The Big Three Distractions (3 of 3)
Untether yourself from the demon in your pocket
Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating it tomorrow. From what I understand, it’s very much a family time. Today’s newsletter is a timely reminder, then, to reclaim control of our phones and pay attention to the things and people around us that really matter. Feel free to forward this on to transgressors, with loving-kindness.
This is the third and final instalment of the Big Distractions series. The first was about thoughts that just occur. The second was email. This one’s about our phones. All three are about reclaiming agency.
We pick our phones up hundreds of times a day. Most of us keep them within reach all day long and by our bedside as we sleep. The apps on the phone are a personalised representation of all we find most interesting in the world — what’s on them is therefore of constant interest to us. They are the instant portal to 4.5 billion other smartphone users around the world. The consequence is hours of addicted usage usage per person, per day. Occasionally, the consequences are tragic: 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving; selfie deaths are an unfortunate modern phenomenon. The variable rewards and dopamine hits on your phone have each of us on a rollercoaster ride.
There is no object to which we are more closely tethered than our phone. (Some have made the analogy between the daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials [written in the 90s, before the mass adoption of and addiction to smartphones] and the modern phone: it inveigles during our adolescence and we are captivated by it for the rest of our lives; it’s painful when we’re apart from them; it’s uncomfortable if someone else touches them; they communicate with each other, often without the owner’s explicit knowledge or consent.)
What freedom might we find? A little awareness, intention and discipline can go a long way. Of course, different approaches will work for different people; we all have unique personalities, habits, predilections, lifestyles and contexts. So here’s a list of 20 of the best methods I’ve seen for taking back control of that demonic device.
8 in-phone tips
Prune the home screen: keep the useful apps that don’t suck you in on the first page of apps on your phone.
Change your screensaver: choose one that reminds you to confirm to yourself that you really need to be using your phone.
Set limits: try an app like Freedom, Appblock, or Blocksite to limit access to certain apps.
Disable notifications: turn off unnecessary notifications so you’re not hooked back in when you didn’t mean to be. Note that notifications can be visual (an on-screen display), auditory (a sound) or physical (a vibration).
Enable grayscale mode: dim your phone's display to make it less enticing and less addictive (see Settings / Accessibility).
Cull: remove the apps that do you no good in a moment when you have the sense to see them that way.
Create a 'mindless' folder: group less productive apps in a specifically (and disparagingly) named folder to discourage use.
Set a longer passcode: increase the time it takes to unlock your phone, thereby providing a longer period in which to question and resist the urge.
12 off-phone tips
Reframe your relationship with it: your phone is there for you to use, not the other way around. It’s the tool. You are not a tool.
Out of sight, out of mind: keep the phone out of sight (behind your laptop, under a book, in another room). Avoid using your phone before sleep and right after waking up by keeping it out of the bedroom. Store it in a less accessible place when out and about.
Choose non-phone activities: spend more time doing activities that don’t involve screen time like exercise and being outside. Choose life.
Notice more and better: practice the meta-cognitive skill of noticing when you’re on your phone for too long.
Timebox phone usage in general: decide specific times for phone use and non-use.
Make one day phone-free: set aside a day where you avoid phone use altogether. Observe how it makes you feel.
Don’t waste surprise pockets of time: resist the urge to check your phone during short breaks and do something else like a meditation or thinking about the next task in hand or reflecting on how your day has gone.
Try non-disturb modes, eg do not disturb mode, airplane mode, nighttime mode, etc. Notice their slightly different functionality and configurability and choose what works for you.
Find out the time some other way: avoid the many temptations of your phone by finding out the time on your computer or on your wrist.
Track your usage: monitor and control your overall phone use with apps like Screentime or Forest.
Timebox social media & email: allocate specific times for these extortionate time sinks.
Seek help: tell people around you to call you out when they see you on a phone, and you seem like you don’t need to be.
Pick a couple and try them out. Untether yourself.