Anyone who has come within ten feet of this blog knows that my relationship with technology, social media, and my smartphone is, shall we say, tumultuous. So I came to read Catherine Price's book How to Break up With your Phone the way I suspect a lot of people do. I've been stewing about my attachment to my phone for a couple years now, and I've made steps to decrease my use:
I have essentially no social media presence. I've worked to make my phone less desirable. I tried putting it in grayscale, but it made my calendar too hard to read. I developed an unnecessarily complicated strategy for deleting apps. The ones I use monthly or more, I keep on the home screen. The ones I don't use monthly get demoted to the "Misc" folder, where they are in danger of being deleted if they don't get used in a certain amount of time. Any app in the Misc folder that gets used two months in a row gets moved to the home screen. Like I said: complicated. But the system has resulted in a pretty austere home screen:
I've turned off all notifications, audio and visual, with a couple exceptions: I can still see text messages when they come through, but they make no noise. I still have notifications enabled for RubiconMD, an app I use for peer-to-peer consultations with other docs. I want to make sure I know when those come through. My phone still rings when I'm called, but any texts or calls I get that are robocalls or from a telemarketing source get immediately blocked.
So the big things that I end up using my device for are texting, the calendar, my task list, and old-fashioned telephonery. I also use Strava for recording cycling mileage, but much of my data in it comes via my Garmin or via Zwift. I don't use the phone as my primary GPS very much. I'm not much of a photographer, so I don't really need my phone around for pictures. I also listen to an hour or more of podcasts per day, but I'm not sure that counts.
But I still find myself excruciatingly drawn to my phone. I use it for my alarm clock. I tap the screen to check what time it is during nocturia rounds. I tap my pants pocket to make sure it's there before I leave the house.
So I bought the book. Catherine is a very accomplished, competent science writer, and it shows. The first half of the book is mostly a recap of the greatest hits of the evils of constant connectivity, referencing expertly many of the books and articles I've posted or talked about here in the last year. She leaves out Cal Newport's Deep Work, one of my favorites, but hits other work by Nicholas Carr and Jean Twenge that are equally good. After the review she gets down to the nitty-gritty of detoxing, outlined in a 30-day plan.
Week One is "Digital Triage."
She says to take notes. Done. And digitally, even! Extra computer karma for me. She also says to invite friends to join in (no thanks; I'm too shy and too much of a loner for that kind of thing). She says to answer a question ahead of time:
What do you want to pay attention to?
Answer: I want to pay attention to long-form literature and journalism. I get more joy out of a well-written book than almost anything. It can be fiction or non-fiction. I like both. I also love, love, love magazine articles. I can take or leave newspaper articles or cable news.
I also want to pay more attention to my kids. I'm not a distant parent, and we have pretty firm rules around the house for when devices can be on. We never have devices at the dinner table, for instance, and electronics of any kind, even the radio, are verboten during meals. But even with those rules I'm frustrated at how often I'm distracted from my kids by my phone. I like my work, but I long to solve problems that can't be solved from a computer keyboard, and my kids are a deep vein of this kind of problem.
Catherine says to use the lock screen on his or her phone as a reminder. Done:
She says to schedule my phone breakup, ideally starting on a Monday, and to put it on my calendar. I'm typing this on a Thursday, but I'll be on a brief vacation over the weekend, which may affect my phone use under even normal circumstances, so I want to have a larger dataset to work with. Which brings me to:
Day One: Download a Tracking App
Before I actually download the app, though, she tells me to answer a couple questions:
1. How many times a day do you think you pick up your phone?
I'm going with forty. Four-zero.
2. How much time do you estimate that you spend on your phone per day?
I know from reading the first half of her book that the national average is about four hours a day(!). I'm nothing if not slightly above average, so I'm going with two hours. Still a shocking amount of time, but at least it's not long enough to complete a medium Tour de France stage.
Catherine recommends Moment. In the spirit of not spending a bunch of time on my phone trying to find an app to keep me from spending so much time on my phone, I downloaded it. Then, to show how committed I am to this process, I allowed it 1) to know my location, and 2) to send me notifications. Those are privileges that almost no other app gets. And, just to get my rationalization off to a good start, I spent an inordinate amount of time setting up the app and screenshotting for this post. So this afternoon might be an outlier. We'll see. Catherine says not to change my behavior. Just be myself and gather data. Since I'm on quasi-vacation the next couple days, I'm going to wait til Monday to publish this just to make sure my initial data doesn't represent any kind of statistical anomaly. See you then.