Phone Detox

According to this Wall Street Journal article, we unlock our phone ~80 times per day: How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds (I hope you can open the article without getting stuck at the WSJ’s paywall; it works for me at the time of writing this). The article then goes on to describe the detrimental effects smartphones have on us. Read it. It’s frightening.

I noticed that I have developed this absolutely idiotic habit of grabbing my phone to look at… just something. What’s worse, most of the time, that something doesn’t actually matter much (in the case of social media), and often doesn’t make me feel better, but worse! (in case of reading the news, mostly… but what else is new?)

I’ve noticed that the phone affects my ability to focus and concentrate (especially on longer tasks – my attention span is really shot), but the impact that the sheer presence of a smart phone in one’s vicinity has, as described in the article linked above, is far worse than anything I’d have imagined. The phone doesn’t have to “do” anything – just the fact that it is there means that we’re negatively impacted.

Also, I’m sure we all witnessed how at any social event, one or the other person pulls out their phone and “disappears” into the screen, gets sucked away and immersed into their “social” media timeline, feed, or whatever else. Some even manage to continue giving affirmative “automated” replies to ongoing conversations, without actually paying attention to the conversation: “Russia just invaded Mars!” – “aha”, “mmmmm-hmmmm”, “yep”… it’s just awful to witness it. Is it actually courteous to tolerate such antisocial behavior, but not say anything?

A while ago, when we had friends over to our house, I asked everyone, as they arrived, to leave their phones in a little basket by the entry door. Simple, right? Some people couldn’t do it. They would not leave their phone, even just for the duration of our dinner party. I knew that I could easily do that – so their behavior irritated me. I wanted to say “You’re here, in this moment, in the same room with us – real, human contact! What could possibly be so important right now on your phone that it needs to be in your pocket, as opposed to it ringing over there in that basket, if a call came in (that was actually so critically important that you could NOT afford to miss it)?” – but I said nothing instead.

But, at the very least, I want to break the crazy habits that I formed myself around the phone. Quite a while ago already, I deactivated all notifications (except for text messages and calls). That wasn’t enough though – I essentially went from “push notifications” to “pull notifications”: I opened an app like Twitter, just to see if I had any notifications. And then I got sucked in of course. Ridiculous!

I removed all social media apps from the phone. I never used Facebook on my phone anyway, and I miss using Twitter, but Google+ and Instagram I can easily do without. Social media is the equivalent of small talk, and I’m an introvert. I don’t do well with that stuff anyway, so it may as well go. 🙂

I also removed anything else that would lure me – the WordPress app with it’s “Reader” component, the homescreen bookmark to my online RSS reader, and Apple’s “News” app. All of these were just replacements that I opened instead of Twitter, when I was bored and wanted to look at this undefined “something” – it didn’t even matter what, it was just because my idle fingers and feeble brain demanded a distraction. It’s absolutely irrational. (not to mention that the algorithm in Apple’s “News” app always pushed idiotic “lifestyle” and boulevard articles into the “recommended for you” section, no matter how many times I swiped right to select “Dislike”).

I also deactivated the nifty “Rise to Wake” feature of iOS – I don’t want the screen to come alive when I pick up the phone. I mute the phone most of the time now – legitimate callers will leave a voice message, known contacts will show up with their name in the recent calls list. I can call back when I’m ready (this may be more of an introvert thing, I know). Unknown number or someone who’s not in my contacts? Bad luck. They’re mostly spammers, scammers and telemarketers, so there’s not much to lose when I miss those calls. Most initial business contacts seem to happen via email nowadays, which I prefer anyway.

I wish smartphones weren’t such horrible, distracting time-sinks, attention-killers AND useful tools at the same time. Navigation, dictionary, translator, email in your pocket? All really useful. The same goes for weather, local webcams, cloud radar, GPS app – they’re all great for planning trips with the camera. Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and a ton of useless notifications though? That’s all a waste of time. I’ve done what I could to eliminate all these distractions and temptations.

I force myself to leave the phone outside of my office now. I’m using two-factor authentication (2FA) for a lot of services and sites though, and I really like the added safety and security – but it means I need to get up and get the phone to get the code. I consider it extra exercise, but still need to remind myself to remove the phone from my office again afterwards. 😛 As a bonus, 2FA prevents me from foolishly logging in to social media sites.

I’m reading more long-form articles now. I allowed myself to keep the “Pocket” app on my phone, where I save things for later reading. If I really have some idle time, I can use it to read an article that I had selected myself – instead of the short blips of “status updates” and condensed bits of “news” that flood me, no matter if I want to see them or not, when I look at one of these “feeds”.

It’s perhaps too early to say if it’s really getting better already, but I do feel better and less attached to my phone already. We’ll see!

3 thoughts on “Phone Detox

  1. What a great effort Alexander! It must be a challenge to delete those social media apps from your phone, I know how many times I rely on my phone to check my social media every day! Perhaps you can share with us https://unplugnsw.wordpress.com/social-media/ your progress and some of your tips on how to stay off social media on your phone.

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