Let’s be clear: head trauma isn’t a solution to anything. But I find myself somewhat grateful that I got a mild concussion in mid-January because it forced me to stop staring at my computer, TV and, most importantly, my phone for a solid week.
The injury came in a workaday moment. I had stooped over my dishwasher as I gathered clean dishes to put away. I stood up quickly, unaware that a wooden cabinet door was open directly over my head. What could’ve been a simple bruise and embarrassing moment ended up being more serious. I smacked the back of my skull into the bottom of the cabinet door, sending a shockwave through the part of the brain that controls vision.
Out came a series of pain-relieving expletives I can’t print here.
The resulting concussion, while mild, meant I couldn’t look at bright lights or screens or even read without developing motion sickness and painful eye strain. It was boring and frustrating just looking around. But ultimately, I leaned into this chill vibe and just went with it. While I don’t recommend concussion, I do suggest spending some time in this mode.
Listen to the Author Read This Story (Or Play It for a Concussed Friend)
So much so that I have since (jokingly!) offered to induce a concussion in anyone wanting to tame their screen addiction. I came to the conclusion that phones are so alluring, so pleasant to look at that maybe the surest way to be more present in the real world is to make it physically painful to even look at your device.
The result of this forced screen break was that I felt less stressed out, I went to bed on time and I fell into being present with my kids more readily. That’s even though I was in pain and frequently bored.
If you, too, want to experience this, my concussion taught me you have to stop using your phone for long periods of time. I doubt you’ll get these results by using blue-light reducing glasses or turning on do-not-disturb mode an hour before bedtime. Don’t look at your phone for hours — or days. Treat it like something that will hurt you.
Phones aren’t concussion friendly
I still used my phone to stay in touch with friends and family using a voice assistant. But for the first time, I consciously registered just how much you have to look at a phone in order to use it, over and over again. It sucks you in by design.
I have an iPhone with Face ID, which meant I had to look at my phone many times a day just to let Siri access my apps. Putting my face in front of the phone while looking away mostly didn’t work.
I set Siri to listen for “Hi Siri” to limit the need to look at my phone. Siri read my texts and notifications aloud and sent messages to my loved ones. Siri also now announces who’s calling when my phone rings and answers the phone for me. But Siri can’t read or write emails in my Google account, add things to my virtual Safeway cart, or read messages from my preferred encrypted messaging app, Signal. (Sorry to my friends on Signal, hope you’re doing well!)
Siri also often responded to my spoken questions with a link to a website to read, which wasn’t useful in my situation.
“Hi Siri, can Siri default to reading an answer instead of just offering a link to a website?” I’d ask.
“I found this on the web for, ‘Can Siri default to reading an answer instead of just offering a link to a website,'” Siri would answer, in a final insult to my injury: “Check it out!”
I knew there were other accessibility features in my phone’s settings, but I couldn’t activate them by talking to Siri. It occurred to me that the best time to set up your phone for a concussion is before you get a concussion. Luckily, staring dejectedly into the middle distance was part of my recovery process.
The whole thing made me consider switching to a Google- or Alexa-powered device, which can be more hands free, but that seemed like a big commitment for a condition I knew would resolve in a week or so. And nothing would change the fact that you can’t subtly look up something embarrassing or text your friend a quick aside when you have to narrate the whole process out loud.
Which reminds me of another thing Siri doesn’t do: modulate the volume of her voice when you ask her a question in a hushed tone.
“Hi Siri,” I’d whisper, just after waking up, “What’s the temperature today?”
“The high today will be 47 degrees Fahrenheit!” she’d offer full-throatedly, like a deranged lark. “And the low will be 31 degrees Fahrenheit!”
Despite my frustration, there were some obvious upsides to limiting my screen time. The biggest one was having a lot more free time.
In addition to doctor-approved naps, I went on walks, cooked simple meals and tidied. I also grew more comfortable with taking a breather between activities without diving into a phone-based distraction. That made transitioning into the next task much easier, because I didn’t have to pull myself away from the phone.
That was a big change. On a typical pre-concussion day, I’d try to solve the Wordle and the Spelling Bee on the New York Times website, put in 20 to 30 minutes of Duolingo, read the news and, you know, look up anything that crossed my mind on the internet. That’s in addition to texting, checking email, looking up recipes and getting updates from my kid’s preschool.
Almost everything but messaging and an occasional podcast was off the table. Duo, the fluorescent green owl that serves as Duolingo’s mascot, stalked me with notifications and email reminders to practice Spanish, but I couldn’t. I broke my Wordle and Spelling Bee streaks. I stopped reading a really interesting ebook from the library.
Surprisingly, I was fine.
Read More: Duolingo Transformed Me Into A Monster
So skip the swift blow to the head and hear what I learned. It’s fine to avoid constant stimulation and distraction, even if mastering a language, reading a history book and solving a word puzzle sound like beneficial things. Doing them all in a frenetic round robin, cycling through stories and activities like you’re looking for some unnamed wonderful thing in them but never finding it — isn’t good.
And reaching for your phone every time there’s a quiet moment just erases all the quiet moments.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.