The Supercomputer in your Pocket

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Technology has rapidly changed how we engage with the world over the past couple decades. It has connected billions of people all of whom have access to everything humanity has ever known. It is such a blessing and a great tool.

Like any tool, it needs to be used properly. And like any new thing, we’re working on fitting it into our lives. And without any conscious effort to keep the technology as a tool that we use, it can quickly become flip where we become the product.

Adam Alter, in his book Irresistible, talks about how in the companies that are involved in shaping our digital experiences have people higher up in their organizations who don’t use or limit their use of the products that they themselves make. What does that tell you about those products when the people who make them don’t use them?

Digging deeper in how these products are made you find out that they take tactics from slot machines to make you spend more time on the devices and apps. All the blinking, sounds, colors, notifications, etc. areThe tricks they use are meant to keep your brain releasing hits of dopamine that reinforce the pleasurable connection of using the app. It really makes you question the value of these products and what role they should play in your life.

Just get a dumb phone?

No, definitely not. I am a huge smartphone fan. There are numbers of people who run their entire company on their smartphone alone. Some apps are amazing tools that make life better including, google drive, google docs/sheets, todoist, lastpass, reading apps like kindle, budgeting apps, etc. 

Other apps, the apps that are causing problems, are what have been called “infinity pools”. Infinity pools are experiences that don’t have stopping points. You can scroll and scroll without reaching the end of your news feed or where there’s always something to keep watching. Examples of these apps are most social apps, games, streaming, even your browser!

These infinity pools are engineered to keep you on as long as possible, why? They make more money the longer you spend on their app, this is done primarily through ads. 

Because they get more money with more time spent on the app, they will try anything to get you spending more time on the app.

Any time you are the product, you need to be very intentional with how you use that product or service. 

Be Intentional

How do you keep these infinity pools at bay? Start with asking yourself if you really do need them. Do they make your life better?

If you feel you do want them in your life, make clear rules about how you will engage with these apps. Do you need to be in a specific location to use the app? Maybe you decide that for you to watch netflix you have to be with at least one other person. 

The more stopping points you create for yourself the better you’ll be at keeping these time sucks at bay.

In the past 5 years, the average person has “lost” the bulk of their free time. THey are using it on their device(s) and it is largely a complete unintentional use of time.

The main issue with the feeling of more limited free time than ever and is exactly this:

People hear about a new app from a coworker or friend and they download it and poke around for a bit just getting a feel for it and what it is. Before they know it, they are spending 30 minutes or more each day on that app alone! Expand this over a couple of apps and you are spending 10% or more of your day on things that you never really meant to spend your time doing. And then you wonder why you feel like you don’ t have time for the things that matter to you.

Escaping this trap is usually painful for a bit because of the dopamine hits you’ve become used to. It will take some time while you form new habits but the increased vibrancy of life that you will feel is worth the struggle.

Make rules

To break free of the hold that the slot machines in our pockets have on us, we need to make a plan with clear steps and boundaries – way to control the technology and keep it as a tool.

Without rules you are left to your impulses and notifications deciding when you look at your phone and what you do on it.

What are the problem areas that you feel around your cell phone use? 

Do you spend more time on the toilet with a phone than you would without one? 

Do you feel you need to spend more time with your loved ones but check your phone at and during meal times? 

Ask yourself does your phone belong in your bedroom? Is it better for your marriage to keep it out and let it be a sanctuary?

Do you find you download apps that you just want to try out but end up taking hours of your life away from you? 

Are there times of the day that take more time on your device than others?

Ask yourself these and other questions to help understand where you can improve and want to focus on. Look at the history of time spent on different apps as an audit to see where you might want to change. With everyone having unique needs, the approach to phone use for each person will be different. However it remains true that generally the less time you spend on your phone the happier you’ll be.

However, I do think that there are some general rules that most (if not all) should consider.

  • No phone use on the toilet.
  • Have an area in your house that the phone doesn’t go, ever.
  • Only do what’s necessary on your phone. The less time you use it the better.

There’s a pushback that we are seeing now against the constant pinging and beeping that is keeping us checking our phones constantly. From people getting dumb phones to the #gobricknow movement, people want a reason to not be checking their phones. If it takes scheduling time each day/week that you go without a phone, do it.

Whatever benefit you might feel you get from being connected to your email 100% of the time, it’s not even close to outweighing the benefit of having defined boundaries in your life.

Be patiently persistent. It will be a process to get where you want to be but with deliberate actions you will get there. 

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