Americans haven’t changed their habits much in the last ten years, according to psychologist Adam Alter. Figures he collected in 2007, 2015 and 2017 show Americans keep pretty steady schedules: they work about nine hours each day, sleep between seven and eight hours a night, and spend three hours each day taking care of their chores, hygiene and eating.
Still, those big chunks of time don’t fill out an entire day. Alter wanted to find out what people do with the remaining four to five hours. A decade ago, people spent this personal time doing, well, personal things and spending time with friends and family. Since 2007, though, this personal time has become more devoted to tech.
Consider this graph presented by Alter that explains tech usage. What was once a blip on the radar in 2007 is a solid brick of time in 2017.
Seeing this in such a format might have you thinking it’s time to get a grip on your tech usage. How often do you pick up your phone in a conversational lull? How often do you forego a dinner with friends to watch Netflix on your tablet in bed? These breaks are obviously deserved, but Alter says there’s one surefire way to cut down on the tech breaks you don’t really need: Make the table sacred again.
Yes, Alter says it’s as easy as putting your phone down while you’re at the table and not touching it at all until the food is gone and the conversation has died down. Alter devoted himself to the process and said he felt extreme withdrawals at first, but after? He described his life as richer for it, and it wasn’t even a complete cold-turkey cut-off from his phone. Instead, he turned it off while at the table only.
In today’s chaotic, fast-paced world, it might seem a bit unrealistic to demand a phone-free dining table. Not only are adults coordinating work meetings and sending emails to colleagues at all hours, but kids use their phones for everything. Social media and texting have more or less replaced traditional communication between today’s teens and tweens.
The convenience is great, but the constant connection is a double-edged sword. Some—millennials especially—report that this constant interconnectedness makes them feel even more lonely, despite the ease of contact with friends and family.
Other studies suggest that teens with existing mental health problems use social media more and certain issues can be exacerbated by logging on again, and again and again…
By prohibiting phone usage at the table, you’re carving out a big enough window to make an impact on your tech dependence without eradicating it completely. It’s the perfect place to begin your commitment to using your phone more sparingly, especially if you know a smartphone-and tablet-free existence is one you simply cannot live.
Another reason why the table is a good place to cut yourself off: family or friendly dinners can have some seriously positive side effects on your mental health. A 2008 study by researchers at Brigham Young University found those who had family dinners after work saw a reduction in the sense of tension they felt after a long day at the office.
Parents will find themselves more focused and involved in everything, from their kids’ diets to their homework. A phone will no longer get in the way of healthy meals or healthy relationships.
The easiest way to go through a meal without reaching for your phone? Put it somewhere you can’t see it or hear it buzz. If that’s in a bag next to you, on the kitchen counter or in another room entirely, that’s up to you.
Over time, you’ll find the instinct to reach for it going away. You might also find your dinner conversations improving, your mood improving and your kids engaging a bit more—that one hour without your phone can change quite a bit.
And, if you don’t sit down for a full-on meal every night, think of another time when you’re likely to browse mindlessly and miss out. Dinner or drinks with friends can be the place you ax your smartphone usage and start feeling the positive effects of unplugging.
_Photo:Hamza Butt, CC-BY
Anum Yoon is Paste’s Unplugged columnist and a Philly-based blogger who founded Current On Currency._