Posted on July 27, 2018
I’ve had a smart phone since the iPhone 3G was released in July 2008. Back then, the app store was only just getting started & apps didn’t really exist. I enjoyed the web browser & large screen, not to mention the fast 3G connection, but it wasn’t invasive. It acted similarly to the Nokia & Samsung phones I had owned before it. It was a nice phone, with the added benefit of email & web browser.
Fast forward to 2018 & smart phones are ubiquitous with daily life. Maps, music, games, video, fitness trackers, social media. The list of apps is endless. The major problem I’ve found with this is compulsive use, some would call addiction.
I noticed my own use spiraling out of control when I found myself checking the phone as soon as I woke up in the morning. I’d also check the phone just before I went to sleep. I’d break silences with it, I’d use it in queues at the shops. It was a crutch & a hideaway. A distraction from real life.
I started to curb my own usage 2 years ago. First I deleted a lot of the apps from my iPhone. I then installed the Forest app, to plant trees & stop me using the phone for long periods. This helped vastly with my compulsion to pick it up at any moment.
At first I felt like I was depriving myself of something. Almost as if I was missing out on everything. I felt anxious and angry. I was addicted.
Now we are in 2018 & my smart phone habits are ahead of most people around me. I’ll happily leave the house without my phone. I’ve turned off all notifications and sounds. Those who send me text messages will know it can take hours or days to reply. I no longer let the phone dictate when I will pick it up.
Another great help has been my Bamboo dock. I leave the phone in the dock on charge in my kitchen when I’m home. Unless I’m intentionally using it, it stays docked. Simply not having it in a pocket or within reach has changed my usage dramatically.
Over the last few months I’ve taken it a step further. After reading research by Mozilla and other researchers, I decided to switch my iPhone to grey scale. This is strictly speaking an accessibility feature for disabled users. But by removing the colours I’ve found my iPhone to be less appealing, and the calls to action of colours, such as red notification bubbles, have all but disappeared. It is much less stimulating without the bright colours. Now, nothing within an app stands out. Instagram in black and white is much nicer to look at & much less addictive.
I’ve set it up so that by triple tapping my iPhone home button, I can switch between grey scale and colour, so if I really need colour I can activate it. But on the whole, I leave it black and white.
I was skeptical about this at first, but after reading work & watching interviews of design ethicists, it seemed genuinely beneficial.
I can now have my phone in hand, check something & then put it down. I don’t get distracted by apps. I don’t have any compulsive use. I can physically sit empty-handed in a coffee shop & watch the world go by. I’m sure the other customers (smart phones in hand) think I’m a weirdo, but I now notice my surroundings. I remember the things I see, the smells, the smiles!
The scariest thing about putting your phone down is realizing how addicted we all are. Look around any coffee shop, any restaurant or bar. People who should be socializing are looking at a glowing screen. Instead of enjoying food, or even taking a quick photo, they are spending their time with others crafting Instagram posts. Take the photo, post it later!
I’ve witnessed parents ignoring children. Families on holiday ignoring each other. People at music concerts tweeting when the bands are on. Life is much richer when we view it with our eyes & not through a lens. The worst thing I saw was a child wet herself in central Manchester. The little girl was pleading with her mother, but after being ignored by her mother who was too wrapped up in a smart phone, she wet herself in public. It was heartbreaking to witness and forced me instantly to address my usage.
I’m not saying that smart phones are inherently bad. They are a great resource when we use them intentionally. But when we mindless scroll & thumb away at them, distracted by nothing in particular, we miss out on real life.
If you would like to try the grey scale trick on iPhone you can change the accessibility settings as follows. Head to the following page in your settings :-
Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Colour Filters
You can then select the grey scale option. This will make your iPhone look a little like an old-fashioned black & white TV.
If you would like to enable the triple click toggle to allow a triple click of the home button to swap between colour & grey scale, go to the following menu :-
Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility shortcut (bottom)
Once on this page, tick colour filters as your accessibility shortcut. Now a triple click of your home button will swap between grey scale and colour screen options.
It is also possible to do this on Android, but the instructions vary depending on model, so search for your specific android version for instructions.
Intentional smart phone usage can enrich our lives, but compulsive behaviors can be really damaging. We have the biggest tool for distraction sat right in our pockets, we need to be in control of our usage and not let it become our world. It is amazing to absorb yourself in a moment. Just listening & watching can be a great way to unwind. Sitting on the internet, bombarded with distractions can be fun sometimes, but not every waking moment.
I will do a full write up soon of the other methods I mentioned for cutting down smart phone usage, But I think grey scale will give you the biggest bang for your buck, along with turning off sounds and notifications for all apps except phone and messages.
If you have any hints & tips for curbing compulsive smart phone usage I’d love to hear them. leave a comment.