Screen Time Bet: The Resolution

I spent a week trying to limit my phone screen time because of a bet with Mike Leone. The rules were pretty simple. The loser owed $1 per minute difference in screen time to the winner. Using our built in digital wellbeing apps, we added up the detailed app timers for the entire week, only removing Phone, Podcasts, and Audible (the audiobook platform). I wrote about the first few days I experienced during the bet here. The week is over and after some brief dispute over the way Mike’s apps detailed his time, the bet has concluded. I lost, spending 158 minutes on my phone versus 156 minutes for Mike. I had to pay him $2.

The bet didn’t turn out exactly as I had anticipated. After taunting Mike early on with a low phone usage day, he kicked it into overdrive and ultimately defeated me. I’m bitter about the loss, especially after Mike slowrolled me during the week, suggesting he’d owe me “$300 or so” but the bet itself showcased the greater good of limiting phone time.

I was still productive.

In all the meaningful ways my day remained non-impacted. My work got done, I gathered the news I needed, and I communicated with those around me, but did so via the phone (how boomer of me). Furthermore, the removal of the phone from my day to day encouraged me to venture into some more creative endeavors, like the site you’re reading this on. Because of my strong restrictions on application use, I spent 0 minutes on Twitter from my phone. I removed my ability to mindlessly open my emails every hour. I did not check any of my crumbling financial portfolios. And I even cut out unproductive banter via Slack.

I was independent.

For a portion of the bet, I was in downtown Dallas, a city I had never been and had no friends. Because of the bet, I looked to limit my time on the phone, not once pulling out Google Maps and instead opting to be a flaneur, idly strolling around the city with no agenda. I’m a strong proponent of flaneuring, but I’m never strolling as freely as the word suggests. Instead I’m often opting to walk to destinations, previously searched via Google or Yelp, falling in line with the rest of the tourists.

Removing the phone allowed me to truly stumble into some of my favorite parts of Dallas, like Tejas, where I had some delicious brisket tacos and the best curly fries I’ve ever had. With a phone in hand, it’s likely I would have opted for a destination, instead of letting my destination choose me.

Since the Bet Ended

In the near two full days since the bet has ended, I’ve fallen into some of my old habits. I unpaused or deleted most of the app timers on my phone, at least allowing me to enter Twitter on the go. On Friday (3/13) I spent 5 hours and 43 minutes on my phone, more than double the amount I had spent in the previous week combined.

As of writing this on Saturday at 8:00 PM EST, I’ve only amassed 1 hour and 39 minutes of phone time, with 47 of those minutes coming via the phone or from streaming apps cast to other devices (I’m a few episodes into The Outsider on HBO).

I’m hopeful I’ll fall into an average time usage between the numbers from today and Friday, hopefully settling into no more than the 3 hour range – with the bulk coming from Twitter or Slack, where I’m likely consuming or discussing information regarding COVID-19.

A few notable improvements.

Without stock market activity on the weekend, there isn’t much to check into right now, but since the bet ended I’ve left strict timers on my financial applications. Being an aggressive investor for my age, I’m normally pretty obsessed with the movement of my money.

Whether it be via Coinbase, Stash, Acorns, or Robinhood – one way or another the weekday is a time for fluctuation of capital. Prior to the bet, it would not have been unreasonable for me to open all four apps in succession, and to do so more than a few times throughout the day. I’d attribute this to my impulsive, degenerate behavior that is fixed on monetary growth. But as a longterm investor, one with no intention of pulling out of these accounts, the day to day fluctuations mean little and don’t deserve my attention. (I should note, the last few weeks of unprecedented decline have been worth checking into, mainly for the “holy hell, how is this possible?” chuckle that inevitably comes with sizable losses).

Both Snapchat and Instagram sit on my second screen of apps, completely grayed out, inaccessible until I delete the timers. Neither of these apps were big time killers for me before the bet, so I don’t think unpausing would be a great deterrent to focused phone usage, but I’ve lost no step leaving them paused. That was the biggest eye opener from this bet. I spend so much meaningless time in applications that are unnecessary for productivity and add no positivity to my day.

The gradual unpausing of applications has given me a glimpse of what is really worth it. Pause your apps. See which ones you itch for most. Those are the ones to consider keeping around, the others you can ditch.