Saturday, February 25, 2017

Not Alone

Our family has a rule that when we’re apart we have to check in with each other once every 24 hours no matter where in the world we are. I had given up my smartphone at Christmas, so my upcoming travel means I have to reengage with the online world in the days ahead.

Before I blindly resumed where I left off in 2016, I asked my friends and family for advice, both online and off. I knew other people who had gone on digital detoxes and social media diets/fasts, I asked them what they had experienced and what worked for them. I've received app suggestions like AppDetox and Moment. I got links to Time Well Spent, and articles from all over about how Smartphones are really stressing Americans Out  and how I should Quit Social Media. Your job may depend on it. I had to laugh out loud at the XKCD cartoon captioned

"Wanna go for a walk?"
"Sure, just need to grab my device that feeds me a 24/7 stream of opinions, context-free scary world news, and random emotional stimuli. Plus a spare battery so the feed won't be interrupted" 

Misery loves company, so I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one searching for a better way. I finally ended up taking a friend's advice and tweaked it for my own purposes:   
I disable all notifications except text messages. I also disable notifications for some "chatty" text message groups. That means no Facebook notifications, no Snapchat notifications, no Email notifications (and no automatic email checking). Nothing. If I want to check an account, I do so manually by launching & forcing a refresh. My phone rarely lights up, and I find I don't reach for it terribly often anymore. Of course, if you lack the discipline to keep yourself from polling constantly, none of this will help much. Oh - it also really helps battery life so your phone is ready for those photos... :)

I am keeping my dual sim 10 key phone, but only leaving my primary SIM in that phone. My smartphone has my secondary SIM and I am using it primarily for data to my laptop. In a year or so when I'm ready for a new device I'll probably move to a dual SIM smartphone. I also turned off every single notification I could find, and as my phone finds new ways to blink and buzz at me I research new ways to turn off the notifications. Telephone calls can go through on either device, but if I am running out for a quick errand I'm more likely to grab the dumb phone before I grab the smart phone. The smartphone doesn't have facebook, twitter, or instagram installed. It also doesn't have any shortcuts on the home screen except for my address book, calendar, camera, and phone. I can text with the 10 key keypad, but it's a pain, so other than my stock replies I don't text from that phone. 

As for the smartphone, for work I installed Pages Manager from Facebook as well as Messenger, but all notifications are turned off. I can see notifications if I click on the apps portion of my screen, but they don't jump out at me. I'm probably going to install facebook and twitter on this upcoming trip, but my plan is to uninstall them once I get back. 

What's the single biggest change? I've given myself permission to not check my phone compulsively. The rest is just details. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Replacing the Pocket Thief

What should I do?

When I got my first cell phone I was driving a thousand miles a week going from one high school to another as an admissions counselor. My cell phone was my lifeline 16 weeks out of the year that I spent on the road. My husband and I had sequential numbers for well over a decade even as we lived in three different states. In Kansas my iphone was my link to the outside world from the farmhouse outside of Lawrence and later it was where I met many Lawrencians I still call friends today. When my husband started working as a consultant in 2012 my cell phone was how I kept in touch with him even as he wandered the globe. Social media was the way I kept in daily contact with friends and family around the world.

All of this changed November 2016. At first I thought I could protect my mental health by just deleting the social media apps. By December I knew that wasn't enough and for Christmas I gave my family the gift of my time and my focus by giving up my smartphone for the next two months. I thought it would be incredibly difficult but I knew I had to change something as I could hardly bear to check my email or any social media app without feeling physical repurcussions. In addition to my hands hurting constantly the news out of the US would raise my blood pressure and lead to headaches and tears.

I switched to a simple 10 key phone in December and have been relying on my kindle for my reading addicton and my laptop for work. My kindle works well for reading books but not so well for social media. My laptop has complete functionality but I don't like to sit for too long so I am less likely to fall into a news junkie/social media rabbit hole. I deeply miss my address book, my electronic calendar, and my camera when I'm out and about, but that's been about it. Most emails are answered when I'm working at the computer, my social media work was already almost always done from my computer, and all my document editing, ghostwriting, and presentations were done from my computer. In short, there's not an insurmountable reason to go back to a smartphone.

Those two months are coming to an end and I'm faced with a decision.  How do I keep the pocket thief from stealing my free time and my happiness? How do I add the productivity of data and an all-in-one device back into my life while keeping the rabbit hole from swallowing my attention?