Posted on January 5, 2017
It’s 2017 and people all over the world are starting a new year & implementing resolutions for the coming 12 months. I don’t tend to set resolutions, I prefer a constant evolution as & when I discover something causing me an issue or concern. So this year (not because it is a new year, but because I discovered an escalation in my own dependency) I’ve decided to radically change my smartphone habits.
I’ve had a smartphone since 2008 when I bought the iPhone 3G at launch. Back then, smart phones where pretty basic & the app store had only just launched. In 2008 there wasn’t even an official twitter client, so I used Twitterific. It was a much simpler time, apps & digital companies where concentrating on providing services & not so much on holding our concentration for ad pounds (dollars).
Twitter in 2008 was also a great place to be. Not many brands had discovered it & large swathes of the population hadn’t. It was a friendly & positive place to hang out. It wasn’t political or racial. Abuse wasn’t really a thing & it was a progressive platform. Also this was before the introduction of the retweet button. Back then you would just type “RT @someusername – copy & paste their tweet”. This was wonderful as people would only share genuinely interesting tweets. Now, people & brands click the retweet button so often it makes my feed almost pointless.
Anyway, back to smartphones. The progression of the smartphone & the ubiquity of its use led to a boom in app development. Notifications came along, in app purchases came along, ad supported apps & games…. you get the picture. In 2017 it would seem that Smartphones are no longer devices we enjoy, they are actually in charge of us. They bing & bong for our attention, they sleep by our beds, they feed pictures & videos of people we have never met into our subconscious. Constantly bombarded with images of the wealthy & the beautiful it’s easy to feel inferior. This ubiquity & constant access to our consciousness has been a boon for advertisers & marketers.
Instagram is synonymous with smartphone use. You can only upload to the platform officially via a smartphone or tablet. It also doesn’t surprise me that Facebook acquired the platform. Instagrammers can be paid obscene amounts by brands & tourist boards to show us the finer things in life & promote even more anxious & depressive thoughts. It a marketers dream platform.
I really believe that Social Media is causing serious issues with everything from mental health to political fallout, and the biggest driver for this change has been the smartphone. I believe it so strongly that I’m looking to do a PhD into the effects on society in the not too distant future.
It’s not only social media vying for our attention on our smartphones. We have games, we have music apps, messaging apps, car buying apps, airbnb, spotify, ibooks, Netflix, Amazon, podcasts. Before I sat down to write this post I had 100 apps installed on my phone. All of them take a little bit of my attention. If I’m out to lunch, I will check my phone, meeting friends or at a gig I’ll check my phone. In fact there are very few times I won’t feel compelled to pick it up and check a few apps.
I think we can all relate to this, but it is ruining my relationships & productivity, so it’s time to make a change. Last year I started by leaving my iPhone at home more often. If I went for a walk with my wife, it was left at home, if we went out for coffee, I left it at home or turned it off. Everytime, I felt more present & less stressed. I also started leaving my phone in one place in the house when I’m home. It sits on charge in my kitchen at all times. I can now watch a movie without distraction & really concentrate on what I’m doing. I’m able to sit a read a lot more, I’ve more time to write.
I have considered ditching the smartphone altogether, but there are certain features which genuinely do help. Google Maps is a must as we travel a lot, Facetime is also my main way to chat to family who live 600 miles away & it’s more intimate than a phone call. I also use Skype & Whatsapp to stay in touch with good friends who live all over the world, for free. I wouldn’t be without those now as I feel they genuinely add value to my life. Also, It’s nice to have a decent camera in my pocket & not carry around a separate Canon camera.
So far these are the things I’ve done to improve my personal usage:-
- Pick a spot in the house & designate it as a smartphone spot. Leave your phone plugged in there unless you really need it – Stops compulsive checking
- Uninstall time wasting apps – I can use AirBNB on a laptop when I’m actually needing accommodation
- If you use twitter, turn off retweets. Each time you see a retweet in your timeline, click through to that user and disable their retweets. Reclaim your timeline & time.
- Ditch Pinterest – Only use it as & when you need inspiration.
- Uninstall news apps – They are the biggest time waster for me.
- Uninstall iBooks/Kindle app & movie/tv catchup apps – Read proper books or use a kindle and enjoy the experience. Also helps avoid notifications & distractions. Movies should be enjoyed on a bigger screen. Don’t ruin it.
- Start leaving your smartphone at home or turning it off when you are doing things, it will transform your relationships.
- Turn off notifications for everything but messaging apps/text apps.
- Remove games. You will turn to them at times when you should just enjoy watching the world go by, such as when a friend goes to the bathroom during coffee.
- Reduce your data plan – I’ve gone down to 500MB a month. Makes me conscious of using data on the go & reduced my usage. Also saves money.
Looking at the points above there are probably some I’ve missed. The general idea is to reclaim your time & focus. With so much information day & night it’s hard to maintain focus on the things that matter. From our own projects to our friends & family. They are all neglected when you are a smartphone slave.
I was one of the worst offenders when it came to reading news on my iPhone. Apple introduced the News app & it’s algorithmically trained to show you more of the news you read, so you are constantly bombarded with relevant stories. It’s a rabbit hole you just keep falling down. Between Brexit in the UK and the US elections I became addicted to reading news stories. It seemed like a terrible time in our history but it wasn’t made any better by the constant commentary of the News apps. At the beginning of December I decided to uninstall all news apps on my phone and limit my news reading to 10 minutes a day with my morning coffee. I would go as far as saying it has been life changing. I’m much less stressed & my head isn’t spinning with information & opinion.
People often ask me about my Facebook usage. I still have an account, but I don’t actively use the platform. I don’t trust it & I’m not so keen on a company making so much money & paying so little tax simply by using our data, which we provide for free. I haven’t had the facebook app installed on my iPhone for a few years and don’t tend to login often. If Facebook is an issue for you, uninstall the app and install the messenger. That way you can have real time conversations with all of your contacts, without all the algorithm & marketing nonsense.
In the list of points I laid out I mentioned reducing my mobile data package. I’ve never had a mobile phone contract, I prefer to buy my handset outright & go with a really cheap sim only provider. For years I’ve been with GiffGaff which allows me to change my package whenever I like. I currently use their goodybags which allow me to choose a payment amount in return for data, texts & minutes. All very boring but I’m now only paying £7.50 a month for 250 minutes (I mostly use facetime & skype anyway), unlimited SMS texts and 500MB of data.
I’ve found by reducing the data available to me, I’ve change my habits. I no longer stream music over 4G, I use my iPod which plays flawlessly, without dropouts & without notifications & distractions. Even more headspace. It also means I don’t instagram on the go, I take a photo and upload on Wifi. I don’t watch news bulletins or cat videos, I literally text & do the odd google search or map lookup. I don’t want to run out of data early in the month so my whole usage has adjusted in a positive way.
There are numerous other reasons to reduce smartphone use, from the effects of blue light on our sleep patterns to the privacy implications. I decided to focus on the issues affecting me but yours may be different.
As of now I’m down to 40 apps on my iPhone including the generic ones such as email, browser, maps, weather and messages. I’m going to keep culling apps over the coming weeks.
I hope you have found this post useful & you start to implement some of the points discussed. A smartphone can be a brilliant device, but it can also steal all of your time, attention & focus while eroding your most important relationships. I found it caused a lot of anxiety & stress & made me feel inferior on a daily basis. Also, as a minimalist, it was hard to be marketed at day & night across so many platforms which I saw as crucial to my daily life. They really aren’t.
This is a first edit so will be subject to change as I progress with this. Also, if you have any tips please do let me know below. I’m no expert & I’m figuring this out as I go, so anything I’ve missed please do comment.