A ton of info has been well written on the addictive qualities of the smartphone, its intrusion into our daily lives, and the two-edged sword of “free” apps. I won’t repeat any of that here, rather just offer a short set of solutions to make your phone work for you, instead of the platforms, ad agencies and data resellers that all too often have made your attention the product.
If you have not seen it, the movie “/the social dilemma_” is a good summary of the issues. https://www.netflix.com/za/title/81254224
The core of the situation is that our phones (and to a lesser extent our tablets and computers) have become a tool for a relatively few large firms to command and hold our attention, then using that to present ads which fuel that economic ecosystem. You may have heard terms such as “data is the new oil”, “your data is for sale”, etc. These aphorisms miss the point: what is for sale is your attention, the underlying data of your behavior and what is likely to hold your attention is merely the mechanism.
The software that grabs, and then holds, our attention is comprised of two main aspects: the User Experience / User Interface (UX/UI) of the device itself (iPhone, Android, etc.); and the design of individual apps (particularly social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
This post only deals with the former: the things one can easily do to reduce the actions, noise, and other programmatic functions of your phone that are designed to trigger a response (to pick up your phone and interact).
I have used the Apple ecosystem (iOS) as the example here mainly as it is well-known and universal, while there are a large number of variations on the Android OS, with each hardware manufacturer often tweaking it a bit. However the principles are exactly the same, and one can duplicate in most cases my suggestions.
This is the animal you need to tame. The blinking, dinging and buzzing that says “Look At Me“; the little red badges that induce the anxiety of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)…
To a lesser extent, the layout of apps on your phone, the organization of your apps, and a few other tunings also affect the subtle interaction of phone behavior.
Using iOS as the example, open Settings, tap on Notifications. You will see a list of all your apps. Turn off ALL your notifications [the switch that says Allow Notifications]. As a deterrent you cannot switch them all off at once, you must turn each one off individually. I recommend this procedure as you won’t miss one this way. Turning back on certain app notifications then becomes a conscious decision.
When it comes to turning on a notification, think hard about what do you absolutely have to see without first allowing yourself to be in control – When do you want to check, What do you want to check, Why to you want to check. I recommend only turning notifications on for apps that tell you that People want to connect with you, not things (such as social media, news sites, etc.) For example, in that category here is the list of what is turned on in my phone:
- Signal (an encrypted messaging app)
That’s all! In addition, for the few apps that you do allow to draw your attention, you can modify the behavior of the notification to further lower the level of disturbance. Once the Allow Notifications switch is turned on, the choices listed under Alerts are Lock Screen (which allows the Notification to appear even if your phone is asleep); Notification Center (showing the Alert there); and Banners (which show up at the top of your screen when you are looking at another app).
As a suggestion and example, for WhatsApp I have Lock Screen and Notification Center turned on, but Banners turned off. Here in South Africa WhatsApp is the primary means of text communication, so I do depend on seeing that even on my Lock Screen to know when another person is trying to reach me. But it’s not so vital that my attention needs to be dragged away from answering an e-mail with a banner interrupting me that someone wants to chat on WhatsApp.
If you turn on Banners, I suggest you always use Temporary, as this makes the Banner go away after a few seconds. Otherwise you must further divert your attention to manually dismiss the Banner.
The next group of alert behaviors consists of two switches: Sounds and Badges. Again, be sparing in your use of sound, as that can be quite distracting. I only have Sounds turned on for my phone, everything else I can see the next time I look at my phone. Badges are insidious, it’s that little red circle with a number of what you haven’t given your attention to. Once you are in an app, you will see what is there that you haven’t dealt with, turn Badges off!
The last section (Options) has one important setting: Show Previews. This has three possibilities: Always (the default setting), When Unlocked, and Never. This shows the first few lines of the message, WhatsApp, etc. – and if Always is selected then even on your lock screen (for those apps that you have set to alert you there) messages that may be private are displayed for anyone that can see your phone. I either set this to When Unlocked or Never, depending on the app. The remaining setting (Notification Grouping) is fine left on Automatic.
You will notice I have not allowed notifications for e-mail, even though this can be from people. It is far too disturbing and unnecessary to receive alerts for every e-mail.
There are a few apps that I do allow notifications to appear that are not “people oriented”: mainly security. Here is my list as an example:
- Buzzer (neighborhood security app)
- Find iPhone
- LoadShed CT (we have lots of load shedding here in Cape Town)
- Weather (for severe weather alerts only)
- Waze (so I know when to leave for planned trip to an appointment)
There are three last things that will help in terms of taming your phone.
- Only put task oriented apps on the Home Page (Reminders, Calendar, Settings, etc. Put all other apps on additional pages. Put ALL apps inside folders – this not only helps in organization, it also requires you to make at least three actions to access a social media app such as Facebook: 1) swipe to 2nd page; 2) open folder; 3) select app.
- Set Homepage to monochrome (far less disturbing and distracting). On iPhone this is done by going to Settings/General/Accessibility, scroll all the way to the bottom of the list and tap Accessibility Shortcut. Choose Color Filters. Exit Settings. Triple-clicking the Home button will switch from normal colored icons to gray-scale icons. Try it out…
- Lastly, turn on Night Shift. This is in Settings/Display & Brightness. This warms up the color temperature of the screen in dark surroundings, normally in evening and nighttime. You may find that you want to move the slider to the left a bit, I find the default middle setting too orange, but it really does reduce the ‘blue light syndrome’ associated with sleep disturbance.
Hope this is of use.