Mobile computing is a nice modern convenience. It’s also an encumbrance. I’m talking about the smartphone of course; it can do so much. In fact, it does more than Steve Jobs envisioned… For me, I’ve recently taken a couple steps to, uh, decouple a bit from my iPhone 8 Plus.
The need for fewer feeds
I had been feeling it. You know, that tell-tale fatigue from input overwhelm: so many apps, so many feeds, so much news. My brain can only take so much. While the smartphone makes these kinds of things easier in some ways, it enables an over-consumption — glut — of info. Just because my Feedly app can nicely aggregate hundreds of news pieces every single day does not mean my 3-pound brain can scan 500 headlines to hopefully find the 2 or 3 gold nuggets to “read later.”
I mentioned Feedly, but the biggest culprit contributing to my mind malaise was, I’m pretty sure… Twitter.
The micro-blogging social-media trappings had wormed their way into my daily life. Over time, impulsively checking Twitter became a thing. I use the service to find new bits of info and news articles on my favorite topics. I also use it to find and follow interesting people who share my interests and to connect on some level. At times, I’ve fallen into the doom-scroll habit, particularly when Russia invaded Ukraine. Twitter notifications had become a sporadic yet continual occurrence. And then I created a second Twitter account for my Jason Journals blog. Now I get notifications for that too.
It’s all a bit too much.
Other apps and services were also mentally draining: Discord and Apple News. Combined with Twitter and Feedly, plus Mail, WordPress, and more, I’m sure you see how my brain could melt to mush. And the problem is more than just “data dumping” or info glut.
Outsmart the smartphone
As Cal Newport talks about on his blog, podcast, and in books, the overwhelming capabilities of the smartphone lead to, you know, being overwhelmed. It’s easy to understand given the numerous apps, services, and feeds, which create a background hum of low-level yet constant anxiety — a sort of unnerving internal buzz — even when you’re not checking your phone. You subconsciously feel that a notification could ding your phone at any moment, which puts you in a strange state of alert.
On top of that, Newport talks about the constant “task switching” caused by the so-called notifications and their counterpart apps, pushing you to pull out your phone over and over throughout the day to check it again and again. As busy as we tend to be, you’ll be doing something when you get a “ding” on your phone. These notifications are most often distractions or interruptions. So you pause your current task, switch to your phone, and then you switch back, hopefully refocusing your mind. But you never get deeply focused because you’re too often pulled to the surface to check your phone.
It gets worse. Now you’re simply conditioned to check your social media feeds and news channels and…you name it. It’s a habit. The human brain craves the new and the novel and is trained to expect it, maybe, from some app or service designed to hold your attention.
I think you get it. So what did I do?
Delete stuff and breathe
I deleted several apps from my phone. I still have the accounts and can use them on my laptop, but not my phone. I also turned off almost all notifications for the remaining apps. I took a quick look in Settings and kept critical ones I want notifications from.
I’m just taking a short break from my phone, trying to hone in on its best features that I need or want in my daily life. It’s soft Digital Minimalism; it’s a start.
Over time, I might slowly add certain apps back onto my phone. I’m being mindful and intentional about how I use it to avoid it using me.
A lot of this is common sense, such that if you pause long enough and observe your behaviors, you can notice patterns and areas to improve. It’s hard sometimes, though, because we stay too busy to notice any problems, or if we do, then we’re too busy to address them in the moment.
That’s what I was doing. I had noticed Twitter and my news feed aggregators were taking a toll on my mental energy and focus. But I was reluctant to deal with it, so I put if off. Guess I was resistant to change. Yet deep down, I felt I needed to make a change. Finally, I did.
I’ve even started contemplating my next phone upgrade to have a smaller display. Why? So the small size will fit my pocket and hand better. And because I think a smaller screen will reduce reliance on my phone as a multi-media entertainment device. Instead, I want it to be much simpler, a utilitarian gadget to let me do a few things very well. We’ll see…
So this is your call to action, to do likewise. Pause, notice any potential digital clutter sapping your mental well-being, and seek to make positive adjustments.
Are you addicted to your smartphone?