10-Day Phone Challenge for 3Ls

Excessive use of cell phones, largely due to social media and addictive news alerts, makes it harder to think critically, to practice self-care, and to be creative. My plea to my fellow graduates this semester is this: quit refreshing your phone and start refreshing yourself.

This semester before graduation is a great time to experiment with what exactly these blinking devices mean to you. Did you know that pulling down to refresh a feed has the same addictive effect as playing a slot machine? [1] You already have an instinctive sense of the impact your phone has on your life. After graduation, you will be on call for work nearly 24/7. Now is the time to better your relationship with your phone.

Here are 10 suggestions to get you started:

Day 1) Take time to reset your phone so that it works for you. Cell phones are a tool that should work for you, not distract you. I recommend setting aside an hour or two to go through all of the settings of your phone, pausing to think about how each fits your needs. Reconsider the notifications settings for each of your apps, and rearrange your home screen to minimize clutter. For example, you could move the apps that often have red bubbles to the second-page, so that they are less alarming when you first open your phone. Bonus Tip: To reduce distractions while working, a general guide is “out of sight, out of mind.” Try placing your phone in a different room or in a drawer for stretches of time.

Day 2) Try taking a walk or running an errand without your phone. Usually before leaving the house we think: “Phone, wallet, keys.” Can you leave your phone at home? If the thought of this makes you panic, consider this: if something happens to you, you probably will not be able to save yourself with your phone single-handedly. Rather, neighbors and passersby will need to notice you and step in. The best thing we can do for ourselves and for our neighbors is to look up and take notice of things occurring right in front of our noses. You can give friends notice that you will be phone-free for the next hour or so. Bonus Tip: Go on a walk with a friend, and have only one of you bring their phone.

Day 3) Buy a watch. And an alarm clock. Many times people take out their  phones to check the time, only to fall into a rabbit hole of phone notifications. A quick look at your wrist can save you cumulative hours in your week. And do you really want to spend the first precious moments of your morning looking at the same apps you will be checking all day long? Buying a freestanding alarm clock will free up some brain space.

Day 4) Try reading an in-print newspaper or magazine. Your eyes may travel to a place your clicker won’t. Well-roundedness is good for the mind and citizen. You can pick up the day’s New York Times for $3.00 and the Boston Globe for $2.50. The Harvard Law School Library has print magazines for browsing in the Microforms Room on the second floor. Bonus Tip: Read a magazine that you would not normally choose. We already live in the Cambridge bubble, why live in a news bubble too?

Day 5) Reduce the brightness on your devices. If you’re lucky enough to have vision, your eyes will need to last a while, and as a lawyer, you will use them for long hours at a time. It is important to take care of them for the long-haul. Particularly after starting practice, it is good to reduce screen time at home after looking at a monitor all day. Reading print publications is another way to take a break. You can also buy computer glasses that screen out harmful light. Bonus Tip: Consider treating yourself to a newspaper or magazine subscription once you start working so that you can give your eyes a rest.

Day 6) Take a day off from social media. Think about the purposes that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other apps serve for you. You may write a list of the pros and cons for each app. I have heard from friends that they truly enjoy Instagram because it is entertaining, whereas Facebook stresses them out. I have friends who are incredible advocates online, and I understand why they keep their Facebook accounts. Bonus Tip: After your day off, go on an “unfollowing spree” to weed out content that no longer interests you.

Day 7) Take time to change the passwords you’ve been meaning to change. Frequent changing of Internet passwords is one of the best things you can do to protect your identity online. Change your email, bank, and social media passwords, along with any other important accounts. Bonus Tip: Digital privacy is also an emerging challenge for our generation. There are apps and websites, such as Firefox and DuckDuckGo, that have privacy as a main priority.

Day 8) Look up directions once before you leave the house. Have you ever found yourself at an intersection, bewildered, looking up directions for the fifth time in minutes? On-demand directions can be both helpful and frustrating. Try looking up directions before you leave the house and jotting down notes. On your way to your destination you will walk with a sense of purpose, free to observe landmarks and learn your way around. Or you might get lost and find a place you never knew existed.

Day 9) Finally organize your photos. We take photos all the time, but when was the last time you paused to appreciate them? Digital photo management is a major task that gets more difficult as time goes on. I recommend backing up your photos and sorting your favorites into albums, and maybe even printing some of them through your local camera shop, the Shutterfly app, or drugstore.

Day 10) Call a friend for the first time. Next time you find yourself texting someone in paragraphs, give that person a ring. You never know where the conversation might go. It may reduce stress to not have to type so much, and you will spend less time looking at a screen. Often my friends say that the biggest social barrier to calling someone is worrying that it might freak them out. A good way to counter this is by asking them via text for consent or, next time you see them, suggesting you might call them to convey a funny story. They are called “phones,” after all.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/05/smartphone-addiction-silicon-valley-dystopia

Alex Glancy

Alex Glancy is a 3L. aglancy@jd19.law.harvard.edu.

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