Tackling phone misuse

James Evelegh's comment piece from the September / October 2017 issue of InPublishing magazine.

By James Evelegh

Tackling phone misuse

The smartphone is a wonderful thing which has given us the opportunity to discover and connect in ways we never thought possible. I’m a huge fan.

It’s also true to say that it’s turning us into a nation of addicted, neurotic, stressed, obsessive-compulsive swipers and tappers, unable to focus on anything for longer than a couple of minutes or give our partners, friends or children our undivided attention. Phone misuse is seriously damaging the health of the nation. On holiday recently, I noticed a father sitting with his three year old daughter in the sun; she was eating an ice-cream; he was playing on his phone – there was no discernible interaction between the two, and, sadly, such scenes are now commonplace.

As a society, we should be encouraging good phone etiquette. But it’s more than just social decorum – there is such a thing as spending too much time on your phone.

We should be educating the young (and not-so-young) about the cost-benefit of unfettered phone use. Apparently, the average person checks their phone 200 times a day! Just imagine the real-world experiences and interactions they / we are missing out on.

I am anticipating typical deathbed regrets in the future now starting to include, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time on Facebook”.

Publishers and their wonderful brands are just part of the collateral damage of phone misuse as the time people are prepared to spend with our lovingly produced content gets ever shorter. It’s not because our content is not great – it is! – it’s because we all now live in an era of permanent distraction.

Our erstwhile readers have been snatched from us – they spend all their time on Facebook (that is why the social platform is getting all the advertising dollars), swiping, tapping, scrolling, endlessly scrolling; rarely settling in any one place for long.

What’s to be done? This is a long term challenge, but one we should all be starting to address now: society needs to set benchmarks for recommended phone-time (get that figure down from 200 to 50, which is still about three times a waking hour); educate people to make time spent on phones meaningful, not aimless; encourage time away – daily digital down-time; make it a social norm that there are times when the phone should not be used; structure our own content so as to minimise distractions (putting related content and useful links for further reading at the bottom of the article, not midway through) so as to encourage article completion; encourage better (and easier activation) of the ‘do not disturb’ and ‘turn off notifications’ settings, so readers can easily toggle between the two thus ensuring distraction-free reading.

This is not a digital vs print thing (although, incidentally, I have recently rediscovered the joys of the Sunday papers in print form – an immersive, pleasurable, uninterrupted couple of hours) but more a do-not-disturb-me-while-I’m-reading thing.

It’s not about not using the phone, it’s about using it better; making phone time, quality time. Publishers and society demand it.

While on the subject of smartphones, we are within touching distance of completing our new mobile-friendly website. These things always take longer than expected, but I’m hopeful we’ll be unveiling it this side of Christmas (this Christmas). Now, there’s a hostage to fortune! As always, thank you to our advertisers, in the magazine, the newsletter and on our website. Please call them.