The strange and unique way I cured my screen addiction

Head trauma is hardly an effective solution for anything, but I’m kinda thankful that I had a mild concussion in mid-January because it made me stop looking at my computer, my television and, above all, my telephone for a good week.

The injury occurred in a moment of daily work. I had bent over my dishwasher as I gathered clean dishes to put away. I stood up quickly, unaware that a wooden cabinet door was open directly above my head. What could have been a simple bruise and an embarrassing moment ended up being more serious. I banged the back of my head against the bottom of the wardrobe door, sending shock waves through the part of the brain that controls vision.

Out came a series of swear words to ease the pain that I can’t print here.

The resulting concussion, although mild, meant that I could not look at bright lights or screens or even read without developing motion sickness and painful eye strain. It was boring and frustrating to look around. But eventually, I leaned into that relaxing vibe and just went with it. While I don’t recommend concussion, I do suggest spending time in this mode.

Hear the author read this story (or play it for a concussed friend)

So much so that I have since (jokingly!) offered to induce a concussion to anyone wanting to tame their addiction to screens. I’ve come to the conclusion that phones are so alluring, so pleasing to the eye that perhaps the surest way to be more present in the real world is to make it physically painful just to look at your device.

The result of this enforced screen break was that I felt less stressed, went to bed on time, and accepted being around my kids more easily. It was even though I was in pain and often bored.

If you want to experience this too, my concussion taught me to stop using your phone for long periods. I doubt you’d get these results using blue light blocking glasses or turning on do not disturb mode an hour before bedtime. Don’t stare at your phone for hours or even days. Treat it like something that will hurt you.

Phones are not suitable for concussions

I was still using my phone to keep in touch with my friends and family using a voice assistant. But for the first time, I consciously registered how much you have to look at a phone to use it, over and over again. It sucks you in by design.

I have an iPhone with Face ID, which meant I had to look at my phone several times a day just to allow Siri to access my apps. Putting my face in front of the phone while looking away usually didn’t work.

I set Siri to listen for “Hi Siri” to limit the need to look at my phone. Siri read my text messages and notifications aloud and messaged my loved ones. Siri also announces who is calling when my phone rings and answers the phone for me. But Siri can’t read or write emails to my Google Account, add items to my Safeway shopping cart, or read messages from my favorite encrypted messaging app, Signal. (Sorry to my friends on Signal, hope you’re doing well!)

Siri also often answered my spoken questions with a link to a website to read, which wasn’t helpful in my situation.

“Hi Siri, can Siri by default read a response instead of just providing a link to a website?” I will ask.

“I found this on the web for, ‘Can Siri default to reading a reply instead of just linking to a website,'” Siri replied, in a final insult to my hurt: “Check it out !”

I knew there were other accessibility features in my phone’s settings, but I couldn’t turn them on by talking to Siri. It occurred to me that the best time to set up your phone for a concussion is before you have a concussion. Luckily, staring dejectedly at the middle distance was part of my recovery process.

This all made me consider upgrading to a Google or Alexa powered device, which may be more hands-free, but it seemed like a big commitment for a condition I knew resolved in about a week. And nothing would change the fact that you can’t subtly search for something embarrassing or quickly text your friend when you need to narrate the whole process out loud.

Which reminds me of another thing Siri doesn’t do: modulate the volume of its voice when you ask it a question in a low voice.

“Hi Siri,” I whispered, just after waking up, “What’s the temperature today?”

“The high today will be 47 degrees Fahrenheit!” she offered at the top of her throat, like a disturbed lark. “And the minimum will be 31 degrees Fahrenheit!”

Touch the grass

Despite my frustration, there were clear benefits to limiting my screen time. The most important thing was to have a lot more free time.

In addition to doctor-approved naps, I took walks, cooked simple meals, and tidied up. I also felt more comfortable taking a break between activities without diving into a phone distraction. It made transitioning to the next task much easier as I didn’t have to walk away from the phone.

It was a big change. On a typical day before a concussion, I was trying to solve the Wordle and the Spelling Bee on the New York Times website, put 20-30 minutes into Duolingo, read the news and, you know, research anything that crossed my mind on the internet. This is in addition to texting, checking email, finding recipes, and updates from my child’s preschool.

Almost everything except messaging and an occasional podcast was out of order. Duo, the neon green owl that serves as Duolingo’s mascot, pestered me with email notifications and reminders to practice Spanish, but I couldn’t. I broke my Wordle and Spelling Bee sequences. I stopped to read a really interesting ebook from the library.

Surprisingly, I was fine.

Read more: Duolingo turned me into a monster

So avoid the quick hit to the head and listen to what I’ve learned. It’s good to avoid constant stimulation and distraction, even if mastering a language, reading a storybook, and solving a word puzzle seem like beneficial things. Doing them all in a frantic round robin, going through stories and activities like you’re looking for something unnamed wonderful in them but never find it – that’s no good.

And reaching for your phone whenever there’s a quiet moment erases all the quiet moments.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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