How to break up with your phone, Double Arrow Metabolism edition, Day One-point-one

It's Monday. Which means it's now officially Day One of Technology Triage Week. You'll remember that last Thursday, knowing that my phone use would be a little janky and un-representative of my typical use for a few days, I downloaded Moment and allowed it 1) to know my location, and 2) to send me notifications. The early download was meant to give me a more robust baseline data set. I predicted that I picked up my phone forty (40) times per day, and that I would be on it for about two hours a day.

I was worried that time on Strava would count toward my overall use. This would have made a dent, since I did some Dirty Kanza training with my son over the weekend:

Don't worry: that alert badge is disabled on my homescreen.

Don't worry: that alert badge is disabled on my homescreen.

Strava thankfully doesn't count. That's a relief.

I was also relieved to see that podcasts don't seem to add to any time on the device. I get them for free. Yay! Even though they might not be good for me, either!

As you can see, I came in well below my projected time:

Not. Even. Close. 

Not. Even. Close. 

Catherine Price, the author of How to Break Up with your Phone, told me not to change my behavior, but to just be myself and gather data. That did not happen. I gathered data. But I gathered data that I suspect radically underestimates my true phone usage. In other words, these numbers come with a big, big asterisk: I started seeing changes in my behavior about a nanosecond after activating the app. Anyone who says that adding a tracker to their phone doesn't change habits is lying. This is Hawthorne Effect, big-time. Saturday I was at the library to check out a book, and I was actually hesitant to look in my phone's password app to log into the library's card catalog because I didn't want to add to my phone time on Moment. I thought I needed to disable whatever the feature is on my phone that causes it to turn on when I move it because it makes me self-conscious to see the screen light up when I take it out of my pocket to put it on the charger. Where I used to just stick my phone in my pocket and not pay attention to whether the motion detector had turned it back on, now I quickly tap the button to turn it off, and I confirm a dark screen before I put it away. But then I figured out that the screen lighting up like that doesn't seem to add to my Moment minutes. Whew. 

I was even nervous even going into the Moment app to get the screenshot above. I didn't want to inflate my time. You want to see what's under those "Insights" and "Coach" tabs? So do I. All I can tell is that I'm checking my phone about 25 times a day. But there's no way I'm swiping around the app, wasting my hard-earned phone time on that junk when I could be reading Andrew Tillin's account of how cycling saved him during a marriage separation.

Which leads me to neurotic point number two (or higher; I've honestly lost count): here I sit, tapping out this blog post without (much) guilt while my phone is several feet away from me, dark. I'm afraid I'm just shunting phone time into computer time. In the last couple days I feel like I'm spending more time on the computer since I'm self-consciously avoiding my phone. I almost need a separate chrome extension to track how much time I'm spending on my home and office computers. In other words, it's not just my phone that's a problem for me. I have a problem with screens in general. And I don't know how to track my home computer use since my kids use my home computer to do schoolwork and watch TV. Argh. 

But maybe all this faulty data represents progress. After all, I wasn't worried about Big Brother Moment judging me before Thursday, and I undoubtedly used my phone more then (I'm guessing my real baseline data easily doubles what I'm recording now). So if my mental health holds up, maybe I'm doing something right. I guess. Maybe. I don't know. 

Tomorrow is Day 2 (Tuesday): Assess your current relationship. It's time to come clean to my phone and tell it how I really feel.

2. Social media is designed to be a time-suck*

*This is the third in what's turning into a series of posts. If you want the rant from the beginning, click here

Other than the intense junior-high-dance-level social anxiety, the things I most remember about my time on social media is that 1) my phone never seemed to shut up, no matter how fastidious I was about un-checking "notify" buttons in the settings, and 2) even if my phone wasn't buzzing, beeping, or flashing banner alerts at me, my mind was always subconsciously occupied in making sure that I was getting good wallpaper for my social media.  I was so busy worrying about tweeting of 'booking or 'gramming my life that I wasn't present. The social scientists call this and the related angst of seeing other people's fabulous posts "FOMO," for "fear of missing out." My mother more accurately called it, in the parlance of the 1970s, "Fear that somebody'll fart and you won't get the chance to smell it." How times change.

Here's the deal. As the Onion is wont to do, it perfectly captured the zeitgeist of 20-teens America. We accept constant intrusion into our lives because we've been told so many times that Silicon Valley is changing the world for the better that we've started to believe it:

And 3. (related) social media's goal is to take control of my life from me.

I didn't descend into the dark, lonely chasm of social media forever. At some point I realized that it's real purpose wasn't to help me or even to entertain me, unless you consider my juvenile efforts to use Facebook updates to relieve my own separation anxiety at the expense of my social anxiety. Social media, to paraphrase Jaron Lanier, was a way to avoid the closed door at bedtime, the empty room, the screaming vacuum of my isolated mind. But to draw attention on social media, I had to manufacture a version of myself that I thought people would like. By drawing me further from my true self and closer to the manufactured version of me I was putting out there for the sake of likes and re-tweets, social media's goal was to evolve a program that knew me better than I knew myself. The perfect social media platform would know what you really wanted, even if you were playing the game of trying to make yourself seem cooler than you really are. The sole purpose of this is to entice us with strategically placed alerts and rewards so that it can place ads in front of us. And yeah, I know that social media has been central to some very positive events in the past, like Tahrir Square. But I suspect that real action like that represents a tiny fraction of what comes from Twitter. The daily outrage is the more impotent, more common form of Twitter activity. 

The coders behind social media applications believe--with good evidence on their side--that you can't control your own behavior. They think you're manipulatable only by the clever use of algorithms and well-placed alerts on your smartphone. You know this isn't true. But to prove it, you have to break away.  Even still, after deleting essentially every social media app I've ever had (Strava is the exception) my hand is drawn to my iPhone like a professional baseball player's hand is drawn to his crotch.

Hi, little fella! Any re-tweets today?

Hi, little fella! Any re-tweets today?

I'm not alone. The average smartphone user checks his device 1,500 times a week. Add in the master social psychology of Silicon Valley and it becomes almost irresistable.

So I've developed a set of behaviors that I think have helped me take my life back:

1. I've deleted all social media accounts with the exception of Strava and LinkedIn.

2. I've turned off all notifications from Strava, and I have no app on my devices for LinkedIn. I've done my best to turn off all email notifications on LinkedIn, but they seem to trickle through every week or two, anyway.

3. Whenever possible, I leave my phone in the car or at home.

4. Whenever possible, I leave my phone in a face-down position.

5. I've turned off notifications for text messages. This may sound worrisome to anyone in the mood to text me, but the reality is that I still see my phone several times an hour for other reasons, so I have plenty of chances to see the little red dot on my message icon.

6. I keep my phone on sleep mode (that's the little moon in iOS; I'm sure other operating systems have a similar function) as much as I can. An advantage of non-traditional practice, I guess. No more pages in the wee hours of the night. 


Out like a lion links for March 31, 2017

What happens when diagnosis is automated? From the always excellent Siddhartha Mukherjee. Spoiler alert: some good things, some bad things. Reminiscent of the discussion of genomic diagnosis from a few days ago.

UK grocer Tesco has struck a deal to give ALL unsold food to charity, which temporarily restores my hope for the future of humanity.

Aaaaand there it went. Hope is gone: Bodegraven, Netherlands, has installed LED traffic lights on the sidewalk at pedestrian crossings so that phone worms can’t miss them even if they are staring open-mouthed their smartphone screens.