Monthly Archives: June 2024

The Screen Time Experiment: A Radical and Practical Solution

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Part 1 — The Idea

Like many of us I have struggled with screen addiction. I’m 47 years old, mum to five kids (two with special needs). I struggle with chronic fatigue and spend most of my week at home. I have an iPhone 11, MacBook and TV. And over the years I have tried and failed numerous times to curb my impulse to be sucked in by attention grabbing apps!

I consider myself reasonably curbed, by today’s standards… I don’t play online games, except for Wordle and some of the other NY Times games. And I only watch 3–6 TV shows/movies a week. It could be a lot worse, but I’ve recognised how easily addicted I get to games and I’ve banned myself from ones like ‘Cooking Fever.’ When I used to play them, I would obsess and dive in deep and get really good at it in a short period of time. Then realise it was all I was thinking about, and decide to go cold turkey and delete. The same would happen with Netflix TV series — enjoyment leading to obsession that became too all consuming — again the solution was to delete!

Deleting was my strategy with many other apps too. I’d realise how much time I was wasting looking at my phone, so I’d start deleting whatever I considered was a non-essential app. But inevitably this strategy failed dismally. In the weeks following, I would find myself slowly bringing back the apps one by one, as I realised how inconvenient life was without them. First the ‘necessary’ ones, then the less necessary and then finally the rest of them, because everything had crept right back and I’d lost my will to fight for my mind.

That was the thing. I felt like I’d lost the “normalness” of my mind. The constant dopamine hits from clicking and scrolling and finding out information, or completing tasks. And the unpredictable interruptions from notifications. Even though I’d been smart with reducing notifications, there was still a trap. I would hear a message — open it and look — see the badge numbers accumulating on another app (that I’d turned sound notifications off for) and then dive into that app afterwards, before checking the weather, then the bank account, then the calendar, etc, etc. And before you knew it I’d wasted 20–30 minutes. But worse than that, my brain felt discombobulated. I didn’t like it.

I tried grey scaling the apps on my phone to de-motivate me in using my phone. But that was overly horrible. I value beauty and aesthetics. I couldn’t bear the misery. I restored colour after about 30 seconds. At least let me have joy with a device I need to use!

So what to do about my brain?

I read a book about a woman who used to travel through different continents with her partner, with nothing but a basic backpack, hunting for their own food in forests and jungles, making their own fires and sleeping in tents at night. No screens for them. And she shared of how alive she felt. Of course she was also living outside in nature and exercising extensively. But when she came back to civilisation and had to use devices again, she described the feeling of being sucked into the void of screen addiction. And how this affected her brain. And how she hated it, but couldn’t resist it.

She knew better than most of us the difference to her brain before and after screens? And yet she also was sucked into the screen vortex. Was there any hope for me? Was it possible to have my pre-screen brain back again?

I’ve thought many times about each and every one of my apps. Do I really need them? Can I find other things to use instead — a watch on my wrist, a GPS or map in the car, a stand alone camera, my bank card in my purse, a written calendar, a shopping list at home that my husband and I can add to. Music CDs? All of these things were possible but a lot less convenient. So I would weigh it up… umm and aah… and wonder if one day I’d have the grit and determination to make the hard decision and just do it!

But with kids at schools that communicate via multiple apps and being a content creator on social media and writer, I rely on so many apps just to function in society. And the need is growing — think ‘authenticator’ apps, given our ID security issues today. And so the conclusion… I can’t go app free with my current lifestyle. It’s not possible without causing major problems to myself and others.

And so I’m stuck with my smart phone!

What to do? Perhaps some of you can handle a smart phone with an ease of discipline. But personally I don’t have enough self-control to ignore non-necessary apps. It’s possible for short times when I’m at a motivation spike and life is going well and my energy is OK. But when my energy spirals, or emotional challenges hit I revert to comfort existence, which includes phone scrolling. Then the amount of content in my head builds up and it is overload. Overwhelm. And there I am back again at square one.

Aargh!! Can anyone relate?

Interestingly, as an aside, this was the moment I discovered ‘Medium’. I was researching screen time solutions, but the internet only gave me ‘same old’ content spitted out by everyone in different ways and regurgitated by AI. It was boring, un-inspirational and unhelpful. I eventually found a personal story from someone and was delighted — aha — fresh perspective. But alas it was behind a paywall. Then I found another personal story — but aargh the paywall again. By this stage I was ‘over’ researching on google and since I discovered the two stories were behind the same paywall — and that monthly membership was only $5USD a month, I decided to pay that for two original articles. And that’s why I’m now on Medium!

It was good to read of others struggles and what they had tried. I appreciated it very much. But I still wasn’t settled. I needed a personal solution that was more radical, but also practical. What could I do?

And then I got this new idea…

Some would call it random inspiration. But for me random is cheap and unlikely to work. I usually disregard such ideas. But this idea had a different sound. From my experience with spirituality it was God’s whisper in my ear. So I paid it attention.

“Get a second phone”.

Ooh that’s a new idea. I hadn’t thought about that before. Ok then. Let’s think about this. Could this work? Maybe I could get a second phone just for urgent phone calls and message and take this simple phone around with me everywhere. And then my main phone with all the apps could be kept aside with my laptop, for when I needed to do focused work. At a chosen time for that kind of headspace. And therefore not interrupting the other parts of my day.

So I could take my simple phone on walks in nature, have it with me when relaxing on the couch, when sitting with my kids. I could feel the security of being contactable — did my daughter have a seizure — someone could tell me. And I could ditch the dopamine distraction of my app phone in these moments. But keep and choose the app phone for the times it was truly needed. Purposeful moments, rather than every possible moment.

I got excited with the idea. I saw the potential. But also knew I couldn’t predict how this would work. What would be the pros and cons? I would just have to try it and find out.

I did some research. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I got a secondhand iPhone 4 for $50AUD and found the cheapest phone plan — $10 per month, as I didn’t need a plan with much data. This wasn’t going to break our budget. In perspective, $2.50 per week was a pretty cheap investment to help me ditch the dopamine distraction.

I decided to give my new phone number to my husband and kids, carers and schools only. Not even my parents got the new number. The purpose was for every day running of our household and kids. I figured any emergency from extended family could be easily communicated to my husband and then to me. I didn’t need to complicate extended family with two phone numbers.

I felt the excitement of a new, untried pathway. Could this work? Would it be a success?

Since I had already been wrestling with the pain of this screen issue for a long time, I was ready to dive into the solution with enthusiasm. So when the simple phone arrived in the mail, I was happy to put the main app phone out of reach. It no longer had a place at the bedside table. No longer available before bed and no longer available first thing in the morning. I relished the loss of this. And I sat with the absence of entertainment. And embraced the nothingness of boredom. However I didn’t feel bored or restless. I felt more powerful, more present and hopeful.

This of course was no evidence of success — just the expected optimism of the start of any resolution. What would happen over time? What tests could this new solution withstand or crumble under? Would this effort be worthwhile or a waste of time over the long term?

As I write this I am in the early days of trying this experiment. I am documenting my experience and look forward to sharing the pros and cons. The insights and conclusions.

Stay tuned for part 2!


Image by Lars Plöger from Pixabay

We all have struggles. And we are all forged through them. Like diamonds…

I felt the pull to write these words, to articulate the intensity of the journey and the beauty that unfolds and that I hope for. But also for you too.

For me this composition is an interplay between me and my Creator. For you it may mean something else. I hope it will inspire and encourage you to value your challenges and see the possibilities…


Intensity of formation
Heat and pressure
Again and again

Hiddenness and obscurity
Humble beginnings await discovery
Thrill for the avid seeker
Determination, toil, persistence

Eye and hand
Of Master Craftsman
Vision of possibility
Skillful cuts
Fastidious polish
Care and cherishing

An original

Unveiling now
Father is proud
Resplendent beauty
Stunning multi faceted light

It is very good
Inner Hallelujah erupts
Sacrifice’s reward
Diamond of great price