75% of Us are Addicted to Them

A guest blog by Taino Bendz, Founder of 'Phone Free Day'

It was December 2019 and down on all fours at the play area of Kelly Tarlton's aquarium in Auckland, a child started crying and I looked around for the parents. All I could see was the backside of a dozen smartphones. At that point, I understood how my own and other parents' mindless use of the phone is experienced by our little ones. I decided there and then to take a stand, and the idea of The Phone Free Day was born.

If someone 15 years ago would have told me that I would be spending 3 hours a day (adult average) on my phone I would probably have said "I don't have time for that!". Yet we make time. Or rather, take time. From conversations with friends, from playing with our kids, from focusing at work, from sleeping.

Don't get me wrong, I love technology and everything that it enables us to do. Smartphones are incredible tools that can be used for so much, from keeping in touch with loved ones to increasing efficiency at work. But let's face it - hardware and software are designed to make us use them as much as possible. Time spent online is a commodity, whether we realise it or not.

The purpose of Phone Free Day is to support a healthier use of our smartphones and social media through inspiring resources and fun challenges. Together, with a group of amazing people giving their time, we are helping our community create more balanced phone habits. You can definitely use your phone on Phone Free Day, but we encourage everyone to challenge themselves in a way that suits them. For example, Phone Free meetings at work, a Phone Free bedroom for the night, Phone Free meals, or why not a Phone Free walk? With a few simple tricks you could get better sleep, increased focus on work / studies, become less distracted in traffic, and reduce your stress. On www.phonefreeday.org you can create your own challenge and get weekly emails leading up to Phone Free Day (19 March) with tips as well as resources like guided mindfulness exercises.

Companies can also register and use it as a wellbeing initiative to help employees achieve better digital balance.

What I find fascinating about smartphone use and abuse is that everyone can relate. The stats and studies are plentiful but at the end of the day, what fuels me the most is feedback from people I work with. Together with Dr. Lena Waizenegger at Auckland University of Technology, we created the first workshop called "PhoneSmart - Couples Therapy For You and Your Phone". The feedback we have received from the 100+ participants has really made it apparent that people recognise how phones are affecting their wellbeing, and want to make a change.

In late 2020 I took the leap of faith to dedicate all of my efforts on empowering people through digital wellbeing workshops. The more dependent we become on technology, the more important does healthy use become.