Countermeasures Against Phone Addiction

Our phones are omni-present in our attention-driven world. And most of us have an intimate relationship with it. But are we in control? Companies optimize for engagement, and engagement with an app means for a user to be hooked. Short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops are a central part of data centric companies such as Facebook and Google, and their bought companies, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, to retrieve as much data from a user as possible. But in fact, wasting their valueable lifetime.

In my previous article, I wrote about the pleasures of using your smartphone, specifically using addictive apps, see Pleasure, Happiness and Feedback-Loops. Addictive apps use dopamine-driven feedback loops. Dopamine corresponds to short-term pleasure, and to much of it leads to addiction. It is typically experienced alone, and makes the brain say “This feels good, I want more”. Serotonin on the other hand is closely related to long-term happiness, like contentment. It’s generally shared, like spending time with friends, family, colleagues etc. and it makes the brain say: “This feels good, and it’s enough”. Too little of it leads to depression, see The Hacking of the American Mind and This Is Why our Phones are Making Us Miserable. Fundamentally, seeking for pleasure doesn’t make us happy, it addicts us, going down a spiral of long-term dissatisfaction.

Form a Habit Every Single Day

And when I write addictive apps, I mean even Reddit, Mail, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Snapshot and what not. I like to outline five essential principles that are based on my experience and which everybody can potentially integrate in their lives. After that list, I’ll describe my ideal day routine. I’m by no means close to forming a habit - there are exceptions, I just try to avoid those as hard as I can. Let's start the list with a bold clever quote.

"You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of success is found in your daily routine." — John C. Maxwell

Principles

  1. Don’t take your phone into your sleeping room or bath room. There is no excuse. If you’re using it as an alarm, buy a radio alarm clock (just buy a used one, if money is your excuse). I know a lot people take showers while listening to Spotify or Apple Music. Just buy a shower radio. It’s simple, always works and sometimes water-proof. Don’t use your phone on the toilet, that’s just the worst. Yep, guess we all do or did it. Take a magazine, news paper whatever, or just enjoy the quiet time.
  2. When going to bed, put your phone on airplane mode. (when you’re not expecting a super important call) put it in a drawer (outside sleeping room and bath room). I’m putting mine in a draw right under my desk. Out of sight, out of mind.
  3. Disable all notifications for messages apps etc. disable also notification badges and push notifications. I believe it's a much healthier approach to encourage people to call you for the important parts in life.
  4. When you meet somebody e.g. in a cafe, don’t put your phone on the table. No matter if you put it upside down or not. Putting your phone on the table makes the opposite person feel less important to spend attention to.
  5. Put your phone on grayscale mode. It really makes a difference, just try it out, you’ll feel that you’re less attracted to the phone. iOS devices can be put on a grayscale mode easily without any additional app.

Day Routine

My ideal routine is the following: Waking up by a radio alarm clock. Getting a shower. Afterwards, I'm having breakfast. After breakfast, I actively decide if I want to check my phone for messages. I disable airplane mode and get the latest updates. Hopefully I don’t have to write back to someone, in urgent cases I plan to call people to give a response. Putting it back into the drawer or taking it with me. At work, don’t put it on desk, keep it in your pocket or bag. After work, put it in the drawer. Before sleep set it to airplane mode.

I hope that article inspired you to rework your phone habits. Let’s enjoy life more by watching our phones less.

Reading List


One or two mails a month about the latest technology I'm hacking on.