How I Made My Phone Boring Again

Since I wrote my well-received essay Self-Defence in the Age of Attention in 2017 I tried many tricks to reduce the addiction to digital devices in my life.

I tried separating myself from the devices physically by putting them into a drawer when I don’t need them, which works surprisingly well.

Having the devices around is enough to start a bad habit because they work as a cue to a habit loop.

My main issue with this trick is that the devices have plenty of helpful apps and use cases and if I decide to take them out of their dark drawer, I might start a negative habit loop.

I’ve seen people moving the apps to another screen or a folder labeled “Addict” (Joe Rogan), or switching the display to gray instead of colors and trying out all these tricks.

It helped a lot when Apple introduced the app drawer for iPhone. This allowed me to remove addicting apps from the home screen. But unfortunately, they introduced at the same time these clever folders that automatically cluster apps by topic together and show the three most-used apps per topic bigger. This is not helpful to reduce addiction because the most used apps are likely always directly clickable.

Bye, Native Apps, Hello Browser

One trick I discovered is to delete the app. At first, this might mean you can’t use it anymore, but that’s not true. The majority of apps have a web version. It might not be as slick, fast, feature-rich, or beautiful as the native app, but it helped tremendously. The colorful and beautifully designed icons of apps are too tempting to click on when I’m bored or want to procrastinate.

These two more added steps reduced my addiction big time. Opening the browser and typing (even with autocomplete enabled) helped a lot. There is now always the added cognitive load of thinking for a second about where I want to go.

Funnily, I find myself sometimes searching for a distraction while procrastinating and can’t remember a URL I would like to go to.

Deleting What’s Irrelevant

Another step I made last year to reduce my addiction to devices was deleting Facebook. I didn’t use it a lot anymore, but I connect to my family with chat or shared photo albums. With close friends or co-workers, I communicate on apps like Signal, Telegram, or Apple Messenger.

The Big, Stinking Pile of Garbage (FKA Twitter)

Twitter was and is my biggest time sink because I can get the most information quickly and convenient on that platform.

Unfortunately, it’s a big stinking pile of garbage. With the ongoing culture war, everybody is yelling at each other.

I could decide to ignore it, but as Pericles said, just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.

I would like to keep an eye at least sometimes on what’s going on to be able to assess threats and defend against them. News is now biased and unreliable for a while. I’ll read and research the facts and make up my mind on my own now, rather than read the interpretation of a 20-something social activist without a journalism degree at one of those media outlets.

I came up with a clever idea: I divided my Twitter into two accounts. One channel is public, and I follow friends, co-workers, industry news, and intellectuals. The other channel is private, and I follow political influencers, on-the-street journalists, commentators, and cultural thinkers.

This has a few benefits: I can cultivate the art of the “hot letter” as done by Abraham Lincoln. When I see something I’m angry about on Twitter, I can write a spicy response. The difference to Lincoln's approach, who put the letter in a drawer and never send it, is that I can press send, but the receiver will not see it. The second benefit is that nobody can ever haunt me for something I said ten years ago because my Tweets are safely behind a protected account. And thirdly, I can read my regular Twitter once or twice a day on Tweetbot and quickly skim over the other account once a week to catch up.