I like to think I have a good sense of self-control. Yet, I still go to bed later than I planned. It takes more than One More Match™ for me to stop playing Super Smash Bros. or Rocket League. I eat a little too much to stay in my preferred weight class in jiu-jitsu.

After all this, I look at my shortcomings and say, “I’ll make up for this tomorrow.” Somebody must have frozen time because I’m still waiting for tomorrow.

Out of Control

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Somewhere along the way, I chipped away at my sense of self-control. Or I question whether I had any self-control to begin with.

Back in the day, my mom managed my time very effectively. She made sure I did my homework, finished my chores, and went to bed a reasonable hour. If she caught me playing video games past 10PM, she would have confiscated my game until tomorrow (or indefinitely). In fact, her voice is the one in my head when I start to think, “Gee, it’s late. Maybe I should go to bed.” Then, I immediately think, “I think I’ll play five more minutes.” I’ll repeat this thought process at least a half dozen times before I stop lying to myself.

College didn’t help. When I left the nest and moved into my dorm, I was dangerously responsible for my time. This led to hours of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and not enough time to complete projects and essays. I’ve done more all-nighters than I can remember (the memory loss is probably due to the all-nighters). I had plenty of time, but not enough self-control. Somehow, I ended up graduating Cum Laude in spite of myself. If anything, this encouraged my poor habits—I thought that if I can make it through college like this, I can make it anywhere.

I managed to do all this before I ever owned a smartphone. I didn’t even own my own laptop until my sophomore year in college. I was barely able to keep my attention tied to my responsibility without a tiny, addictive rectangle in my pocket, how could I ever function with a smartphone?

A few months after I started my first job in 2013, my boss had gifted me an iPhone 4. The company had upgraded everyone to an iPhone 5, so there were many three-year-old relics left over that they couldn’t even give away except to cavemen who still used flip-phones (AKA me).

Since then, I shudder to think how many miles I’ve scrolled (I don’t think I’m exaggerating) through feeds of Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and everything in between. I’m sure they somehow brought value to my life, but I’m not sure they were worth my effort and attention. I may explore the value these social feeds (or lack thereof) in a future post.

Screen Time

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

In Hollywood, screen time is a good thing. You’re a star if you have the most screen time and it gives you a chance to show off your acting chops. You’ll be hard pressed to find an actor to demand less screen time.

I’m no Hollywood actor, but I enjoy screen time as well! The iPhone feature, that is.

On September 10, 2018, Apple release the iOS 12 update and my iPhone 5S was the oldest supported device on the list (yes, I have a 5S in 2018). Usually, I’m forced to update my phone so I can simply keep using my apps and my phone always bogged down as a result. This time, the update is supposed to speed up my phone—and it worked as advertised! My phone perked up and I was happy with an iPhone update for the first time since the 5S was the new phone on the block.

In this update, Apple introduced a new feature called Screen Time. This allows users to track their phone usage by how long they use it and which apps they’re spending time on.When I first heard of this feature, I thought, “As someone with self-control, I probably won’t touch this feature!” But then I decided to wise up.

As soon as my phone updated, I chose to limit my social media usage to one hour per day. I didn’t base this number on anything—I simply felt that an hour was more than enough time in the day to scroll through feeds. Earlier this year, I had broken my Reddit addiction cold turkey because I was disgusted by the company’s hate speech problem, among other reasons. This is another topic I may cover in a future post.

I didn’t treat Screen Time as an experiment, so I didn’t take notes on my behavior. Since I configured Screen Time, however, I’ve noticed less compulsion on my part to mindlessly scrolling through feeds. Sometimes, I even wonder if an hour is too much time. Then I realized that nothing is stopping me from not logging in at all.

Having Fun isn’t Hard

…when you’ve got a library card.

In lieu of social media, I’ve upped my book reading time. Before I had regular access to the internet, my nose spent a lot of time lodged in a book. I figured that if the web distracted me from books, I may as well use books to distract myself from the web.

So far, this is working out for me.

These days, I prefer to read books on my phone. I’m never without my book, I can read anywhere, and I can adjust the font, text-size, and brightness to suit my environment and my mood. I know that some people prefer print rather than e-books, but e-books work for me. Everyone’s preference is different; the important thing is that we’re reading.

Oh, and I’m reading all my books for free! I highly recommend the Libby app. It’s a re-skinned, user-friendly version of OverDrive and if you have a library card, you can most likely access these apps. These apps treat e-books as if they were physical media; there is a finite number of each title available on the app. You may have to place a title you want on hold until other people return them.

I personally think it’s silly to place an arbitrary limit on an infinitely reproducible computer file, but it’s the system we have. I’m sure we can blame some license lawyer somewhere for this system.

Alternatively, you can use your library card to access Hoopla, which allows you to check out up to ten pieces of media per month. If you return an item, you can check out something else in its place. This is a much better, more logical system than Libby/Overdrive, but your title selection is more limited. But hey, it’s free (well, your taxes are paying for it, but still).

Even more alternatively, you can use your library card at a physical library to borrow a book made out of actual paper.

I’m a firm believer that reading is always the answer. In a convoluted way, reading is helping me strengthen my ability for self-control. We’re all different, so there’s never a single answer for our problems.

If you feel like you spend too much time on social media or the web in general, try Screen Time (or Digital Wellbeing if you’re on Android). If you feel the need to scroll and read something, try a book! Or go for a jog. Or, most of all, do something that would make your mother (or anyone else you love) happy.

The pseudo-poignant conclusion I drew from all of this is: waiting for tomorrow won’t help you today. Unless it actually will, that is.

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