Breaking Smartphone Use

Smartphones and how we see the world

Smartphones changed how we see the world. They significantly changed the way we look and acquire information.  They also present new challenges in how we use them.

Devices that are small enough to fit in your pocket or wrapped around your arm, they are ubiquitous.

They now allow near instant communication with people around the world (social media, etc), take and share photos, and access collected knowledge and thoughts of key opinion leaders from around the world is in real time.

With all the positive aspects smartphones possess there’s are negative outcomes. The smartphone’s power can be so consuming that all you want to do is stare into its little screen awaiting the little “high” of receiving a “like” or favorable comment.

“No single worthwhile goal can be successfully pursued by a man who is occupied with many tasks because the mind, when its focused is split, absorbs little in depth.” – Seneca

Productivity and smartphone use

I’ve been noticing an increase in unproductive smartphone usage.  Typically I would scroll through news or social media to see what fresh craziness is going on, upon viewing my phone stats, my assumption was correct; I was using the smartphone unproductively.

In response, I’ve decided to start an internet fasting routine.  My hope is that this will help me take a healthy approach to smartphone usage.

I’ve put together an action plan to better control my smartphone usage before it becomes habit forming. Luckily, I haven’t gotten to the point where my smartphone is the first and last thing I see during my day.

Thoughts on why I want to start limiting smartphone use

The negative effects of chronic smartphone use

Battling boredom: for me, checking news feeds or social media was a way for me to pass the time while I was waiting for something to happen.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen the same action from others while waiting for an appointment and while waiting for meals at home or dining out.

I get it, people get bored, I get bored, it happens. What does this really mean? I think it’s a shift in attention. It changes our focus from the here and now to some distant, nebulous object that can be a source of instant gratification.

Loss of empathy and connection with others

Social media has both expanded our reach and limited our interactions. Interactions have become more numerous but shallower in depth versus face to face interactions.

We call these mini computers smartphones but think about how many times you’ve used it as a phone. I’ll use it as a phone once in a while but most of my communications are through text message or email.

Texting is convenient if you want to send short messages or instructions but when using it for discussions we lose our ability to read the other person. We don’t hear the inflections, tone; we don’t see facial expressions.

It’s to the point where people use emojis as a way to show intent.

With the increased usage of smartphones, we are also seeing an increase in loneliness.

Smartphones and sleep effects

How many of us have fallen asleep while holding a smartphone? I know I have. Newer smartphones have changed their lighting effects in response to the implications of blue lights effect on sleep quality. I set my phone for night mode between sunset and sunrise in hopes of improving sleep quality.

Losing focus at work

I’ve changed my work email habits to check my email at 2 hr intervals. This allows me to focus on specific tasks and get into a productive workflow. Using my email interval usage as an example, I plan on using my smartphone in the same way.

I heard this podcast about deep work, Cal Newport makes the case for digital devices, marketed as ways of increasing productivity, actually divide our attention which then leads to decreases in productivity and decreased quality in results.

This is the main reason why I changed my work email habits and I hope to see the same results for smartphone usage.  Surveys show the negative effects of habitual technology use and work quality.

Picking my head up once in a while

One of my goals for internet fasting and decreasing my smartphone usage is to be more involved with what’s around me. I always think it’s a sad sight when I see people out at dinner and everyone’s on their phones or people have their phones on the table.

My opinion, if you have a specific reason such as waiting for a message regarding an active family emergency or issue then there’s no reason to have your phone out. The message that sends is: I’ll listen to you until something happens on my screen.

Breaking the bonds of smartphones

Just like most habits that aren’t chemical based, it should be easy to break this habit using discipline.

Smartphones have data tracking so you can see what you’re using and how often. My first goal is to take a screenshot of my current usage and compare it to use 30 days from now. I can reset those stats and see usage 30 days from then.

I might also track the number of times per day I check my phone when not responding to messages.

People expect immediate responses

If your smartphone is never more than arm’s length away, then we share the same concern with turning off notifications: responding right away.  What did we do before smartphones or phones that could text?

We left our messages and waited. I think we’ve been conditioned to react as if all communications were equally urgent and needed immediate attention.  Most aren’t and they get in the way of achieving your daily goals by distraction and loss of focus.

Final thoughts

I hope this experiment will help me focus on the goals I’ve set for myself (daily or short-term) so I can be more productive in personal and professional pursuits.


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Spring board for aspiring fiction writers. Using free time to write sci-fi / drama.

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