Last summer I decided to do something about my addiction to my mobile phone. After starting to think about it, I used it an ridiculously amount of time every day. Top of my addiction was Twitter, always reading updates from people who I follow and if posting something myself, constantly checking if anyone had liked, retweeted or commented on my post. Rediculous, I know. But I did. And when starting to think about it, it bugged me.
I also noticed that nothing I used the mobile for gave me real joy. It was just "nice" and "interesting" and sometimes "funny". But never, or extremely rarely, did it touch me on a human level. Like what it feels to talk to a friend. Laugh with a colleague. Play a song on the guitar. Run down a muddy trail in the forest. Nothing like that, never. But still, I somehow searched for that feeling. That satisfaction through this stupid phone.
Don't get me wrong, I love my phone. It's a wonderful piece of hardware, it's an awesome music & audio book player and ebook reader and I don't want to live without Vipps (mobile payment), electronic train tickets or Bank ID (Norwegian standard for secure authentication to many online services). I just wanted to beat my social media addiction and in general drastically reduce my phone usage.
Shaking the addiction
The first thing I did, was to turn off all notification: no vibration, no sound and last but not least; no blinking. That wee blinking light is so addictive! ("this could be fun, just unlock me and you will see!")
Second, I removed all native social media apps (or disabled the ones that cannot be uninstalled). For me, that meant uninstalling my beloved Twitter apps (yes, plural), Instagram, Reddit and Facebook. Knowing myself, I didn't want to fall into the temptation of using these services through the mobile phone web browser, so I made sure to remove any stored password or other cookies of these web sites so to raise the bar for "just logging in to check something". My passwords are long and cumbersome enough that I don't want to type them on a mobile phone, so that put an effective stop to that 100 times a day Twitter check.
Now, I visit Twitter once or twice a day when I'm at work. It takes between one and three minutes to catch up since yesterday and then I'm done. No need to check it every 10 minutes. Amazing, right?
I've never been big on games on my mobile phone, but to be sure, I've uninstalled any I had lying around. My goal is to reduce the mobile phone usage in general and the less features the entertainment machine has, the less I'll use it. Plain and simple.
When at work, I put my phone in one place and stay away as much as possible. This means I don't bring it to meetings. Instead I carry a good old notepad around and either chat to colleagues or doodle on the notepad when waiting for the meeting to start. And you know what? It actually works. Talking to people I mean.
When getting some coffee or a glass of water, I also wander the office corridors without my trusted mobile phone. In the beginning it was like "Man, I must have my mobile phone, I feel naked without it" . But that feeling passes. Of course it does. And it's great. It's so much easier to talk to colleagues passing by the coffee machine when I'm not deep into a tweet about the latest Tottenham match or a news story about Trump on CNN.
What do I do instead?
Books. Think about it, all these 2 and 5 minute dives you make into your mobile phone to check the latest Instagram. What if you spent those minutes reading a book instead? How many books do you think you'd be able to read in a year?
Having a two year old at home doesn't leave much time for reading, but I still manage to read around two books a month, just because I prioritise reading books over playing with the phone.
At home I have 1-2 paper books that I'm currently reading and on my ebook reader there's always (at least) one book I would like to read. Since it's not practical to always have the ebook reader with me, I have the same ebooks on my mobile phone (yes, I still use the thing). This way, I always have a book available that I can read. I find it's important to always have books that I really want to read instead of books that I should have read. That's a big difference. If the books are of the latter category, the temptation of social media and mindless browsing comes back to haunt me.
Another thing I have changed is that I've gone back to reading RSS/Atom feeds. Thanks to The Old Reader, I've got everything I missed from the now deceased Google Reader. It provides a distraction free way of consuming articles and I make sure not to follow too many bloggers and unsubscribe from blogs if they start to post too often.
Lastly, I've picked up a subscription for Linux Journal. Instead of reading 100s of blog posts every week, I find reading a monthly publication adds both depth and some piece of mind. Getting news once a month is enough, I don't need to read 100s a day.
In addition to finishing more books (which feels good), I feel I've got a lot more head space. There's just more space in my head, in my mind when I'm out. When I'm on the bus, when I'm walking in the streets.
I can do nothing. Just sit and think. Just be. One year ago, I could never do that. My fingers would always be itching to pick up that mobile phone to check if there was something exciting, fun, interesting happening somewhere else than were I was. If I'm to define the benefits of my 8 month change with two words I'd say more present.
What do I miss?
I do miss out on a fair bit of news, my substitute is the radio. It's not as good as reading proper newspaper articles, but it's good enough for me right now.
To mitigate this lack of news somewhat, I subscribe to a weekly news digest. I can recommend New York Times and The Economist both have good weekly summaries. Hiatus is also worth checking out.
News was another addiction I had. I constantly kept checking the news. The same news sites, over and over. This addiction I still haven't been able to beat completely, but I have at least reduced it.
I've been thinking of getting a feature phone, but haven't done so (yet). For one, I still want to use Bank ID on my phone, I want to be able to make mobile payments and I quite like to a music box in my pocket. So yes, I'm still hooked, but perhaps I can say I'm not an addict any more.
And of course, I still ❤ love my phone 😄