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14th March 2019

Swapping social media for Harry Potter: how reading killed my phone addiction

Ellie Martin talks about how reading really can help you ditch the phone
Swapping social media for Harry Potter: how reading killed my phone addiction
Photo: Ellie Martin

Over the past few years I have found that I am often not home for the run up to Christmas. This is due to moving to uni and placement years abroad. Being away for that month or so before the 25th made me realise how much of Christmas was wrapped up in the preparation, the anticipation, and the traditions.  

I loved decorating my various flats over the past few years with paper snowflakes made from old lecture notes and making a Christmas tree from tinsel stuck to the wall — but it’s not quite the same as the collection of gradually accumulated decorations that come down from the attic each year, which really signify the beginning of the festive period. It is not the same as missing your cat attack the tree. Nor the stark difference between the amount and quality of Christmas songs being played on French radio stations compared to UK ones.

I decided that to make Christmas feel like Christmas no matter where I was, I needed some personal and, most importantly, portable Christmas traditions of my own. This is where the idea of re-reading the Harry Potter series for Christmas every year came from. It seemed like a really indulgent thing to do, which suited my idea of Christmas perfectly. So from the 1st November (a bit early for Christmas I know, but there are seven books!) I started with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and tried to get as far into the series as I could before New Year.

And it really worked; I felt the cosy buzz of Christmas cheer and familiarity throughout the whole run up to the holidays, despite being in France and away from most of my family and friends. Success! But another, and more important, change had occurred that I hadn’t expected in these two months. My screen time was down from averaging around five hours, to under one hour a day.

I hadn’t realised I had such a problem with my phone, but having a reading challenge highlighted how extreme my addiction was. Every time I had a spare moment during my day I was reading. Partly as I wanted to get the books finished, but also because I was enjoying them so much. This was what alerted me to how much time I spent on my phone. Every time I had the urge to check Instagram or Facebook, I picked up my book and read it instead. I was truly shocked to see how absentmindedly I looked at my phone.

Swapping social media for Harry Potter was like being woken up from a daze. I was suddenly switching a passive habit for an active one. The only thing social media related that I spent time on was messaging, which I think is a great reason to use your phone, especially for me as it meant I was keeping in touch with friends back home. Other than that I had a quick scroll at the end of the day, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting. Honestly, I don’t think it ever was.

I love keeping up with friends and seeing what they’re doing, but passively watching from afar turned into messaging directly and having real, meaningful conversation. Now I always have a book with me, and my desire to check my phone has remained relatively low. I’m not as strict now as I’m not reading to a deadline.

If you want to try this, I recommend you start with something really addictive and enjoyable. Crack out your favourite YA that you might feel a bit too old for, or your guilty pleasure romance novel. Just enjoy it! The itch for something to do is much better scratched by a good book than by a phone.

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