I have developed a new habit of switching off my phone before I sleep.
It stays off the entire night – sitting there on my nightstand, as useful as a sewing machine on a fishing boat – then I turn it back on in the morning, after I step out of the shower.
I’m doing this because I discovered a mortifying truth about myself from my usage stats: I discovered that I spend, on average, nine hours and 54 minutes on my phone every day between Monday and Friday.
Nine hours and 54 minutes!
That’s a lot of time, dear reader.
A lot of time.
That’s the equivalent of watching six movies back to back. Or driving from Nairobi to the Busia-Uganda border, then killing another three hours when I get there. Or spending an entire workday not looking anywhere else but into my phone.
Nine hours, 54 minutes, sweet heavens. Out of all those hours, I’m told that I spend the most time on Instagram (four hours on average, every day) then on WhatsApp (an hour and a half).
I know what I do on Instagram: I sell my books. Instagram is my marketplace, my billboard, my chatting room. The Kenyan demographic I engage with most – working-class millenials in their 20s and 30s – spend as much time on Instagram as I do, if not more.
I’ve learned that this demographic doesn’t chat by email but by direct messages, where they complement their messages with little videos and voice notes, more pictures than anybody needs, it’s a riot. We step out of these direct messages then go kill hours peeking into the windows of other people’s lives.
But I’m happy to tell you that all the time I spend on Instagram is translating to steady book sales: my time there alchemises to money in my pocket. Not too shabby, aye?
Away from spending prime hours on Instagram and WhatsApp, I also discovered that I spend less than five minutes every day on phone calls, as in, speaking to people and hearing their voice.
I don’t know what to make of this.
I don’t even think it’s accurate, just yesterday Safaricom alerted me that I have only 60 minutes left on my 400-minute monthly bundle. (I call people, c’mon!)
Anyway, this suggests that I spend more time engaging with strangers on the Internet than I do talking to the people I know. And love. People who love me despite not talking to them as often as I need to. (Let’s pause here to ponder.)
Truth is, spending nine hours, 54 minutes on the phone every single day is quite taxing. It leaves you feeling drained and spent, and not in the way that you would after, I don’t know, running a 21-kilometre marathon or pumping weights at the gym. Definitely not how you would feel when you reach the final page of a Stephen King novel or watching a Leonardo DiCaprio movie.
It’s the nauseating feel of eating too much cake or imbibing way past your tolerable limits.
Basically, you feel disgusted with yourself for over-indulging. So it’s nausea, underscored with disgust, disappointment at your weakened willpower and a tinge of regret at the time squandered.
It’s my definition of a nasty hangover.
That’s why I decided to switch off my phone before I sleep, lest it pings in the middle of the night and my addicted brain rouses from its slumber to catch another seemingly life-changing update from people on the Internet that I barely know.
A friend was gravely concerned about this. She asked, ‘But Bett, what if someone is in a pickle and is trying to reach you?’
I mulled about who this ‘someone’ could be: my two children are asleep in the next room, with the nanny. If they need me, they won’t call my phone, they call my name out aloud.
My children can reach me.
GB, my lover, should be in the bed, sleeping right next to me. (Operative word: ‘should’.)
If he isn’t by my side and runs into a middle-of-the-night pickle in the crazy world out there, he’ll call his brother to bail him out, he won’t call me. He’ll call his brother in the same way his brother would call him.
GB doesn’t need to reach me.
Who else would be in a pickle and would need to reach me? Hmm. I’ve run through the names of my family and friends – these people that I spend less than five minutes talking to everyday, ha-ha – and I’ve concluded that they each have someone else they can call.
So right before I sleep, I log out of all these bothersome apps and I switch off my phone. I untether myself from the rest of the world, I sever the binds.
I’ve been sleeping better, actually, more restful, like a swan.
In the morning, I wake up when my body clock tells me to wake up.
I’ll only know what time it is when I hesitantly switch on my phone after my shower, then the sickening addictive cycle begins all over again.
An edited version of this story first ran in the Saturday Nation on February 4, 2023. It ran under my ‘Culture’ column.3