I love my smartphone. It’s functional, practical, convenient, and compact; smart too. It connects, entertains, gets me places. There is not a thing I have owned prior, nor in the present and probably in the future, that could claim half of what this tiny device is able to accomplish. I wouldn’t die without a smartphone, granted, but I would miss this tiny miracle if, for one reason or another, it was no longer in my possession.
It began as a love story; the youthful and the new, shiny technology synched together in curiosity, awe, and admiration. The honeymoon phase inevitably came to an end, and the awe and admiration soon turned into resentment. I noticed, despite myself, how the now no longer new, shiny technology, taking little space, fitting snuggly in my hands, controlled so much of my time, attention, life. In the beginning, I enjoyed spending most of my time getting lost in its trance; everyone was there anyway. Then the new became old, the old was lost, and I realized I have made a bad bargain. Despite my best efforts to negotiate, compromise, and at times make threats, the smartphone with its convenient functionality and irresistible distractibility continued to effortlessly invade my attention and occupy all my time.
So, I had to kill it.
A wise man once said told me, be selfish with your time and attention. He was talking about emotionally unavailable men, but I used to feel just as toxically attached to my always-there-always-available phone. It’s hard to say what makes emotionally unavailable men enticing, but the phone is easy. In the new economy, attention is the most valuable asset, and somebody, somewhere is always trying to make a buck off of anything valuable; Don’t they teach you capitalism in that school of yours? Jimmy McGill for president!
So, somebody, somewhere figured out a way to make a whole lotta buck off of harvesting our attention, and if Silicon Valley is the Don Eladio of technology, smartphones are the pipe to the crack that is social media and the internet in general. Since you gotta spend money to make money, Silicon Valley hires very smart people making lots of money to figure out which sans serif fonts keep someone scrolling for hours through 15-second clips of a dog humping its shadow. Don’t worry, you have already lost; they are smarter, richer, better than you. Admitting defeat is the first step. Then we can think about some changes we can make.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want change, and change is a million blah blah blah clichés, and you think, man, life has to be more than watching a dog humping its shadow on a 5×3 inch screen, you take your miraculous smart device and you kill your phone. Figuratively. Unless you have the balls to actually kill your phone; congratulations, you can stop reading right here. If not…
Start with turning your smartphone into a dumb phone; namely remove access to browsing. It will be inconvenient for a bit, but then you will get used to it, find ways to manage, and learn to live with it; welcome to life. Sure, yeah, but, but, but I- you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Desperate times require desperate measures; they are smarter, richer, better than you. They know you better than you think you know yourself.
Speaking of apps, avoid apps as much as possible. Become a proud appist. Anything that requires you to download an app, hate the thing itself too; you will be just fine without the free coffee, I promise. Keep the apps on your phone to what is essential; email is not essential. Use the desktop version for email, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc. Bonus: most platforms are kind of a drag on their desktop version— trying to get you to download their pathetic apps, of course— so reverse that psychology on them and log off when the desktop version inevitably becomes too annoying to enjoy. You win twice.
Finally, downgrade your smartphone. They are getting richer, then smarter, then better than you with every upgrade and purchase you make; to win, you must not play their games. I recently downgraded to the iPhone SE and a super basic phone plan. More than enough for my needs, but without the irresistible trappings of a bigger screen, uSeR fRiEnDlY interface, and uNliMiTeD data. It is not worth my time and attention, and enough is more than enough most times.
When I killed my smartphone, I turned it from a weapon of
mass attention destruction to a tool that is useful, practical, and functional; smart too. I no longer feel controlled by a device that invades and occupies my time and attention. As time goes on, I can have browsing available, and still prefer to dedicate my time and attention to something other than watching a dog hump its shadow on a screen. I find myself constantly doing things, even small things I used to put off because I was too immersed in, addicted to, my phone. I stay longer with the discomfort of writing or going to the gym, because the alternative is not endless Tik Tok videos to forget that life is passing me by as I stare down on my tiny miraculous device, disengaged from reality, the thumb scrolls, the eyes watch.
Until next time,
Sign up for my curated weekly newsletter, time spent offline, on spending less time online and (re)discovering the pleasures of the offline world. Five ideas delivered right to your inbox. Every Tuesday.