Published on 23 Jun 2023.
Reading time: 3 min.

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I'm not over my phone... yet.

Iʼm the first to admit Iʼm addicted to my phone. Iʼve got so many apps installed, and constantly am tinkering with new productivity apps, new launcher and widget layouts, and occasionally a few time wasting games (you donʼt wanna know how many hours Iʼve burned into Altoʼs Odyssey.)

And Iʼm in a constant flux between uninstalling and then reinstalling the most addictive ones. (At the time of writing, The Guardian app and TikTok are back in, but Twitter and LinkedIn are out. I know, right. The LinkedIn app. Me, addicted to it. So embarrassing.)

Iʼve tried all the hacks: sleeping with it in a different room; aggressively warming the display/turning it grayscale later in the evening; using an app that gives you a 5 second cool down when opening Instagram to give you a chance to reconsider your life decisions (that one got promptly deleted). Nothing seems to stick.

However, what I have noticed in the last few months is, although my overall phone usage time hasnʼt gone down, Iʼve managed to pivot to using it for a few habits which are ‘better.’’ Namely, these are: learning Hindi using Duolingo, and reading an ebook version of the book Iʼm currently reading.get

Duolingo is a phenomenal app. Everyone knows this. Iʼm just late to the party. The glorious over-the-top gamification features are designed to get you addicted. (If youʼve not used Duolingo before, thereʼs honestly so much stuff: streaks, gems, lingots, leagues, quests.

Itʼs overwhelming for the first few weeks, but then you get used to it.) But the addiction doesnʼt feel bad, because youʼre learning as you go. (It is aggressively addictive, thoguh. See: the many memes about Duo, the green owl, hunting you down if you donʼt do your five minutes of daily practice.)

Duolingo also leans heavily into the idea that small wins spread over the long-term are better than doing something in the short-term but then dropping it. Thatʼs why they have so many different gamification features: streaks helps you get started, but having a new league to compete in each week and monthly quest badges keeps you around for the long term.

And this is a good thing! Sure, itʼs good for their MAU count and therefore their revenue, but it also means people get better at learning languages. And, of course, this all helps overcome our incorrect intuition, where we overestimate our short-term ability but underestimate our long-term ability.

And the reading: I always thought I wasnʼt an ebook reader. I love spending time in bookshops and leafing through physical copies of books. Reading with an ereader had felt like cheating.

However, this year I signed up to the Reading Agencyʼs excellent Road to Reading, a campaign that launched after World Book Night to encourage people to read for 30 minutes a week. In one of the emails, they mentioned that reading encompasses everything: audiobooks and ebooks and magazine articles all count, not just hefty tomes lugged around.

This, along with a few occasions when I hadnʼt brought my copy of Alias Grace with me and really felt like reading some of it, led to me getting the ebook copy of it and having it on my phone.

And this made such a difference! Absent-minded moments where Iʼd idly unlock my phone out of instinct in order to scroll on Twitter or Instagram changed to sometimes, instead, opening my book digitally and reading a few short pages.

Adopting these two habits hasnʼt totally led to erasing my bad phone habits. But, because these new habits take place on my phone, theyʼve led to a slow shift towards better behaviours.

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