I can't put down my phone. This is not a euphemism. According to my iPhone 15 Pro Max, I've been picking it up well over 150 times a day. I take some solace in the fact that, according to a 2022 study, most Americans pick up their phones 352 times a day.
In that study, conducted by Tech Care Company Asurion, they asked almost two thousand Americans to report their own tech habits, which is how they learned we pick up our smartphones once every two minutes and 43 seconds.
You and I though, as the best iPhone owners, don't need a study. We have the technology – bits, bytes, and highly sensitive components – inside my iPhone 15 Pro Max – that tell me exactly how many times I pick up my iPhone and which apps I open first.
I suspect that most of you are, by now, aware of Apple's Screen Time utility, which can help you assess how much time you spend looking at screens across all of your iCloud-connected devices. If you're like me, your awareness of Screen Time, which Apple introduced in 2018 as part of iOS 12, is through the weekly reports that pop up in your notifications. I rarely, if ever, dig into the details of these increasingly voluminous tech-usage updates. Now I wish I'd done it sooner.
When I open Screen Time, I see my Daily Average up top, which, in and of itself, is a rather embarrassing number. In my defense, I'm a tech journalist, and staring at a screen for 7 and a half hours a day is part of my job. Below that alarming number is a series of screen time controls, including Downtime (scheduling my time away from the screen), App Limits, Communication Limits, Content & Privacy Restrictions, and the new "Screen Distance" controls (for making sure you're not holding the screen an inch away from your face).
I admit, I almost never touch any of these.
What most people probably don't know though, is that if you follow the link to "See All App & Website Activity," you'll open a whole new window on your (okay, my) tech obsession.
At the top of this deeper examination is your Daily Screen Time (you can switch to a weekly view), and below that is a list of your most-used apps.
Right below that is Pickups. This is simply a measure of how often you pick up your phone, unlock it, and open an app. Picking up your phone and putting it down like some tiny 221g barbell should not register here. For me, it's a measure of how often I grab my phone, unlock it, and open, Safari, TikTok, or Slack. It defaults to showing you your pickups for the day but tapping on one of the chart's bars will show you the pickup number for that day.
My pickups range from – I'm so embarrassed – 249 to as low as 56. I'm clearly falling into a TikTok pit way too often. I'm also on Instagram too much. Before you judge, though, I suggest you take a look at your own Screen Time Pickup stats.
Go ahead, take a look for yourself. I'll wait.
Unless you are lying to me or yourself, it's pretty bad, right?
Based on Asurion's stats, perhaps I'm not doing that poorly. On the other hand, my fellow Americans and I are a tech-obsessed mess in comparison to the rest of the world, which, according to a 2023 GSMA / Ericsson study pick up and open their smartphones 58 times per day. I'm guessing that the data is skewed by developing nations that may not share everyone's social media obsession.
It occurs to me that even if my screen time is lower on some days, I'm still obsessively grabbing for my phone far too often. This must take me off task, and off-topic. I realize that I may even be reflexively doing this when I'm supposed to be engaged with the person in front of me. Picking up my phone is like a tick, like rubbing my chin or scratching my nose. It's absentminded and I can't seem to stop.
When I asked Sue Varma, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist, and author of Practical Optimism, what she thought about the impact of all this "pickup time", she introduced me to the term "phubbing."
"The mere presence of a visible phone prevents deepening of conversations, as we are anticipating interruptions. And the concept of 'phubbing ' is real – we are neglecting loved ones, snubbing them for our phones. Everyone around us is getting the message that we are too busy for them," said Dr. Varma.
Other health experts agree that this much screen time isn't good for me or anyone else. It can result in:
- Eyestrain and headaches: Check
- Neck shoulder and back pain: Check
- Reduced physical activity: Check
- Changes in cognition: ...check?
Since discovering this somewhat hidden Apple iPhone Screen Time report, I have been thinking more about how often I reach for my phone. It hasn't necessarily stopped me, but there is now a moment when I consider whether or not I need to check my phone again. How much has really changed since I looked at it two minutes ago?
Exactly. Probably nothing.
Dr. Varma told me that even she struggles to manage her screen time, "I put a timer on my Instagram use; for an hour daily – and use it mostly for work – but easily go over the limit daily. I’m guilty as well."
There is a way out of this. Knowledge is power and the first step in loosening my iPhone's grip on my psyche (and my grip on my iPhone) is knowing that it has one.
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.