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As devices now consume many people’s lives, the negative effects are causing some to take a break from their digital digestion

(Global Times)    14:54, September 20, 2017

Going on a smartphone diet is a new lifestyle trend that some people are starting to follow. Photo: Li Hao/GT

The iPhone 8 was just released but Emily Liu, once a huge fan of the brand, is no longer excited about it and does not plan to purchase the latest version as she has done before. With a smartphone complex, Liu used to have her phone at hand at all times but now, all she wants is quiet and a simple world free of distractions and information overload.

"Enough is enough. It's only a digital and economic device that should serve us not the other way around. I refuse to be a smartphone slave anymore," said Liu.

Her lifestyle changed because of a recent accident when she focused too much on her phone while walking down the stairs and fell. With multiple injuries, she realized that it was time to make a change.

"I thought I couldn't bear even one day without a smartphone, but it turns out that my life is better off without them," Liu said when recalling her recent smartphone diet.

The Life Times, a Chinese newspaper, reported in June that China ranks number two for smartphone usage time with an average of three hours spent on phones per day, following Brazil where people spend nearly five hours a day on their smartphones. However, as mobile phones are causing more negative effects, more and more young people have begun to change their habits and live a life with a more limited use of mobile phones.

A phone hostage

"It was ironic. I was checking my rank on WeChat Sport right before I fell, and I spent nearly a month in bed and couldn't do any sports at all after that," said Liu.

Liu had a deep addiction to her smartphone. Looking at the phone was the first thing she did in the morning and last thing she did before she fell asleep. She would check her phone almost every hour and felt anxious when she was away from her phone.

"It seems that I was somehow kidnapped by my phone. I had to keep answering texts instantly, looking at the latest topics on Sina Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) and WeChat, and constantly being interrupted by new notifications on various apps. I just cannot ignore or resist them," she said. Liu spent hours on her phone every day and often found her time flying away without getting any work done.

She also experiences side effects from her phone. Looking at a phone screen for a long time generates headaches, sour eyes and casual pain on the cervical vertebra.

Liu wanted to make a change years ago but it was not until the accident that she finally made up her mind.

"This morbid way of living has to be stopped. Phones are eating up our quality of life, our attention and our health." Liu added that she often sees taxi drivers reading mobile messages while driving and people playing with their phones while walking across the street.

"I read lots of news that people get hurt because of smartphones but never thought it would be me. The danger is real," she said.

Having closed some of her social media accounts and deleting many apps on her phone, Liu now only checks her messages a few times a day and spends much more time getting things done. She found the lifestyle change makes her feel freer, happier and healthier.

"You will feel uncomfortable at the beginning of phone fasting, but once you get through the first week, it just comes naturally," she said.

Say no to peer pressure

For some people, peer pressure from social media is one of the main drives to smartphone addiction. This is the case for Wang Yu, a girl in her 20s.

"Sometimes I really feel exhausted using smartphones. I'm tired of constantly checking friends' WeChat Moments, seeing how many likes I get or posting pictures whenever I travel around or have a really nice dinner," Wang said. For her, social media has become a burden and a place where people compete with each other by showing off their lives.

Image building on social media is important for many, Wang said. The posts you put on Moments, Facebook or Weibo are somehow identifying who you are and what people think of you. To create a "perfect self," Wang spent a lot of time on her phone producing new content and re-posting articles. Sometimes, it took her hours to photoshop and create a perfect picture to post.

"Most of my friends do that and I didn't want to lag behind. You can always see that someone has bought a new car, purchased a house, is traveling abroad or having a romantic and expensive date. Later, I just found it was meaningless. It did nothing but make me feel miserable," she said.

Wang set her WeChat Moment's settings to "only moments within three days can be seen" - a new function that has had increasing popularity among young people - screened off some of the most active posters in her social circle and made a rule to restrict the time she spends on her phone.

Meanwhile, Wang also changed her habit of replying instantly to only replying when she checks WeChat, which is around three times a day.

"I just want to have a life of my own and get some freedom from the digital world. I don't need a mobile phone to identify who I really am."

Better time management

As the demand for a smartphone diet grows, many apps have been created to help people control their use of phones. Popular apps include Focus (Zhuan Xin), I Want To Sleep Early (Wo Yao Zao Shui) and Saver for Smartphone Addict (Di Tou Zu Jiu Xing). One of the best-received apps is Forest, which helps users endure a phone diet in a fun way. A virtual tree will grow, as long as you do not use your smartphone. However, once you use functions other than the calling function, the tree will die away.

Gorge Li, in his late 20s, works in the finance sector and his solution to phone addiction is more radical.

"Each time I intended to spend only 10 minutes on my smartphone, it would turn into an hour. And the constant notifications from different apps are really annoying." Li found it hard to concentrate once he was interrupted by his phone and often needed to work overtime in order to make up the time he wasted.

In fact, the price people pay for mobile interruptions is huge. According to research by Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, it takes one more than 20 minutes to return to focus once being interrupted. Therefore, four or five mobile interruptions could easily ruin a whole morning.

In order to better manage his time, Li tried to delete half of his apps and reset most of the programs to stop notifications. However, it turned out to be useless and instant-message alerts were coming in as usual. Finally, he bought himself an old-fashioned phone with only basic functions to call and text.

"I told all my friends to call me if they have something urgent because I would only check my smartphone after work. I also made an announcement on my Moments," Li said. "I think it is just time to learn to be active users, instead of being passively interrupted by our devices."

Li's life pace has changed a lot since he started his phone-fasting program. He is more efficient and rarely works overtime. With more spare time, he has a more relaxing life and manages to read one more book a month for self-improvement. He also has more time to spend with his family and girlfriend, and enjoys a happier relationship.

"It's like a development circle. Once a new product appears, people follow. But once the craze fades, more and more people return to the nature of life and hold a more reasonable attitude toward the product's use. It happens to all things, including mobile phones," said Li.

"I believe phone fasting will become a new trend. What people want is a happy life after all." 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Jiang Jie, Bianji)

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