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Le Monde
Le Monde
17 Feb 2024

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Solène Reveney / Le Monde

Unplugging from screens, a personal battle: 'The phone is turned off, put away in a bag and kept in a different room'

Published today at 12:30 pm (Paris), updated at 12:45 pm

Time to 5 min. Lire en français

It was Florence's first day of maternity leave. No more dealing with 300 emails a day, no more fear of missing important information. As she awaited her first child, the hospital director could finally breathe a sigh of relief. She grabbed her phone, instincitvely selected an orange-pink icon and started scrolling through Instagram posts. "I spent five and a half hours on it," she said, still aghast. "I told myself my brain was going to turn to mush." That was five years ago. On that day, this Parisian who was "addicted to immediacy" made a decision: She was going to "retrain" herself, in order to limit her own screen time and set an example for her future children.

Like her, over 130 people responded to Le Monde's call for testimonials, recounting their personal struggle to moderate their relationship with screens: This personal battle features successes, failures, relapses and varying degrees of radical tricks.

From social media to messaging, entertainment and work, the French spend an average of 32 hours a week looking at a screen, according to the latest digital barometer, a survey conducted by the Center for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions (CREDOC). That's the equivalent of almost a third of available time excluding sleep. It's a subject that the government has taken up, at least for children: On January 17, President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to regulate their screen usage.

'Like Ulysses trying to resist the sirens' song'

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However, when Florence, now a mother of three, took them to play in the park, she noticed it was really the parents who all had their eyes glued to their phones. "We tell ourselves our kids are addicted, but we're the ones showing them!" So, to restrain herself, she implemented various measures, such as deleting notifications, closing her Instagram, Facebook and X accounts and even using "do not disturb" mode, which only allows a few numbers to ring.

"I'm like Ulysses trying to resist the sirens' song," said the woman who also forces herself to turn off her phone when she gets home in the evening, then "puts it away in a bag which is kept in a different room." What's more, it works: "I'm a little less interested in the phone. I reread books. And as I no longer have social media, I don't waste half an hour on the influencer showing me her new wardrobe."

Getting physically away from your phone is a frequently mentioned strategy, especially in the bedroom, where some have banned it and replaced it with a classic alarm clock. It brings with it benefits for sleep time and reading but also "intimacy," according to Benoît, a 34-year-old construction engineer.

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