By Ianni Tan (18S03C), Clarine See (18S03G), Yeo Kee Hwan (18S03Q), Zhu Xiuhua (18S06A), and Elizabeth Leong (18S06G)
In a valiant but questionably successful attempt to reduce WiFi-related distractions, five members of Raffles Press subjected themselves to a ban on phone use. The rules were straightforward: they were to abstain from the use of social media on all devices for 12 hours. Phone usage was only limited to SMS and calls.
Before the ban, the participants noted down their thoughts. Some were doubtful that the ban would be much of a challenge – Xiuhua does not use Instagram or Snapchat which she views as the “most attention and time-consuming” apps, and Kee Hwan felt she used social media mainly out of habit instead of “actually having fun”. The others were less certain – Ianni, Elizabeth and Clarine all confessed to spending quite a lot of time on their phones, with Clarine admitting that she was a “compulsive user of social media” due to a “fear of missing out”.
The five give their thoughts on the ban:
Elizabeth: As expected, I started missing the messaging platforms earlier. Two hours into the ban, as I was filing some Math worksheets, I accidentally hole-punched the wrong side of a tutorial. Normally, I would send a picture of the incident to a friend, which the ban did not allow for. I also was having some trouble staying awake. Typically, when I find myself ready to nod off while studying, I would use my phone for some time in order to keep myself awake enough to finish the work.
Even so, I did not start truly missing the browsing apps until about 8 hours into the ban – I was positively itching to watch or read anything other than schoolwork. And the thing is that I could. Internet-browsing can easily be replaced by old-timey distractions such as staring into space or reading real books or doing Sudoku (and I did end up doing all three at some point during the day). However, these distractions tend to be less addictive than the prospect of endless browsing – I was able to tear myself from them more easily, which is probably why the day of this phone ban was one of my more productive ones this June.
Though I was relieved when the 12 hours ended, I did not start opening all my apps straightaway. Perhaps the entire day of abstaining from phone use had done some good after all.
Kee Hwan: The initial few hours were indeed as hard as I thought it would be; my habit was to use my phone to check my feed and chat with a few friends before starting my day proper. So without being able to do that, I was quite at a loss as to what I should do and got quite bored. It got even worse through the day as I tried to do work. I did get more work done than I would on an average day, if only because there was literally nothing else for me to do, but my productivity was probably at an all time low because of how miserable I was.
After I got used to it, however, it started feeling quite good being cut off from everyone else. It was actually rather cathartic to take a break from socialising and be left with my own thoughts; it was a break I needed after all the socialising I had to do during the holiday. When I could finally use my phone, I wasn’t actually that keen on using the usual social media apps anymore, although I also needed to check Whatsapp for school-related things. It’s really just about balancing both.
Xiuhua: One main concern was WhatsApp – sometimes I use it for school work, but more often than not that wasn’t the case. As expected, whenever I tapped my phone to check the time, my fingers would find their merry way towards the WhatsApp icon. It’s almost instinctual – a reflex, really. I had to resort to removing WhatsApp from my home-screen altogether. Another concern was YouTube. It was decided that music wouldn’t be banned because we might need it for studying, but I knew for myself I wouldn’t be able to resist marathoning sitcoms and game shows, so I dutifully blocked YouTube using SelfControl.
However, it seemed that even with my main sources of distraction gone, my productivity levels hardly increased as I reflexively looked for other things to distract myself. A couple of times, I even looked out of the window to stare at a tree and its leaves swaying in the wind! Although I succeeded with the phone ban, I ended up sleeping at 3am to catch up on the YouTube videos that I would have otherwise watched during the day.
Clarine: In the initial few hours, I did have a compulsion to check the social media apps on my phone (I did in fact subconsciously tap on the WhatsApp icon once, oops) and the feeling of missing out on inside jokes or prime gossip fodder niggled at the back of my mind. Gradually though, the compulsion faded as I immersed myself in what I was doing in the present. Miracles do exist!
Ianni: The first hour was much easier than expected. I had predicted that I would be nothing more than a pathetic wreck clamouring for my phone, and would wind up failing the challenge ridiculously quickly. Fortunately enough, my prediction was grossly inaccurate.
The rest of the day went on smoothly. There were numerous occasions where I picked up my phone and had to exercise every bit of self-control to force myself to put it down. The burning desire to start scrolling through my newsfeeds, while present, became significantly easier to manage as the hours ticked by.
There were many other times where I was incredibly focused, so much so that I was reluctant to take a break from work, and I breezed through the first 11 hours. By the 12th, I wasn’t so sure if I really wanted my social media accounts anymore.
Post-ban thoughts and reflections
Elizabeth: Part of the reason I survived was because I had already intended to do some math work that day, thereby giving me a good alternative to mindless usage of my phone.
Unfortunately, the ban has not inspired me to continue religiously limiting my phone usage. However, I have become a bit more comfortable going offline for an entire afternoon and evening. After one such offline break, I got a message asking where I’d been “the whole afternoon”, which speaks volumes about how often I usually am online…
A sudden surge in my discipline levels was an unrealistic expectation. However, the ban helped me to push some boundaries, thus making me more willing to put my phone down for longer periods of time.
Kee Hwan: I wasn’t that interested in checking the different apps on my phone anymore after the long ban because the habit was temporarily corrected. It might also be because I was having a break after some CCA stuff in the first week, so I was glad to have some time to myself, and the ban kind of helped me with that. Then again, because of work, I knew I had to check Whatsapp – reminding me of the necessity of the apps despite all our efforts.
In any case, the ban did nothing to change my phone usage because it is not abnormal for me to abstain on some days, and I am not that dependent on the apps outside of work purposes. (Although it is true that some apps like Snapchat “force” you to keep using your phone, if you want to keep your streaks alive). The ban might work for last-minute cramming, when you are desperately motivated to pass. However, on a regular basis, it is quite ineffective because the lack of breaks and easily accessible distractions just means you either end up doing work more slowly or you find other distractions. Still, it was fun to undertake the challenge.
Xiuhua: Of course I hadn’t expected a one-time challenge to instantly boost my productivity levels, but the counter-effect did come as a surprise. I realised that it’s not really the distraction itself – be it Snapchat or WhatsApp – that mattered, but rather, the state of being conditioned to being distracted. So when my usual sources of distraction were forcefully removed from my life (temporarily), I sought out other sources of distraction as a substitute; when the original sources of distractions were made accessible to me again, I returned to wasting my time away on them.
But then again this makes sense: my “addiction” to being distracted didn’t develop in half a day, and it would be absurd for me to expect myself to break out of the habit in merely 12 hours. As cliché as it sounds, I have come to realise that I have to take little steps – one step at a time – and work on it a little bit every day.
Clarine: The time spent away from my phone gave me space to think about how social media has affected me in my daily life, particularly in ramping up my ‘fear of missing out’ – ‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’.
It has manifested in apparent ways: when I have a pockets of free time, I am more likely than not going to spend it checking Instagram to see what my friends have been up to. The nature of social media as an expression of the unique self often leads people to curate the content that they post, and naturally flaunts the flattering side of their lives. It is easy to forget that when everyone seems to be having a better time compared to you, leaving us trapped on the digital hamster wheel, as we ever-more-compulsively compare our lives to others.
It is easy to dismiss our seeming obsession with social media as a ‘bad habit’, but perhaps understanding what drives this habit will be more useful in curbing it in the long term.
Ianni: In an attempt to challenge myself, I made the decision to keep going, save for going back on Telegram and Whatsapp. By the time I had clocked 52 hours (not including time spent sleeping), there was a certain loneliness that was bothering me, bringing about the inevitable end of my challenge.
I realised that the ban had definitely worked wonders by making resisting temptation easier – the text that I sent to a couple of my friends says it all – 10/10 would recommend.
With all that said and done, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of self imposed bans rely heavily on what we learn from it. At the end of the day, such bans are tools – tools that serve to give us a fresh perspective, and hence allow us to derive new realisations and make active changes to our habits, mindset and lifestyle. Perhaps, the ban in itself is also a testament to one’s determination to change for the better.
“There will always be a never-ending list of distractions – social media is but one of them.”
Additionally, the absence of a source of distraction doesn’t automatically result in focus. There will always be a never-ending list of distractions – social media is but one of them – and we have to look beyond the massive horde that surround us. Sometimes, we fail to take a good look at ourselves. The issue of distraction that plagues us all is one that is multifaceted, and whether we like it or not, we are definitely part of the equation. Factors that leads to one being distracted could include the lack of self-control, the avoidance of a difficult task, and maybe even a person’s perceptions.
But once you’ve put the suitable variables into the right place, you’ll be on your way to solving this problem – as with all equations, in the end, everything adds up.
We would like to urge readers to give the ban a try! While it is certainly not the proverbial magic wand to deep-seated issues, it might be exactly what some of us need to get started on the process of solving this issue. Despite the various reactions and outcomes, the five writers have benefited from this exercise to some degree, and you just might as well!