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Amplify: How I embraced my smartphone addiction – and let the Internet hug me back

The Globe and Mail

This is the weekly Amplify newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web or someone forwarded this e-mail newsletter to you, you can sign up for Amplify and all Globe newsletters here.

A few months back, I dared myself to endure a 45-minute streetcar commute without reaching for my smartphone. It was a do-it-yourself attempt at self-control, after more drastic methods of limiting my screen time (setting automatic time limits, deleting Instagram from my phone) had flopped.

You can guess what happened next.

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I’m Hayley Mick, health editor at The Globe and a struggling smartphone user.

I probably don’t need to remind you of the bad things that can happen if you sink too deeply into social media’s abyss. Few of us are immune, especially our kids, and there is lots of troubling research and analysis pointing to the rise in anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and unhappiness that has accompanied our cultural dependence on screens.

But I can share what happened not long after that false start on the streetcar, when I came up with my latest hack for dealing with the pocket-sized device consuming too much of my free time.

In a nutshell: I didn’t limit my screen time, but I ruthlessly edited the content I allowed myself to look at.

The rules were simple: Only follow those who made me feel better, not worse. Does the feed leave me feeling like life would be “simpler” if I quit my job, ditched my city life and raised babies in a van? Delete. Do those layered rugs, sun-drenched kitchens and endless renovations make me want to burn my own house down? Unsubscribe. Is this person an alumni of The Bachelor? I’ll miss you, but not the sponsored posts.

After the cull, what I was left with was a small but mighty crew of artists and dancers, authors and journalists. Instead of making me feel drained, these creators leave me inspired, and sometimes even relaxed. And when life goes sideways in mortifying ways, their honest takes on their own screw ups help me feel normal.

This strategy isn’t a cure, rather a form of harm reduction, the way vaping is a less unhealthy alternative to cigarettes. My wrist still aches at night and, sure, I wish I was living “in the moment” during my commute instead of scrolling for a distraction. But when I embraced my smartphone habit this way, the good parts of the internet hugged me back.

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So for those of you who also crave some feel-good additions to your online repertoire, I highly recommend the funny, empathetic and very human people listed below, not to mention the readers cheering them on in the comments.

Nora McInerny – Five years ago, McInerney suffered the most painful time of her life. Her husband and father both died just weeks after she had a miscarriage. Since then, the Minnesota mother of four has become a two-time book author, podcast host, and founder of a support group called the Hot Young Widow’s Club, but my favourite of her platforms is her Instagram stories. In her “Ask Nora” series, reader questions cover everything from grief to dating to horrible in-laws, and what they receive is the frank and funny advice from a woman who knows life’s too short to mess around.

Cup of Jo – Joanna Goddard, creator of this women’s lifestyle blog, is a former women’s magazine editor – so she knows how to write and curate compelling content on motherhood, beauty, style, food and design. But she has also injected the site with personal storytelling that, in return, has fostered a comment section full of thoughtful, honest insight from women around the world.

Turia Pitt – While competing in a 100-kilometre ultra marathon in the Australian outback in 2011, Pitt encountered a grass fire that trapped her in the flames. She suffered burns to most of her body and her remarkable comeback has made her famous in Australia. Her Instagram account is hilarious and her self-deprecating humour makes her mission all the more palatable: to inspire others to embrace life, like she has.

Jonathan Van Ness – Known as the grooming guru from Netflix’s hit, Queer Eye, Van Ness has launched a solo career as a comedian and podcaster. But his most moving content of late has been his attempt to fulfill a lifelong dream to learn to figure skate. The shaky videos began appearing on his Instagram account several months ago, and he has progressed to jumps and spins under the tutelage of a professional choreographer and surprise appearances from his idol, Michelle Kwan. He’s pushing the idea it’s never too late to grow, hunny, one toe pick at a time.

What else we’re reading:

Sometimes – like, for example, when I’m paying a $5 entry fee to watch my seven-year-old son play a select hockey game after I’ve already spent the equivalent of the cost of a used car on gear, registration and ice time – I ask myself: If an alien came down and observed this surreal scene we accept as normal, how would she describe it to the Martians back home? Which is why I loved Masha Gessen’s piece in The New Yorker, titled “How I would cover the college admissions scandal as a foreign correspondent.” Not only does she describe the system that allowed the cheats to flourish, but through the pretend lens of a foreign correspondent, she shows how an outsider’s perspective can be the best way to illuminate our blind spots.

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Inspired by something in this newsletter? If so, we hope you’ll amplify it by passing it on. And if there’s something we should know, or feedback you’d like to share, send us an e-mail at amplify@globeandmail.com.

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