don’t seem like someone who’s locking himself in the basement and unable to have a human conversation, which I think is the concern. I think it depends on what you’re doing on it. I think a lot of the studies and the concern over people in general and their phones, and then certainly teenagers, is about social media and comparison and anxiety and depression and all this stuff. If you feel like ... I feel like I’m not really the person to ... I don’t feel like I can tell people that if you feel good about the way you’re using your phone, if you’re communicating with your friends, sounds like a good use.
I guess my question would be, what’s the trade-off? How much time are you spending on your screen versus actually hanging out with them? Would one type of interaction be more meaningful than the other? For me, at least, I do use my phone to have some very nice interactions with people I care about, but it always would be more meaningful and rewarding if I actually just got to see them in person.
KS: What do you think about that, Louie?
Louie: Well, I definitely enjoy spending time with people a lot more than texting. I think texting is just a substitute, so I can talk to them when I’m not with them, you know?
KS: Right. Last night, you were on that phone with that lovely person, I’m not going to say who it was ...
Louie: Yeah, it was my grandmother, I love talking to my grandmother. I call my grandmother every night.
KS: He does, he’s really good about that.
LG: You should cherish your grandparents.
CP: I guess the other thing, though, is like in the little universe of communication, is that interrupting other things in your life? If you get a phone call on a landline phone, you’re kind of ... It wouldn’t interrupt you while you’re out having a conversation with somebody else in person, it wouldn’t interrupt you when you’re out for a walk or climbing that mountain for noble purposes.
Louie: Yes, to read “Hamilton.”
LG: Right. If you were doing homework as a teenager 20 years ago, you’d get a call on the landline phone and your parent or your sibling would pick it up and say, “She’s doing homework, can’t talk right now, bye,” but now, it’s like you could be doing ...
Louie: It’s right next to me, buzzing.
Louie: I think the only real negative consequence of it is that it does distract me from my homework sometimes. I always do finish my work in time, regardless if it’s the day before or 15 minutes before class, but I think the only real issue is that it does serve as an interruption there.
KS: What’s interesting is you leave it on a lot. He was on a Snapchat for hours last night.
Louie: What do you mean? You can’t be on a Snapchat for hours.
KS: Yeah, but you were video ...
Louie: It’s FaceTime.
KS: Whatever, it kept going, it was an interesting thing.
KS: I’m watching you very carefully, Louie Swisher.
CP: Not to interrupt this son/mother ...
KS: Family moment.
CP: Do you and your friends have any kind of agreed upon — not explicitly that you had a conversation about it necessarily — but rules of etiquette in terms of how you interact with your phones when you’re out together in person?
Louie: No. When people are on their phones, when I’m with them, I usually just tell them to shut it off, or ask them kindly. I’m not a fan of when I’m with people if they’re on their phones, because I definitely don’t when I’m with someone, I’ll just put my phone in my pocket it, leave it there, put it on a table or something and leave it there.
KS: People are often on their phones.
Louie: It’s annoying. It does get annoying.
KS: It does.
Louie: Especially when my mom does it.
CP: What’s interesting is that I think that people always ask about this generational thing like they’re lamenting ...
KS: Lack of conversation.
CP: When they were kids or whatever, but then you look at people in their 60s and 70s even, like my parents, and people ... I’m kind of curious about your perspective, Louie, because it sounds like you and your friends maybe ... You’re like, “Yeah, we use our phones a lot,” but you don’t feel uncomfortable calling people out when they’re being rude in person, versus ...
Louie: Well, that’s just me, I think.
CP: Older couple are totally doing it. Do you think that it is just you or is that something you observe among your friends, too?
Louie: Sometimes if there’s something going on and somebody just whips out their phone, they’ll ask you to put it away or something, but I think I just personally like face-to-face interactions. I don’t really like when I’m with someone, I don’t really go on my phone, I don’t like when they go on their phone, unless it’s ...
KS: Yeah. I don’t like people outside, I’ll tell you that. I do not use it walking and stuff like that. I don’t, Louie, I’m telling you. Forget it, I’m not talking to you.
Anyway, in a minute we’re going to take some questions and read some responses from our readers and listeners, and Catherine is going to answer them and Louie’s going to make rude remarks about his lovely mother.
Louie: I’m sorry, Mom. I love you.
KS: That’s okay. I love you, too. First, a short break for an ad. Lauren?
LG: Do you love me, too, Kara? Hashtag #money.
KS: We’re back with Catherine Price, the author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” I love the title of that book. We’re talking about tech addiction, obviously. We have a few questions and comments from our listeners. Lauren, would you like to read the first one?
LG: I would love to. The first one is from Liz Weeks, one of our loyal listeners, she says, “A lot of tech addiction literature references things like dopamine hits, but what are the measurable and/or scientific base” — I think she meant basis — “for calling this an addiction rather than a mere bad habit?” She also had a second question, but let’s answer that one first.
CP: Well, I think we touched upon that earlier when we were talking about the effects that ... We do know about spending a lot of time on the internet, for example, and the issue and the challenge of how do you do brain studies on people with phones if you think it’s a negative intervention. I think, for me, what’s interesting — again, going back to the idea, okay, if you can’t study people with a negative intervention but you could study people if you thought that distraction and spending time on your phone, if that was the baseline state and you have an intervention that’s supposed to help you.
In that case, I think actually one of the people I’m really interested in, in terms of research, is Judson Brewer, this guy who’s up at the University of Massachusetts now, in the Mindfulness Center there. He’s a very experienced meditator and he does science doing brain scans of people while they’re meditating to see the activity in their brains.
There was one study in particular that I read about in which he had a kind of real-time feedback loop where people could meditate and then see their own brain activity, and you can actually see when the thought interrupted them, which is very interesting. The point that he was making more broadly was somewhat related to something I was saying before, which is that you would think that concentration would be about activating your brain in some way. Yes, there was activation in some areas, but what they really found is that when you’re really concentrating, a lot of activity is tamped down. I think it would be very interesting to do an intervention with meditation on someone who spends a lot of time on their phone and see what happens in terms of actually seeing their ability to tamp down distractions.
LG: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, there’s some scientific evidence. There are studies being conducted, but also as you mentioned earlier, it’s also sometimes hard to get a control group because it’s hard to find someone who isn’t on their phone.
KS: Meditation study, you don’t have to ... because meditation you know is good for you. All right, my question ...
CP: It’s also interesting, though, just because I have heard some people, tech people, say that we’re basically in this giant societal experiment with no control, and we don’t know what we’re doing to ourselves. I do think you can draw upon other fields and research that’s been done on different technologies to be concerned.
KS: I think we’re probably in an extended version of “Black Mirror.” Liz’s second question, Lauren?
Louie: Love that show.
KS: Love that show, yeah, you do.
LG: Yeah, Liz’s second question asked whether, “It’s better to remove oneself from notifications cold turkey or should we treat this like resistance training, keep the notifications on, but manually stop ourselves from responding? I know the former can result in rebuilding concentration, but what about the latter?” This is a really good question, too, another researcher that I’ve spoken to not long ago, Larry Rosen, who co-wrote “The Distracted Mind,” I’m sure, Catherine, you’re familiar with this work. He specifically said, when I asked him, “What can you do?” He said, “Don’t think a detox will work.” Like, Kara, you went away to Mexico for a week and you said you were going to put your phone down, but that’s ... Or I’m going to try it next week, but it’s one week, and is that really building better habits?
KS: Right. Right.
CP: Again, I think that we’re all tempted to come at it from this detox perspective, but I don’t think that’s the right perspective to come from because, again, it’s kind of a negative focus and it’s like a restriction in some way. Instead, I think we should be taking a broader step back and using our phones and our habits around our phones as an inspiration to ask a bigger and more general question about what do we want to spend our attention on in life? That was what I kept coming back to when I was writing the book, is that your life is what you pay attention to, metaphorically, but also, really, the only thing I’m experiencing right now in this moment is this conversation.
I’m staring at some weird wallpaper and I’m talking to you guys and I’m really enjoying it, and it’s what I’m going to remember from my day in this moment. I could be spending this time on my phone and then the phone would be my moment. Basically, any time you’re choosing what to spend your attention on, you’re making this broader choice about how you want to spend your life. That’s where I think you can make this into a positive experiment, where instead of detoxing, you’re basically using your phone and building awareness around your phone habits to try to get back in touch with your broader priorities in life, and make yourself happier and have a more meaningful life.
KS: That is a really good point. What else could you do? What else could you be doing?
CP: To me, my phone, I’m certainly still tempted by my phone. No relationship is ever going to be perfect, whether it’s with your phone or a person, but it’s been interesting to see it transition from this object of desire to something that’s really a cue for me to ask those questions.
CP: If I see someone pull out a phone on the elevator, I used to pull out my phone, too, but now I see that and I notice it, and I’m like, “Huh, look at that, they’re on their phone,” and I think, “Do I want to do that?” I think, “No, I would just like to take a deep breath and just have nothing going on for this 10-second break in my life.”
KS: Ride the elevator. Oddly enough, that’s a new thing I’m doing, I don’t pull my phone out in an elevator, on purpose. I consciously put it in my pocket.
CP: So then the question is, what do you do instead? That’s the part we always forget to answer.
Louie: Listen to the music.
KS: I stare at the people on their phones and I give them ...
CP: Just judge silently.
KS: Judge silently. Yeah, it’s really fun.
Louie: You could have little games, just stare them dead in the eyes and when they look back, just look away.
KS: Yeah. I told you the other thing I started doing.
KS: When people are in the street, walking with their phones. When they’re walking.
CP: Oh God, I do this, too.
Louie: What do you do? You walk in front of them?
KS: No, I find it dangerous. No, what I do is, I go, “Hey!” like that, really loud. You didn’t notice I did it today, we had lunch at this place and a woman was blocking everybody, staring at their phone, moving slowly, and I go, “Put down the phone,” like that, and they get really ... No one’s actually reacted badly, I have to say, they kind of feel badly for having stood there like a zombie.
Louie: That’s true. It’s kind of their fault.
KS: Yeah, they felt badly and they put down the phone, which was interesting. Anyway, it’s a nice, fun thing to do for me.
Louie: Yeah, walking down the street on your phone is probably not the best idea. I walked into many trees doing that.
KS: Please don’t do that.
CP: Yeah, just pull over. Pull over.
KS: What’s going to happen when we get self-driving cars though?
Louie: That’s going to be ...
KS: That’s going to be bad, everyone’s going to be on their whatever.
Louie: Well, yeah. Wait, how? I mean, somebody’s crossing the street ...
KS: Because you can text and drink at the same time, you can do anything in a car, you’re just sitting like on a bus or whatever.
Louie: So, will drunk driving be acceptable?
LG: We’ll all be wearing smart glasses.
KS: There’s no driving.
LG: Everything will just be beamed directly into our brains at that point.
KS: Yeah, there’ll be no driving. Next question is from Dan Perry, “I’m 30-something, I was ridiculed by my parents’ generation when I got my first smartphone and had it out all the time, now they have smartphones, they seem more addicted than I once was. Is it harder to quit as you get older? Do you get more addicted?” Catherine, are there any studies on this?
CP: I don’t know any particular studies that address the older generations’ smartphone habits. I’ve certainly observed that, though, and I think what immediately came to mind, to me, is that we tend to be much better at judging other people’s habits than our own.
Louie: That’s true.
CP: I’ve certainly observed that, yeah, as I was saying, my parents’ generation will lament over teenagers, and then they’re just checking their phone all the time, and I don’t think they have the same level of awareness that Louie, you were talking about, of even recognizing what they’re doing.
Yeah, I don’t think you get more addicted. I think there is something to the idea that actually younger people’s brains are still developing for the first time, so you really are shaping your brain. It’s more malleable at that point than when you’re older, but I think what us older people tend to forget is that your brain’s constantly changing, that’s how you learn things, is that your brain can change. If you’re spending four hours a day on your phone, it’s going to have an effect, spending it doing anything for four hours. Anyway, I think it affects us all, that’s ...
KS: Okay, we’ll have to take out and be like getting brains when you’re dead, I’ll donate my brain to science for this.
Louie: You will?
Louie: It’s also interesting, you’ve got to think about it, this whole thing of smartphones is very new, so we don’t know the long-term effects.
Louie: Like we won’t know until I’m an adult or I’m in my old age what the effects of long-term cellphone usage is going to be.
CP: Then also you don’t have a baseline. I had dinner last night with some friends who actually don’t have smartphones and we were joking about how ...
Louie: Where’d you find them?
CP: I know, exactly. We were joking, we were like, this is like when they find the tribe that’s been living in the jungle untouched by humanity and processed carbs, and they’re used as the control for some nutrition study. You’re going to have to find like the five people who don’t have smartphones.
KS: Do you know anyone, Lauren, that doesn’t have a smartphone?
LG: I have an aunt who doesn’t have a smartphone.
Louie: Anyone under 50?
LG: I actually gave her one of my old iPhones, so she has it. No, she’s older than that, but she does have the phone, I gave it to her, and occasionally she picks it up, I think, and does a little bit of text messaging with it, but I don’t think she’s really into the app economy or anything like that. Other than that, I’m trying to think, and no, we probably sound like a very spoiled bunch of people right now, but no, I don’t know anyone without a smartphone.
KS: No, most people have phones.
Louie: Most people have some form of a ...
LG: Well, most people have phones, but in certain countries ...
Louie: Yeah, how prevalent are iPhones-
LG: The tipping point has not yet reached more smartphones, right. Some are just basic phones, but yeah. No, it is. It is indeed. They’re becoming much more accessible.
KS: All over Asia, all over the world and stuff. Boy, that’ll be interesting to see how the different ... Do you look at different countries’ usage, Catherine? Are there any ... Because China, they use it for ... almost every communication is done on WeChat, for example, and things like that.
Louie: What is WeChat?
KS: It’s the Chinese version of ... If you took Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon and put them together, really.
CP: No, I didn’t do specific research in different countries, except for just recently, I was curious about the fact that there seems to be so much more talk going on about this issue, so I was searching on Google Trends for smartphone addiction and for phone addiction. It was interesting to see that the top hits for smartphone addiction, it was not U.S./Canada, it was like India, Singapore, Korea, so it was definitely ... I think this is a global issue. The book actually has been translated so far into 16 languages and published in 21 countries, so I was very surprised about that. Very happy, but it’s interesting because there’s clearly ... Something’s happening in the global conversation among people who have these devices, that it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
KS: Next question, Lauren.
LG: This question’s from Jennifer Jolly. “Hi Lauren, have any of you gone to a ‘digital detox ‘spot or retreat’? I read about adult no-text summer camps, but was wondering if there’s a long weekend place to go unplug, where you have to adhere to strict no-tech policies. I’m thinking Kara Swisher would say it’s called ‘hell.’” I’ve never been to one. If Vox Media would like to send me to one on assignment, I’m open to the challenge. Kara, would you go to something like that?
KS: I wouldn’t. Last week, I really didn’t have a lot of phone access. It was very poor and so I didn’t use it. I found the phone more useless and so I stopped using it. It was such a frustration. I think one of the things is, if you don’t have good internet access or Wi-Fi or cell reception, it changes your feelings about the phone, it becomes a brick in a lot of ways. Besides reading on it, and I didn’t even read, I read an actual book, it was just easier because plugging it in and finding places ... If you remove certain elements of the phone’s usage, most especially access, it does change your relationship with it, you don’t pick it up quite as much, I think. I don’t know. Have you done that, Catherine?
CP: Well, I haven’t gone to one of the camps, although I’d actually love to. I know there’s camp, or at least there used to be Camp Grounded on the West Coast, and then the Good Life Project on the East Coast. There’s also a company, I wish I could remember the name, if she wants to connect with me on Twitter, I’d be happy to try to figure this out, but that actually rents cabins, they’re like teensy-tiny cabins on the East Coast that deliberately have no cell reception, as kind of a chance to take a break.
My experience with it has been in two different situations. One is just taking a 24-hour break where I turned off my phone and didn’t look at any screens for 24 hours, which prompted a lot of existential angst, and I think actually was a very good experiment. That actually left me feeling extremely restored and relaxed, and that’s the experience of the people who I know who have done similar, I call it a trial separation. That was very useful.
Then I’ve gotten into a tradition of organizing like an adult weekend at my former summer camp, at like a YMCA summer camp, and that just happens to be in a place where there’s no phone reception. It’s lovely, the way people are present with each other, really is quite different from how it would be, even if it was like poor reception, because no one’s trying to get reception.
KS: I’m sending Louie to a digital detox.
LG: That’s a good idea.
Louie: Do it.
LG: Send Louie and Alex to a digital detox camp.
KS: I will.
Louie: Go fishing.
KS: I will. Fishing?
Louie: I love fishing.
LG: I’m going to say the most millennial thing ...
Louie: I don’t know, it’s on the East Coast, a little cabin, I thought of fishing.
Louie: I love fishing.
KS: Fishing is the worst.
LG: Fishing’s good. Can’t check your phone and fish at the same time, can you?
Louie: You know there’s apps for fishing now. I don’t know how they do it, but they say they track the fish.
CP: That’s just not fair.
Louie: Yeah, that’s not fair.
LG: Yeah, that sounds like cheating. Louie, will you come back on the show to talk about fishing apps some time?
KS: No, he will not.
Louie: I’d have to test one out.
KS: He shall not. That’ll be a huge seller, fishing apps with the ... We’ll do and Louie ...
Louie: Yeah, my lacrosse [coach] is a huge fisher and we can bring him on.
KS: All right, we’re stopping now.
I have two more questions left. Suzanne Horton: “I had to go lock mine in a safe while I’m on vacation for a week, best week ever,” that’s interesting, lock it in a safe and have someone else have the way to get it out, that would be interesting.
Louie: You would not make it.
LG: She said it was restorative.
Louie: You would go insane.
KS: I would not. I could get it.
Louie: I texted you, when you were on the trip.
KS: We’re going to do it.
Louie: When you went on the trip, Mom, I texted you, I was like, “Mom, you’re going to go insane,” and you’re like, “You’re right.”
KS: Yes, that’s true. What about that? The idea of physically locking away your phone?
CP: I think it’s a great idea. Again, going back to that addiction question, it’s like, “I’m not really addicted,” it’s like, we’re talking about locking them in boxes so we can’t get access to them.
KS: People do with cigarettes.
CP: Right. I think that that’s a great idea, but you don’t have to go that hardcore. For example, I have a bed for my phone, it’s actually a bed.
KS: Like Arianna Huffington has one, yeah.
CP: It actually is that bed. It’s a business expense, it was $50 of ridiculously spent money, but I will say, the psychological effect ...
KS: You plug it in, right?
Louie: Is it a tiny pillow?
KS: Yeah, it has a little pillow. Yeah.
CP: It has like satin sheets that you can use to clean its screen. It is amazing. You can do the same thing with a sock and say it’s a phone sleeping bag, right?
Louie: It has a pillow.
CP: You don’t have to spend that money. The idea is ...
Louie: Put a beanbag and a sock.
CP: Find a place that your phone sleeps at night and make it consistent, and decide upon that ahead of time so that you’re not constantly faced with the decision of, “Am I bringing my phone into my bedroom tonight?” Then in your bedroom, make sure you put something that’s going to replace your phone, because you’re just going to go back to your phone if you don’t figure out what you want to use your time on.
KS: That’s interesting.
Louie: You could put that block of wood that you got.
CP: Yes. Oh, actually, with the block of wood, what I want to do with that is, I want to take it out on the elevator and start pretending to text someone and then see if anyone notices.
Louie: Just hit it and go, “There’s no reception in here, there’s no reception.”
CP: “Can you hear me?”
KS: You would totally fit in in San Francisco, just so you know. In that case, Arianna Huffington tried to give me a phone bed and I declined her kind invitation of a phone bed, but she has one with like six ... Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there are six phones at once in it.
KS: Whoa, exactly. One of the things is wanting to get in touch now. I have a job where people do need to get in touch with me and so, I know you’re always on, but I like when my kids text that I get right back to them and stuff like that, what about that kind ... Maybe you don’t really need to get back to anybody, when you think about it.
CP: Well, first of all, we’re all less important than we think we are.
KS: That is true.
CP: That’s one thing. Second, you can do a lot of adjustments with your settings, going back to that notification question, which I did not answer. I do think you should turn off as many notifications as you can. And why bother with resistance training or trying to resist a notification? Doesn’t that just sound like torture?
CP: If you’re really into masochism or whatever, maybe you could do that, but make it easy for yourself, remove the temptation. I think you should remove the notifications, I only let them in for text messages because I don’t have that many people texting me.
KS: Yep, me too.
CP: Phone calls, it’s a real person trying to call me, which is normally just my husband or my mother, and then ... What’s the other one? Oh, and calendar, although I hate using the calendar on my phone. And Uber.
In terms of how to deal with a job or a situation where you do need to have people get in touch with you, two ideas. You can set a VIP list for your email so that people whose emails you actually want to be notified about actually get to you, but everything else does not bother you. You can do the same thing for phone calls and for texts. You can set an auto response for text messages that says, “I am away from my phone,” basically, “And I will get back to you when I return,” so you don’t have to worry about keeping people hanging. Lastly, if you’re putting your phone to bed for the night and you’re like, “Oh God, I’m going to miss a call,” just turn the ringer on, then it becomes a landline where you can step away from it, but you know you’re going to hear the call.
Another idea to change your habits at home is just to make a point of only using your phone if it’s plugged in, because then you have to go and physically move yourself to use the phone, and separate yourself from the situation.
KS: Yeah, people don’t remember that. People don’t remember that idea of being stuck next to a wall or table.
CP: Yes, exactly, twirling the cable. I have a family challenge for you guys, which is that it would be really interesting to see if you guys can compete against each other, to see how much time you spend off of your phones. You can either do that just by keeping track, or there’s an app I found out about called Flipd that lets you have a leaderboard, and you can actually see who’s spending less time.
Then if you find your mother cheating, or the other way, and they take their phone out of the group basket where your phone should be sleeping, then you have a penalty, where you have to pay a certain amount of money, and then whoever loses this challenge, the money goes towards a group fun experience.
Louie: That’s fun, but in the end, I think it’d just be Kara’s money, my mother’s money, being dished around. I don’t have a job.
KS: I can totally win.
Louie: You’d win regardless. I don’t have a job.
KS: Right, that’s true. You’re going to get a job now. Now, you’re getting a job.
Louie: Once I get a job, we’ll do that.
KS: All right.
CP: Yours can just be like favors to your mother, like making the bed or doing something else that would be the equivalent, a small thing that you don’t want to do.
KS: Catherine, we’re going to do this.
Okay, last question. Lauren, why don’t you ask the last one, which is kind of interesting.
LG: Sure, yeah. It’s not so much a question as it is a comment from @JeffWPa on Twitter, “I broke up with HQ Trivia, it was no fun losing.” It sounds like Jeff was suffering the negative consequences of playing HQ.
KS: That is an addictive game.
Louie: I played it twice. I played it twice.
KS: And you didn’t want to keep playing?
Louie: I don’t know. I don’t want to play it.
Louie: I know I’m going to lose.
KS: Yeah. So, do you think those addictive games, Catherine, any thoughts on those?
CP: Oh, sure. That’s the definition of a slot machine on your phone, it’s designed to make you want to play. I had someone suggest something to me for games that I thought was useful, which was that, because this guy who liked games, I don’t really play them on my phone, but he was like, “Delete the app after you play, and then any time you want to start again, just reinstall the game.”
Granted, that’s going to ruin whatever track record you had, but are you really going to judge your self worth on how far you got in Candy Crush? So, that way, he was able to use it when it was a conscious choice and he really wanted to, and he would derive enjoyment from the game, but it wasn’t just starting at him in the face every time he turned his phone on to look at Google Maps or something like that.
KS: Right. Right. All right, so to end this episode, Lauren, I want each of us to promise to do something in the next couple of weeks, to ... Lauren, what will you do?
CP: Oh, can I specify that a little bit more?
KS: Sure. Yeah.
CP: Something that you’re going to do to use your phone less, in other words, like remove a trigger that’s making you reach for your phone, but also figure out something you’re going to do instead, and how you’re going to make it more likely for you to do it. For example, like the take it out of your bedroom but put the book on your bedside table kind of thing.
KS: All right, Lauren, you go first.
LG: Okay, I am not going to check my phone at all in the bedroom for the next couple weeks. Once I enter the bedroom, I’m going to put the phone on the night table and I’m not going to look at it from that point. I either have to look at physical media or I have to go to sleep.
CP: You’re going to fail because it’s going to be on your night side table. Fail.
LG: But I put it on do not disturb mode sometimes, and I do that with my wearable at night, too, because I wear a watch to bed. Then when I wake up ... I guess when I’m on vacation, what I’m going to have to do is when I wake up, I’m going to have to put the phone in the kitchen or something, and then I’ll wake up and I’ll shuffle on over, but I can’t check it in the bedroom. I don’t know, does that make sense? Not checking it in the bedroom.
KS: Kitchen phone. Kitchen phone. All right, Louis? What are you going to do?
Louie: I think I’m going to do the elevator thing.
KS: You’re never in an elevator.
Louie: Yeah, because I take the stairs.
KS: No, come on.
Louie: I think I’m pretty good with it already.
KS: No, you are not pretty good with it.
Louie: Okay, fine. I’ll use it less during homework time.
KS: All right, good, homework time.
Louie: There you go.
KS: Put it another room.
KS: Oh, all right. Put it where?
LG: And how much less? How are you going to quantify that?
Louie: I’ll focus on my homework.
KS: All right, but you have to turn it off. Maybe turn it off during your homework time, off, completely. Come on, Louie, commit. One week.
CP: Or just set yourself like you’re going to be away from it for like 40 minutes, and then you’re going to spend five minutes on it ...
Louie: That’s probably true, just put it across the room or something.
KS: All right, so we’re going to try the Flipd thing, too. Then my thing is, I’m going to not put the phone ... Not look at it first thing in the morning, put it somewhere else. I’ll put it somewhere else at night, because that’s really, I think, a problem, I look at it right when I get up. I do use it for an alarm wake-up, and so it’s useful that way.
CP: Yeah. Well, that’s another thing, so many people do that and that would be another really tangible suggestion, get an alarm clock. Think about it, you have to touch the alarm clock to get it to stop alarming, so you’re guaranteeing your phone will be the first thing you touch in the morning.
KS: That’s right, exactly. That’s one useful aspect of a phone, there’s so many useful aspects, and that is ...
CP: Well, it is, yeah, but it’s something like, how much does an alarm clock ... I think the benefit of that particular feature on the phone is far outweighed by the negatives that come from touching your phone first thing in the morning.
KS: 100 percent. I’m buying an alarm clock. We’re going to go right now and buy an alarm clock, Louie Swisher.
Louie: See, we tried the alarm clock thing in eighth grade and I just unplugged it because it was so damn annoying.
KS: You did. You did, indeed, you did. I’m going to try that.
Anyway, Catherine, I really appreciate this, this has been a great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. It’s also an important issue and I do, as much as I love my phone, and I really do, it is an important episode because ...
Louie: Kids, phone.
KS: Kids, phone. No, kids are top.
Louie: No, I know. Kids, No. 1. Phone, No. 2.
KS: Yeah. Lauren, No. 3.
Louie: Yeah, and Lauren, No. 3.
LG: Oh, I’m realistic, I’m like No. 62, but that’s okay, Kara.
LG: You’re still my favorite.
Louie: Oh, 61, promoted.
KS: You’re 61. Promoted. Anyway, Catherine, we really appreciate you being here today.
CP: Yeah, I really enjoyed our conversation. Just as a last thing, I created lots of resources, like free resources, for people on the book’s website, which is phonebreakup.com, including ... Oh, this is something else you could do together, you sign up for the online phone breakup challenge, which is a series of emails meant to accompany you as you go through the book, and some lockscreen downloads that you can use to say things like, “Do you really want to pick me up right now?” So that you can create a little speed bump for yourself. Yeah, it was lovely talking to you guy.
KS: Yeah, those are important. Great. Those are actually important.
LG: That’s a great idea, I am going to download that wallpaper.
LG: That is such a good idea. Everyone go to phonebreakup.com.
LG: Also, leave us a review on iTunes.
LG: Catherine, thank you so much for being on the show.
CP: Thank you very much and good luck, I’d love to stay in touch over our phones.
LG: Just message me. Snapchat me.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.