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Is Your Smartphone Destroying Your Reading Habits?

If you can't put your phone down long enough to finish a book, consider these tricks for consciously uncoupling from your device. 

Is Your Smartphone Destroying Your Reading Habits?

If you’re like me, your smartphone is your replacement Jedi arm. My phone performs many functions, yet it often interferes with my book plans. All day I look forward to reading time in the bathtub, but by the time evening rolls around I’m a modern day Theseus trapped in a labyrinth of absent-minded app checking.

So it is with a heart full of sadness that I announce that I am consciously uncoupling from my smartphone. Yes, it’s true that young people are reading now more than ever despite our devices, but sometimes making space for books requires some extreme adulting. After much meditation, here are the details of our separation. 

1. Charge my phone out of sight. I’ll remember with fondness the days my phone hung out next to me on the couch like a small, whimpering pet. “Pick me! Choose me! Love me! Cuddle me while we watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries a Third Time!” These silent suggestions feel like a tractor beam drawing me in to check Twitter or texts. Science tells us that when a phone is in sight, even if it’s turned off, conversations become more superficial. My best guess is this presence also inhibits my ability to relate to fictional people.

2. Turn on airplane mode when traveling. Sorry, smartphone. No more shoving five books in a bag for a daunting Megabus voyage, only to spend the entire trip crying about gifs on Tumblr. From now on I’m riding the subway to work with fictional people instead of worrisome emails I can’t answer right away. The lack of unnecessary morning multitasking will help me feel less anxious and more ready to conquer like the BAMF that I am.

3. Designate phone-free rooms. As much as it insists, my phone doesn’t need to sleep or eat or poop, so I’m keeping it out of the kitchen, bathroom, and the bedroom when I can. Book in the tub is better than Facebook stalking in the tub. And I’d rather drift off to sleep reading A Monster Calls, so I won’t wake up at 12:07am, wondering why on earth I let a screen soak into my brain and keep me from resting.  

4. Schedule quality reading time. I used to have such great dates with my phone. We’d sit in the park obsessively checking my blog stats, or we’d hit the bookstore to check ratings on Goodreads. But now I’m spending some get-to-know-you time with my books sans phone. No more multitasking that temporarily lowers temporarily lowers my IQ.

5. Skip the reader app. In a last ditch effort, our therapist tried to convince us that we could repair relationship with a reader app. But when I get distracted by a notification on the Internet, it takes an average of 25 minutes (aka an entire episode of Friends) to refocus. That means if my friend keeps texting me pictures of Cate Blanchett every 20 minutes, I am basically screwed.

There’s no danger of technology ever destroying reading. As Margaret Atwood once said, “You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s build into the human plan.” But I think I my smartphone codependency has really kept me from being the parent I need to be to my books. My mind will also benefit from this uncoupling as I make space to dive into new worlds. I’ll feel more equipped to wrap my mind around a sentence and runoff into the sunset with fictional characters. Because if they can wait until I find them, then my phone can be patient until I’ve finished this chapter.

Kathleen Smith's photo About the Author: Kathleen is a therapist living in DC. When she’s not crying about middle-aged women on television, she helps fangirls with their problems. Despite her passion for dystopian novels, she remains utterly unprepared for the apocalypse.