Column

A media diet for the holidays

By Tamra Testerman
For The Taos News
Posted 12/27/18

It wasn’t until I used an app to monitor myself that I realized the minutes were hours, and I couldn’t justify or quantify the benefits in any meaningful way.

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Column

A media diet for the holidays

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I put myself on a media diet last month after getting a new iPhone XS Max.

The screen is an OLED, or organic light-emitting diode. In other words, I began my diet after purchasing a visual candy store, the best screen to date.

I’ve noticed over the years of owning a cell phone that as the ability to connect using social media platforms expands, I’ve spent more time checking and rechecking the portable rectangle. It wasn’t until I used an app to monitor myself that I realized the minutes were hours, and I couldn’t justify or quantify the benefits in any meaningful way. I was spending my time consuming empty visual calories in a wasteland of fleeting satisfaction, and with a spurious sense of familiarity toward strangers and friends.

I began the diet on a hopeful Monday, programmed my phone to limit my time with Facebook and Instagram to one hour a day, and to limit all activity on the phone from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Fair enough, I thought, time to read in the evening by the fire, like in the old days.

I was “out of time” before 10 a.m. on day one. An annoying blank white lockout screen pops up, and the program gives the option to forget the rule for 15 minutes, or toss the rule and continue all day. I extended in 15-minute increments, every hour. When I glanced at my social media calorie count for the first week on a colorful graph, it was not pretty. I later applied limits on other recreational programs, such as my photo development and movie apps VSCO, Filmstruck, and Netflix. The results were less sensational than Facebook and Instagram report, but still a reminder that my time online was extensive.

It’s now been 10 weeks since I created the diet. After some tough lessons and philosophical musings about the concept of time and why we are here, I‘ve become convinced that my digital coffer is not a good thing when it dominates my waking hours.

I’m not ready to trade my iPhone for a flip phone or rely on my physic powers to communicate, but I am sticking to my diet. I’m sleeping better, less apprehensive, and tending to creative work. The diet screen still pops up, but it is no longer antagonistic and guilt inducing. I’ve discovered time for reading a real book or talking to a real friend.

I advocate the diet for a few reasons: for starters one can recognize how often they are using social media. Then you can determine, armed with that observation, if it is a valuable use of time. Similar apps are also available across all platforms if you don’t like the pre-installed version.

One such app is Freedom. It allows one to create blocklists and schedule time away from the apps that may be most distracting. The Freedom app is designed for both iOS and Mac platforms, so one can create custom blocklists for all portable devices.

Another is called Space; it helps set mindful goals of screen usage. One completes a questionnaire about smartphone habits when the app is installed, then the app selects a user type that matches the answers, setting time use and screen unlock goals. It will also send messages as screen time increases and reward achievement badges once daily goals are met.

Want a little peer pressure to quit? AntiSocial provides the usual screen blocking capabilities and will compare one‘s screen usage data to other people in a gender and age group.

App Detox is similar to the pre-installed app on the iPhone. It allows one to create time constraints for specific apps. It also includes an optional feature that requires the user to take a walk to earn screen time.

The most hardcore of the apps is built for Android. Off the Grid blocks a phone for any desired length of time. The penalty for using the phone after activating the app is a $1 credit card charge. As with any diet, learning about one’s habits and moving towards goals, are all part of the journey. Have fun.

Tamra Testerman is a playwright and freelance writer based in Taos. Her website is tamratesterman.com.

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