I used to have an internal catchphrase. As someone who sits firmly on the introvert side of the personality scale, whenever anyone invited me somewhere, I would tell myself, “Don’t Be Lame, Katie..." Just go, once you’re there, you will inevitably have fun! And most of the time it worked out. But it’s taken five years of telling myself this to realize it’s not just my personality that wants me to sit on the couch and scroll through my social feeds or binge watch TV, it’s also the way technology has been designed to ensnare us in its screens and not let go.
When Syp approached me to join her start-up about living offline, I won’t lie, I wasn’t immediately sold. I’ve always been skeptical of using technology to help behavioral addictions, e.g. budget tracking apps to manage finances or fitbits to stay healthy. And since we both work in tech, I assumed that’s where this was going. So I took some time to think on it. Sure enough, as soon as you become aware of a problem, you start to see it everywhere: groups in restaurants where half of the people are looking down at their screens, in meetings at work where most of the engineers are texting each other instead of engaging in the conversation, even my sister finally caving in and switching from a flip phone to an iPhone. It didn’t take long after that to decide I do want to be part of the solution to this digital dependency, especially if we could figure out a tech-free approach.
While researching the competitive landscape for Live Offline, I also took a closer look at my own smart phone usage by the numbers. (No new app necessary! Just check your battery settings.) While my own stats are below average, they still surprised me: almost an hour a day on Facebook last week?! I check my phone so often - even just for the time - that I now catch myself reaching for it for no reason. So I’m trying out a new slogan: “Catch Yo Self...” and do something more productive with your time, however you define that. I’ve slowly been able to find new activities to replace the time I’ve been wasting browsing celebrity gossip sites, reading the news, and going down the Instagram rabbit hole. Now, I spend every day after work playing piano or teaching my boyfriend how to read music, hiking down to the beach (admittedly with a podcast in my ears! it’s all about that balance, right?), or calling up an old friend.
Socially, it’s been more of a roller coaster. At first, it felt liberating to not immediately respond to every text, to miss the occasional Instagram announcement, to not filter every “cool” photo I take. But I swung too far the other way, sometimes waiting days to respond or even forgetting to respond at all. I think Snapchat has also made us feel less compelled to respond and just assume everyone else in the world is keeping tabs on us. These days, people live so spread out from their friends and family, that technology is truly the best way to keep in touch. But now I try not to get distracted every time I open an app or message and just respond to whatever requires my immediate attention.
Let’s talk about another common excuse for being attached at the hip to our devices: “But my phone is my camera!” Research has shown that people who take a ton of photos of their experiences actually remember them less. Never have I witnessed selfie culture more vividly than the time I went to the Broad Museum of contemporary art in Los Angeles (shown below, photo from Dreamstime editorial images). I was the only one not taking pictures of every piece, but I remember my favorites clearly! Or how about every single time I go to a concert - seriously what do people do with those crappy cell phone videos? These days, I focus on being somewhere in the moment to remember those moments more vividly.
Maybe we will figure out the right technology balance on our own, maybe it will happen sooner than we think. But I want to offer help to people who are struggling today, to help them catch themselves feeling unproductive and unfulfilled. There are entire markets built around other types of habit changes like losing weight or de-cluttering your home, why not for living offline? The time is now.