The Problem With Using Your Phone as Your Alarm Clock
10.15.18

Look, you can do whatever you want to do in theory — I’m not your mom — but you really can’t throw your smartphone made of glass and money across the room and expect it to survive.

An alarm clock, however…those little things are surprisingly sturdy. I’ve been knocking one over all week long. The reason: I thought an alarm clock just might be the antidote to my very real phone addiction.

In high school, my relationship with my alarm clock was like that of a cat and a cup of water. It would go off and I’d whack it off the counter. I’d groggily reach my hand to the floor, bat it around until my fingertips made contact with circular ticking piece of plastic, beg its arms to embrace 10 more minutes, stabilize it back on my nightstand (all this is the act of the cat’s owner, by the way), and then, the series of noises would repeat:

*Alarm*
*Whack*
*Crash*
*Muffled shuffle*
*Click*
*Silence*

On repeat until it was clear I was about to be late.

Then I’d get up, awake despite it all, and carry onward with my day.

I didn’t otherwise interact much with this particular clock until it was time to set the alarm before bed, save for the odd glance, of course, to identify what time it was. I read near it. Did homework near it. Talked on the phone, talked on AIM, listened to music — all in the same vicinity of the clock, which kept track of my day and the hours that passed, but didn’t control my life.

Unlike, say, my iPhone.

At 6:20 a.m. it goes off, every weekday morning. On the weekends, 8:30. I use the ringtone “Ripples” to make all of it less horrifying. On my best days, I’m up right away; when I’m at my most realistic, I hit the snooze button; but the moment I’m eyeballs fully open, my phone is in my hand, and there I am, doing stuff on it: scrolling through Instagram, checking my inbox of emails that no one wants a half-asleep early morning reply to, reading the news, Instagram again. You get it. You know this. It’s boring.

So too is the fact that I check it all day long, throughout the evening — while watching television, while eating, while doing nothing — and, naturally, before I go to sleep. Because the problem is, the last thing I do before I climb into bed is check the alarm. It’s a compulsion, yes — you can pre-set these to go off at the same time/same day for eternity — but I don’t trust my phone any further than I can throw it, and you know I can’t throw it or it’ll break. So I check, check, check, which leads to other kinds of checking. Again: Instagram, email, Yelp!, for some god awful reason.

And I hate it. I think it’s causing poor sleep, giving me weird dreams, contributing to my anxiety, digging bad-habit nails further and further into my routine. There is nothing about this behavior that calms me, soothes me, makes me feel good about myself. I hate that I have become someone who literally cannot remove her hand from her phone. While I’m looking at my screen, I can hear my own internal dialogue shouting, “YOU ALWAYS SAY YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO X ANYMORE AND YET HERE YOU ARE WATCHING VIDEOS OF BABY COWS.”

I have implemented stay-away-from-the-phone techniques before. Most recently, I downloaded the new iOS, which lets me put time limits on all apps that need limiting. Great, except you can break them. (Still, it’s sightly helpful nonetheless. Like a tap on the wrist.) I also remind myself to put my phone on airplane mode. This has helped me before. But the alarm clock thing — buying one, first of all, then finding the batteries for it, then learning to trust it, and finally, actually using it — was something of a revelation.

Using an alarm clock for a week eliminated my need to even think about my phone in the mornings, let alone look at it, until my teeth were brushed, face washed and lotioned, with a few stretches well underway, my now-habitual morning journaling complete. My phone got to sleep in, all charged up and cozy near the oven, and I got to go about my phone-free business until I felt like I’d had time to myself that wasn’t ruled by an inexplicable desire to see what was happening on the social media feeds of baby animals and glossy strangers. At night, I came home, put my phone down, and switched it to airplane mode. I get calls to my computer, so if someone really needed me, I’d hear it ring. Even when I gave into my phone for a moment (or longer — unlike my phone’s battery, old habits die hard), I found my chest relax a significant amount with my phone across the studio from my bed, and thanks to the alarm, no reason to check it before I fell asleep.

Will I keep this up forever? I honestly don’t see why not. Alarm clocks come with their own responsibilities of course: batteries, mostly… making sure they’re definitely still working, telling the right time, on board with time zones while traveling and time changes twice a year. For a bit more peace of mind and free time, I think I can handle it.

Anyone else figure this out already?

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. 

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