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Smartphones Are Toys First, Tools Second (www.raptitude.com)
196 points by imartin2k 24 days ago | hide | past | web | 146 comments | favorite





Disable all notifications except direct messages, and reminders that you create yourself.

Delete all apps that are designed to be checked over and over.

Put all other apps that could be checked over and over (finance, video streaming, shopping - believe me) inside folders, on screens behind the main screen. You should have to consciously look for them when you actually need them.

Don't sign in to any social sites in your browser, and don't let favorites or recents give you colorful icons for your frequented sites. Force yourself to type in the website you want to go to.

My home screen consists of music, direct communication, maps, notes/calendar/contacts, and the web browser. None of these can be idly checked except the web browser. They all encourage intentional interaction or none at all. Sometimes I open my phone subconsciously, look at the icons, and put it away again because there's nothing to be done.


+1. if you want to take it a step further, move all apps to folders in the second screen. this leaves you with a blank screen when opening the phone, and essentially forces you to search for the app you need instead of browse through your apps and potentially get distracted.

i tweak my (iOS) spotlight settings to only search apps, which makes the whole flow as simple as:

  - unlock phone
  - swipe down anywhere on screen
  - type first 2-3 letters of app name
  - open app
within a few days, this gets to feel intuitive, and much quicker than paging through lots of apps. even better, it forces you to know which app you want ahead of time, reducing chance of distraction.

this may seem subtle, but it’s been huge for me in reducing idle/wasted time on the phone.

edit: formatting


You can also use the KISS launcher[0] and simplify the process, while reducing memory usage as well. It has some options to make it as minimal as possible.

[0]: https://kisslauncher.com/.


This. I use the very same method. All my apps are in a folder.

I do this but then I just type to an unsigned-in Reddit and get the crappy front page instead of at least a controllable selection of topics. The web browser is the killer of this strategy.

The web browser is problematic - HN remains a bit of a Skinner box for me - but it still denies you two important addictive mechanisms: candy-colored icons and attractive design. If there's no icon begging you to tap it, and the interface when you get there is "crappy", there's much less artificial addictiveness in the equation.

Try HN's noprocrast feature on the user settings page.

If you use Firefox on mobile I made an extension to make mindlessly browsing blacklisted sites inconvenient - https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/impede/

It's undocumented but it wouldn't be hard to add. Essentially you blacklist a domain in the 3 dot menu (toolbar icon on desktop). Blacklisted sites will show a word and key-value pairs of letters and numbers, you have to add up the values for each letter in the word to unlock the page. You can change the word length in the options page, also in options you can set the extension to sleep for 5, 15, and 30 minutes when you want to disable it without having to later re-enable it.


Wouldn't you just constantly (always) disable it instead of typing a time consuming answer?

Edit: The problem (at least for me) with all these kind of solutions is that you generally need a bypass method and that method usually becomes your standard way of bypassing your anti-procrastination mechanism.


Wouldn't you just constantly (always) disable it instead of typing a time consuming answer?

I've had a couple false starts on doing a full write up answering this question but the quick answer is that it's not actually time consuming and that doing the puzzle feels like the easiest way to get to the page.

A lot of procrastination blocking apps take an abstinence based approach which predictably leads to just disabling them. Another approach - the approach my extension takes - is attacking the instant gratification that you can get to through unconscious action.

The unlock puzzle takes maybe 5-15 seconds to complete, I find that time switch of mental state is enough to cause a moment of pause and consideration for whether I want to continue browsing.

As you mentioned a bypass is necessary and I added that in the extensions option page. I find that since the puzzles themselves aren't actually hard I usually feel like it's easier to do them then navigate away from the page and back.

I think the important thing to note is this isn't intended to stop you from procrastinating when you want to procrastinate. The intent is to help you recognize when you're procrastinating unconsciously.

The idea was largely inspired by this xkcd blag post - https://blog.xkcd.com/2011/02/18/distraction-affliction-corr.... One thing I took out it was the idea that doing this action is part of a contract with myself that I don't have to feel bad about browsing as long as I do this step. That's not encoded into the extension and I'm not sure how important it is for how successful it has been for me.


I have Facebook.com, Reddit.com and Twitter.com completely blocked through content restrictions. This can be a big pain when links won’t open, but I use Reddit and Twitter far less now as time wasters.

>Disable all notifications except direct messages

If only that were easy. @here on slack and being cc'd on emails i really don't need to see makes that line frustratingly fuzzy.


>Delete all apps that are designed to be checked over and over.

Hard to do that with hacker news


This excerpt summarizes the author's chief complaint:

For most of us, they easily soak up far more time than they save, capturing our attention dozens of times daily, and directing it to gratifying but mostly forgettable activities, usually infused with advertising.

I empathize. I just set up a new phone and was frustrated by all the unwanted notifications spammed at me from my OS and the latest versions of so many of my apps. It seems a lot worse than the last time I did this few years ago, and I'm constantly tweaking settings to stomp them out.

This began as a surgical exercise - usually I don't want to kill all the functionality, just turn off the specific alerts I don't care about. But it's gotten to the point I feel like I'm waging war against an ecosystem of developers intent to squander my attention without recognizing it's an incredibly scare and valuable resource.

Messenger in particular was so difficult to get to shut up that I just wound up removing all Facebook's apps. They're not the only offender. If you have an Android, go into App Info for Google Maps (edit: then tap Notifications) and look at the sheer volume of stuff it wants to nag you about.


I'm waging war against an ecosystem of developers intent to squander my attention

Not sure if you are being deliberately glib, but yes, that is exactly what is going on. They know damn well that your attention is valuable -- to them -- and they know that it is limited, so they are in an arms race with each other to capture as much of it as possible.


In that case, the more devs realize that excessive notifications have the opposite effect as intended, the better.

I wonder if they do.

They don't. The biggest thing people on HN tend not to realize is that they aren't the target market for this kind of stuff. Alerts drive engagement, otherwise devs wouldn't waste the time to put them in. Same with ads and analytics stuff, they are a nightmare to put in and maintain but it's the surest way to make money.

I hope eventually the metrics emphasis shifts from quantity of interaction to quality. Take a lesson from my hammer, which doesn't scream out from my toolbox every five minutes saying "tap me!".

To combat this, my default answer to "Can this app send you notifications" is always no. Then later I used the notification settings to turn on the ones that I think are important enough, and then usually that's only on the home screen, no buzzing. Sometimes I only allow the red dot.

I like to turn off all notifications (noise, vibration, and lock screen) other than audio calls. All other messaging is asynchronous and shouldn’t be important enough to disturb your focus. On iOS, I even move the apps that have the little red numeric notification circle to a different page than the first, so I don’t see it until I want to see it.

You can turn the little red bubbles off.

Go to Settings Search for notifications Go to the specific app and turn off Badges

My normal routine is that turn them all off, then go back and turn on the specific ones I want. But it turn off the badges for virtually all of them.


Having a home page free of little red circles changes how you look at your device. It is freeing and a breath of fresh air. It is amazing what a psychological impact these red badges have over us.

I recently turned off all notifications. Messaging apps can still have badges. As a former developer for a notification sending product I feel stunned at how much I’m preferring this setup.

Just removing my email from the home page so I have to go to a web interface instead has made me far less neurotic about checking it. Before I’d check hourly, now I check it a couple times a week. And nothing bad has happened because of it.

You can also set the phone to monochrome: the bubbles are still there, but they aren't red, which makes then much less distracting.

Thanks, I wasn’t aware that’s what a badge was!

I do sort of a compromise for my messaging apps. I silence all group chats but leave notifications on for direct messages.

This way I get avoid the distraction of group banter while still being able to be contacted directly when something more important comes up.


I shut almost everything down, but for messaging, too many of my friends are busy much of the time. So if we are to have a conversation, I can't see their first text nine hours later.

It makes for an interesting game of tug-of-war with yourself sometimes as a developer. We're currently building an app and will have what we feel is a great idea that will keep people coming back. A couple days later we'll get together and discuss if said feature is actually useful or addictive or if we'd be better off and more responsible by dialing it back or removing it entirely. No idea what the result will be, but I feel good about having these conversations.

Not to be too critical, but wouldn't it be a better idea to make this decision before spending a couple days of dev time developing something?

We hadn't begun development on the feature yet. These are just ongoing discussions where we bat around ideas we have for future cycles. Yes, ideally, we will instinctively get a sense for this without it taking a couple days. We probably already have. We're pretty early into our project and the most likely reason it took a couple days to reach the conclusion we did is because the meeting ran out of time that day.

Mostly I'm just saying it's an interesting topic to think about, and that I'm glad to have a CEO who cares deeply about not making something that adds to this addiction situation.


Gratifying but mostly forgettable and infused with advertising also describes broadcast radio and TV.

I remember back in the day one of the biggest concerns was how we could prevent the Internet from becoming like TV. We clearly failed, at least for the popular use case.


Aren’t they supposed to be toys? I mean, I need a smartphone for e-mail and maps, but I don’t need something that’s more powerful than an iPhone 5 for that, and yet I’m typing this on an iPhone XS while I’m on my commute to work (election preparations).

The reason I have the XS was mainly because I wanted more screen space for things that fall in the “toys” category, things like hackernews, and I’m certainly looking forward to playing the Harry Potter Pokemon go. I also wanted the better camera to take better pictures of my newborn, that I share with our family in Tinybeans.

I don’t see a problem with that at all though. I did turn notifications off from everything except the e-mail where I get alerts. I use todoist, a todo app, to schedule a lot of things, but even that doesn’t allow to alert me, not even with a little red number on the app icon.

I suggests this to everyone. I did it at a suggestion of my personal-efficiency-coach, but once the apps stopped reminding me to open them, it instantly freed up hours of daily time. Now I check them when I want to, like right now, where the alternative to my smartphone is quite literally staring at the open train bathroom across me. This had the added advantage/side effect of making me realise what apps I didn’t actually want.


I agree with what you wrote, my iPhone has all notifications off and the only person who can make it ring is my wife.

But

> staring at the open train bathroom across me

I have since found that this sort of time wasting is pretty powerful way to let creativity recharge. It’s like disengaging from screen let’s my mind work at it own rhythm.


I had this reflection last night. Wandering aimlessly is good, great, useful.. Constant external inputs have a value limit.

Some article on HN talked about how books gave ways to that. It made you experience your own time. Other medium put just a tad too much disturbance (battery life, multi usage, parallelism) to let it grow deep.


Typically I’d agree, if I was seated next to a window I’d be looking outside. That’s often how I get my best ideas, but the bathroom is just too boring. Especially because it’s the same bathroom I look at every day.

I sit on folding seats in the conjunction between carts because I commute with my folding bike, and it’s just easier to sit out here, but I do think you’re absolutely spot on. I think “wasting” time is extremely valuable.


> I think “wasting” time is extremely valuable.

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

At the very least you get to disconnect your brain. At best you come up with something awesome.


> Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

People use this to justify just about everything, like being addicted to World of Warcraft for 5 years and forgoing their ambitions to watch Netflix. It's a joke at this point.

It needs to come with a second part "but do your best to set yourself up for life fulfillment" or be refactored into "don't beat yourself up for wasting a little bit of time". Wasting time and instant gratification will absolutely keep you from achieving what you want in life.


Time you “waste” looking out the window, thinking about life is not instant gratification and doesn’t beg you to come back whenever you can. It’s really not comparable to a video game, movie streaming, or social media.

> That’s often how I get my best ideas, but the bathroom is just too boring.

Yeah, it's boring. I personally like taking this in as a bit of a challenge. See how boring it can get before I get my smartphone out.

Sometimes I do other things, like finger drumming on my leg. Trying to keep a rhythm. Or just wonder about materials the train is made up of.


Yes, sometimes I might take my phone with me on the toilet to solve a cryptogram or two, but usually I take my toilet time as a moment of tranquil reflection, a respite between my multitude of daily responsibilities.

Related -- you might enjoy Simon Sinek's talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU3R0ot18bg

Exactly why I like to keep a notebook in my right back pocket and a pen in my shirt pocket.

I do see a problem with this. I don't use my phone for much more than messaging, browsing, and navigation. Yet, I have to buy a new smartphone every two years because it gets slow and the USB port breaks. This isn't just an inconvenience, it's changing our perception of what tech is and how it should be. People think its normal that technology sucks, and anticipate it works that way. The reason that Steve Jobs, while being a disgusti g human being, made good products, was that he actually called out the bullshit.

I've found that it is most often the plug on the easily replaceable cord that breaks, which I gather is by design and an improvement over mini-USB, where it was the socket that tended to break.

The biggest issue I've had with micro-USB is that pocket crud and lint tends to gather in the socket, but it's very easy to pick out with one of those slim plastic toothpicks or a similar tool. Every device I've had where the USB socket became wonky, a bit of cleaning cleared it right up.


I haven't encountered a single mini-USB port that I couldn't use with any mini-USB cable (however, these are mostly devices that I don't use as often as a phone, so my view may be biased).

Micro-USB ports, on the other hand, just stop holding connectors, even after I cleaned the port.


The springs that hold the micro-USB connector in are on the connector itself. I have one cable that barely holds on to my phone, but brand new ones lock in tight.

If a micro-USB port doesn't seem to hold anymore, I would replace the cable first.


I had great success cleaning a 3 year old phone. I basically had to scour the bottom of the port with a sewing needle though.

But after I did that, charging went from maybe to not a problem.


And with each generation of phones, developers give themselves more liberties, use more third party libraries which themselves gave themselves more liberties so that simple apps today would barely work on a more modest phone.

> I have to buy a new smartphone every two years because it gets slow and the USB port breaks

I moved from Android to the iOS ecosystem specifically to get the Lightning port. Wikipedia tells me that micro USB ports are rated to 10,000 cycles but in practice I've had to toss tablets because they won't hold a connector, and wiggle phones to get them to charge. With the iPhone connector never an issue and it just feels solid. Why is the design so much poorer?


My guess is that the connector on iPhones is riveted into the frame somehow, keeping it from stressing the solder joints when you plug and unplug. On many cheaper phones, maybe the port is just a hole going back to the circuit board, where the only thing holding the port in place is the solder.

The tongue design also is just simpler and sites not admit crud into it. And it fits either way around.

Get a wireless charging phone.

>The reason I have the XS was mainly because I wanted more screen space for things that fall in the “toys” category, things like hackernews, and I’m certainly looking forward to playing the Harry Potter Pokemon go. I also wanted the better camera to take better pictures of my newborn, that I share with our family in Tinybeans.

So which phone does Apple make for people who don't want more screen space for toys then?

The XS is already a $250 premium to get a smaller screen than the XR.

As you point out, the iPhone 5 was plenty big for not playing games on. And the SE was fantastic, with the same processor and camera as the flagship 6s.

So naturally Apple killed that product line. Tim Cook talks big about Screen Time and giving people tools to manage their time, but the hardware team is working against us. They must not have got the memo.


I just got an XS after being on Android. I like that iOS has included Screen Time by default with app limits, which seems to be an attempt to help solve the problem of me wasting time and make my phone more of a tool than a toy. I set Social Media to 15 minutes a day so I have a chance to check it then I don't get any alerts. Anything I use for productivity is set to always allowed. The one complaint is that I can't move apps to different categories. I set downtime up so I usually have an hour before and an hour after work. My usage is down 34% from last week.

A few personal usage tactics I’ve been experimenting with, since I’ve been dealing with smartphone overuse since 2005:

1) No social media apps.

2) Four icons on the home screen (for iPhone, go to this site: https://david-smith.org/blank.html click share button and add to home screen. Change wallpaper to black. Each black icon you add to the home screen will take up a space where an app would have been, helping you focus on apps that you find most important)

3) Airplane mode when I’m on vacation (so I can still use the camera but won’t be tempted to reply to a text).

4) Few notifications other than calendar, phone, and text. Absolutely no email notifications. Selective and timed Slack notifications since I’m often mobile and don’t want to be the bottleneck at work.

5) No games.

6) Limited video use. Overuse hasn’t been a problem, so I don’t set hard guidelines on this.

7) Leave phone in car [clearly I don’t live in SF] or at home during scheduled time with loved ones.

8) Wear cellular Apple Watch and carry AirPods in pocket when leaving phone at home - if there may be an important call coming in while I’m intentionally preventing myself from working while mobile.

9) Keep phone charging at night in bathroom on do not disturb. No checking during middle of the night bathroom usage.

10) Limit non-essential apps to informational apps - like HN.

Smartphones are tools first or they can be toys first. That depends on the goals and discipline level of the user.


I mean, I like reading HN, but 95% of what I read here is just time filling and it’s still a form of social media.

It is. Then again, whenever I feel like it's just entertainment, I open up my Facebook feed and find that it's two orders of magnitude dumber. When I see what my family has on their feeds, it's an extra order of magnitude dumber still. Of all the places I could waste time on-line, HN really is one of the better ones. It's probably also why I find it so sticky - it's intermittent reward, where reward can be - and was in the past - enlightening or career-changing.

> Of all the places I could waste time on-line, HN really is one of the better ones

That's the main problem with it. Other places are obviously such nonsense that I'm not even tempted. HN has this quality where it tricks you into thinking (feeling?) that it might be worthwhile. And the worst thing is - it might be true. I have no idea, but I do know that it's by far my biggest time sink.


If I were being truthful, I might say that I get maybe one actually helpful morsel every few days, some of which end up on a reading/reference queue that I might not actually get to but I think might indeed come in handy sometime in the future. The rest is essentially intellectual puffcorn.

> HN really is one of the better ones

That's what they all say ;) It's like Blub (http://www.paulgraham.com/avg.html), but for social networks.


So what would be the lisp of social networks? :)

That’s true, but I personally have read a bunch of things of big value to me here. Just yesterday, somebody commented that there will likely be a big increase in taxation for UK contractors in April 2020 - and I was just offered a long term contract position in London... Now I know that it will be worth much less than I thought.

Thanks for sharing. Lots of good insights here! Just yesterday I've been wondering if there was a single e-mail in the past year that I needed to immediately reply to and the answer was no. I think having a dedicated time of day for handling e-mail could be an interesting approach.

For me the biggest issue when it comes to wasting time on my phone are the websites like reddit that I constantly go back to.

So far what kind of works for me is LeechBlock add-on where I blacklist time wasting websites and if I ever want to view them I can override the block for 5 minutes. I think the reason it works is that I need to consciously allocate those 5 minutes to waste (with this setup I can't just drift away for 1 hour looking through a subreddit).

I'd very welcome any other tips similar to the OP's.


I've had only one email in the last year that needed a response ASAP, and that was an invite to go see a giraffe at the zoo behind the scene.

I've tempted to start running my own email server again, and then develop a super simple UI where I organize email by sender and then convert important emails to a SMS message.


Great list. I go a little further on notifications: Do Not Disturb (DnD) mode 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which inhibits all calls, texts, messages, E-mails, and most importantly notifications. This allows you to use the phone on your own terms and schedule, not on someone else's, including app developers desperate to prod you into their apps. A big part of the smartphone problem, in my view, is how we have all become slaves to them--using them when they demand to be used, rather than when we choose to use them.

If it's important, they'll leave a message or E-mail, which you can check on your own schedule.


Hopefully your father / brother / SO / whoever doesn't need urgent help from you, ever.

I used to always power off my phone at night, until one day at 2am I was in the middle of nowhere needing help from a friend, and he did actually answer the phone. He told me: "if it was the other way around, you wouldn't have helped me". For me it was a life saver, and I could totally see how harder would everything have been if he did like me every night (no one else to call at that moment, before that's asked).

Since then, my phone is kept on and unsilenced at night. If anyone important to me needs my help, I want to be there for them. Not that it's happened ever once in the last 10 years, though :)


Do not disturb on iOS let’s repeated calls through for emergencies.

That's such a good idea! I wonder if it's possible to configure something similar in Android..

You can also allow calls from contacts in ios dnd. Android may have that, or allowed callers etc

> If it's important, they'll leave a message or E-mail, which you can check on your own schedule.

Depends on your use-case. I use my phone to support my hobby, the Mode-s receiver in my attic sends an e-mail when an interesting aircraft arrives at the local airport.

So for me it's a notification tool that requires timely attention.

On the other hand it's not a toy, I don't have any games installed.


I guess it might be a great tactic depending on your culture. I tried going with 24/7 silent mode, and then with no phone at all, but had to give in after being repeatedly badgered first by my coworkers, and then by my boss. They expect everyone to be available all the time, in every single company I know of (from friends/acquaintances). I still ignore most emails and phone calls outside of working hours though.

I like that you mentioned the Apple Watch because I personally found that the Apple Watch totally changed my relationship with my phone.

I can't say I use the full potential of the watch at all, but for the first time, notifications were what I feel like they should have always been - glanceable. When wearing the Apple Watch, the phone practically never vibrates or makes a sound, unless for an incoming call. I get a haptic "tap" on the wrist if a notification comes through (although I did stop a few apps from being able to send notifications) and it's enough to just look at the watch to bring it up.

If it's interesting, I can tell there and then. I can get my phone out or respond to it.

If it's not interesting, I can literally take no further action and just stop looking at the watch and after a few seconds the notification goes away.

It'll still be on my phone later if/when I want to go back to it, but I find myself looking at my phone a lot less often as a result. I can often go for hours without even taking it out of my pocket now.


While I agree with most of the list:

3) With Airplane mode on while on vacation to take pictures, none of your pictures are getting sync’d. I have sync set up to iCloud, OneDrive, and Google Photos. If something happens to my phone, I’m SOL.

9) For that I would just use Do Not Disturb. If anyone is calling me in the middle of the night, it must be an emergency. In my case, as an only child, I only have three people that I’m concerned about enough to hear from in the middle of the night who don’t live with me - an older daughter, and my parents.


You're describing how to make it even more of a toy and even less of a tool.

Thanks for sharing. I wish Apple would make it easier to outright block websites/apps system-wide. The “time limit” on categories of apps is weak and easily dismissible. The user should have to dive through settings to temporarily enable an app.

On iOS you can hide Safari in Parental Controls

What's the point of time limit if it would take only one click to bypass it?

Not the parent, but I think the point is simply awareness, given that a lot of behaviour caused by addiction seem to happen on a subconscious level.

> Don't do drugs, kids. Drugs are bad, mmmmkay?

I find the blank.html site genius! Thank you for sharing that link!

We are social creatures. Everything he's talking about (aside from the simpler games) engages our social centers, much like dinner parties and water cooler talks and other social gatherings did in the past. People want to engage, even vicariously, and feel social worth, because social interaction is a huge part of our psyche.

Smartphones are empowering, but they also present a change in our environment that we're not properly adapted to. The social lure that binds groups together is being hijacked by social apps because they tap into the same psychology. And they would have done so without the Facebooks of the world (in fact they did, with Usenet and BBSes and party phone lines and television and radio and so on).

We won't adapt quickly enough as a species to avoid being enraptured by social apps (except for a tiny minority), so we'll need an artificial solution to deal with it.


I deeply believe smartphones are the social equivalent of pornography for sexuality. You get your needs when you want how you want but in fact it's only a pale copy of the real thing.

And here I thought smarthphones are the social equivalent of neighbourhood kid playgrounds of my generation. Kids there were each on a similar, but slightly different and completely independent schedule. We wouldn't arrange social events in advance, we'd just go outside when we wanted and play with whoever happened to be there, for as long as either of us was there. Just like social media today.

Sorry for my bold point but, most of the time I feel that saying hi to someone in the street has more impact on me than having long convos on reddit. There's something to physical proximity that is missing from the web (obviously) and people trying to make it a full replacement are somehow lying.

I don't disagree. There is something in meatspace interactions that isn't captured on the Internet. Probably even multiple small somethings that add up to a different quality. And while I feel my social media activity currently brings in more value than most of the meatspace conversations, I would really like to have these kinds of conversations I have on HN in a bar, face to face.

Yes, social media conversations are more interesting, and you'll learn more.

But emotionally, they hold little value compared to face to face interactions.

But with regards to learning and information, there's often much better we could do than social media - for example good books, or at least summaries of books, hold an order of magnitude more value than most social media.

But the way social media and the internet manipulated our attention, does make it harder for us to read those.


To try to be balanced, maybe internet does bring a different space to discussion too (ignoring the extreme rot that can happen on twitter youtube and others). Kinda like letters, people speak and think differently when writing things down.

This is an overarching statement which doesn't apply to everyone-- with certain disabilities that force people to mostly stay in their homes/facilities, social media is infinitely better than the almost-nothing they had before.

It's also arguably important for children, to get more insight into the minds behind the peers they know in real life-- without it, they could miss learning the traits of potentially vital communication channels (although I believe in monitoring and limiting screen time for nearly all humans).

I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here, though, because you are absolutely right as far as the current general dynamic goes. I believe our education & health systems must eventually teach young people how to have a healthier relationship with these new tools. They will probably use videos from our time period of kids walking into traffic while holding their phones as (one of many) cautionary tales.


To double down on the devil's advocate, when texting popped out, I was sad that I didn't enjoy having this to talk to kids my age because I was cripply shy. So that's true, to some part of the population, it gives something. But on the whole scale, it's too far from the mainstream effect.

I think "a pale copy of the real thing is orthogonal. The "real world" is perfectly capable of creating pale copies with many communities as the pressure leads to shallow pleasantries, pressure to conform for the sake of conformity when nobody really likes the status quo but does so because it is expected, keeping up with the Joneses and more instead of what people are actually interested in and value.

Of course it is a matter of how you use it - with both smartphones and "real world".


I wish Google Maps wouldn't invent new notifications every other month and enable them by default. No, I don't want to check-in, review, or take photos of whatever place I'm in. I'd prefer a faster-loading app instead, to just look up simple directions and orient myself.

And sometimes I want to jot down a quick note or create a new calendar reminder, not to be bombarded by "Check out the new features, Got It?" speech bubbles.

It's annoyances like this that make using my phone frustrating. It doesn't feel like a personal device that's under my control at all, it's something I reluctantly use and indeed look forward to working out of my life. I'm more attached to my 2nd hand laptop running Linux Mint, and for good reason.


I made the wry comment to my girlfriend recently that I open Google Maps just infrequently enough that every single time I do there's some new dialog for me to have to click out of standing between me and whatever it is I actually want to do with the app. No, I don't want to "beat the traffic" or "just start driving" or anything else. I simply want to get to the closest coffee shop. It's maddening and Google Maps didn't used to be like that.

What notification from Google Maps do you need that you're not just disabling its notifications at the app level?

Turns out none, thanks for the reminder :-)

I will try and switch to a simpler phone Cat B35 to see if I can cut out smart phone addiction. The Cat B35 uses KaiOS which is a Firefox OS clone. I will also carry a pocket camera like a Sony Rx100 for taking good quality photos.

I realize my mind is addicted to smart phones touch interfaces and applications and that phones are distracting me from reality. IE the haptic dopamine reward from touching the screen in combination with applications.

The experiment is what you will gain from having a simpler device which is focused on call first.

KaiOS https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KaiOS


Hey that compact camera idea is pretty good! With no clue about them, and looking at Wikipedia and the Sony website, I have still little clue. Could you link me some information about cameras? I see several different RX100 cameras and several, much cheaper, W8x0 ones. I’m bad at taking pictures but I still like to take some when there are these lambs by the side of cycling roads here for example, so those compact cameras could be nice to carry in the bag while my older iPhone SE is not the best at taking pictures.

Not OP but I'm a fan of keeping up with camera tech.

dpreview.com is my goto for comparing cameras. There are 7 different RX100's as Sony keeps upgrading it every year - mostly little things - more focus points, faster focus and light metering, higher frames per second... you really can't go wrong just buying the most expensive one in your budget, even the oldest ones will take great pictures -- they'll just be slower.

Check out

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/buying-guide-best-pocketabl...

Also worth looking into, my favorite cameras are 'fixed prime' - there's no zoom so you have to be creative and zoom with your feet, and the lens is matched to the sensor and gives really surprising high quality shots without much effort.

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/buying-guide-best-fixed-pri...

Happy shooting.


Thanks for the details! I’ve been reading that website for a bit now.

> so you have to be creative and zoom with your feet

Try that at an airshow!


> I will try and switch to a simpler phone Cat B35 to see if I can cut out smart phone addiction. The Cat B35 uses KaiOS which is a Firefox OS clone. I will also carry a pocket camera like a Sony Rx100 for taking good quality photos.

I've been working on a similar project for a while, in order to see what the viability of reused Android hardware is if you make a minimal AOSP-based system. I'm trying to wean myself off of current-generation hardware as much as possible because honestly it's just not needed, and I don't want to feed the consumerist machine.

I'm using a Nexus 5 I bought used for $40, with the Nexus heavily underclocked for power usage and only the simplest required apps on it. The biggest problem I have had with this phone is that battery life on earlier smartphones is abysmal. I did replace the battery for $7 and it's made a big difference, but there's a level at which the old phone hardware just can't keep up with app bloat if you're using some newer applications.

For photos, even the old Nexus is fine for most use cases. For real photos,I just take along a used DX-sensor Nikon Coolpix A I bought on Craigslist.


But it doesn't support WhatsApp.

This has been my modus operandi:

• No push notifications (except for one human, and that too via SMS).

• No "social media" accounts (never had it on the phone to begin with; and removed my FB account 5+ years ago).

• Use gray scale (this turned my phone into a very peaceful device). On Android, this can only be enabled via the "Developer options" (and then select "Simulate color space" --> "Monochromacy")

• The "apps" on my phone are most practical ones: Maps, English & Dutch dictionaries, Orgzly (Org-Mode-based note taker), Spotify, Signal, WhatsApp, a couple of train look-up services, Firefox and an OTP generator.

This has been instrumental in making sure that my attention is not splintered all over the place. And lets me retain the ability to concentrate and read books in 2-hour, undistracted blocks. Go me!


Thanks for that grayscale advice.

I loved the grayscale mode, but in the end I had to set so many exceptions via tasker for apps where I do need color for the UI (Such as Google Maps, Uber, and Calendar), that it proved to be more of a hassle.

I use an iPhone with a home button. I bound greyscale to a triple-click of that so I can switch on and off at will pretty handy if that’s possible on your end.

Note that this dramatically slows multitasking as the system waits for a third press.

Not an issue on the X style phones.


Good point that I’d never considered—though I honestly didn’t notice and adjusted to it pretty easily. Could see how it would bother some people, though.

Smartphones are what I think of as "attention capturers" which are able to completely capture almost anyone's attention span for a significant amount of time. Other attention capturers include computers[0], video games, TV, books, chess. Each of these has varying capability as attention capturers but it is safe to say that smartphones are the strongest attention capturer for most people.

I believe that using any attention capturer for long periods is not healthy and should be avoided. The hard part for me is actually finding anything else to do in a new city without family/friends. Especially on a Tuesday night after work where it is less possible to go to a bar and talk to strangers.

[0] Smartphones can be included here.


>I believe that using any attention capturer for long periods is not healthy

Why? I assume you mean psychologically, not physically (which is more obvious why).


I've noticed several side effects such as decreased attention span, decreased sociability, decreased desire to do anything other than your preferred method of attention capturing.

Frankly I just think that many of these things are simply addictive and, with an appeal to naturalism, I don't think it is what humans were meant to do. Increased smartphone use or TV watching or video games probably almost never results in increased happiness over the long term.

Not to mention the ability to use attention capturing as a way to hide from one's own emotions.


I have switched from using my phone for anything-distracting to only-work. I have been trying it for a long time. Had removed most addictive Social apps some time back.

WhatsApp usage went down gradually, and not it is limited to early mornings or evenings. Messenger is rarely used (once in a couple months).

Instagram and Twitter for more social media marketing for our products than personal.

No games on phone at all. I have finally been very content with my phone as a tool for about 1.5 years or so.

Most used apps I think are Gmail (multiple accounts including products), then car pooling app, Slack and WhatsApp.

[Edit: added most used apps]


For a real account of how people are going to use smartphones - look at teenagers. they're always glued to their phones, they edit photos on their phones, they make plans on their phones, they write poetry on their phones, kids even do homework on their tablets/phones now.

The dirty truth is app tool makers have been slow to adopt smartphones/portable screen as input devices as a dev tool. Apple refuses to put xcode on ipad and refuses to put a touchscreen on a mac(but have included that godawful POS touchbar), google hasn't made ANY real take the charge forays into a drag and drop android app creator and microsoft doesn't have a clue.Indie app creators aren't incentivised to make dev tools for smartphones because adoption is low since hardware/software makers are trying to artifically push a "phones are for play, laptops are for work" artifice(apple/google/microsoft).Ironically Samsung dex is an actual vision of a realistic phone as primary computing tool future but Apple is too focused on profits to adopt this paradigm.

The moment we see actual real "native mock to deployment" tools on mobile devices is the moment the distraction moniker will go kaput.

it's not that phones are distracting us from our work, it's that our whole world is on the phone, the social bits the communication bits and the entertainment bits - except for the bit of the world that deals with making things.


The xcode experience is bad enough on a top-of-the-line MBP with the best peripherals (monitor, keyboard, etc) available. I say this as someone who has spent, on average, 8+ hours a day in xcode for the past four years. Maybe Apple refuses to put xcode on iPad because trial runs had devs looking for the nearest window to jump out of.

I've been running Xcode on a mediocre MacBook Pro with no peripherals for the last five years (though I only spend a couple of hours on average per day). It's not awful.

As another one spending his working day in front of Xcode with a four years old macbook—no problem there.

> We don’t play with tape measures

Oh, yeah, we do... :)


See how far you can push it out until it collapses.

Yeah, I had to quibble with that too. And I definitely play with my keys when waiting at the bus stop, or equivalents of that.

But it's not something I do to the exclusion of other things; it doesn't capture my attention for 10 minutes at a stretch; it doesn't interrupt my conversations or take their place.


They're fun! Like yo-yos that you don't have to wind.

I broke a laptop and didn't replace it because I'm trying to learn to use my android phone as a tool more. It does have a usb-c port.

It works okay. Needs more drivers. The issue with using phones as a tool isn't the phones theirselves its the surrounding infrastructure. If somebody wants a business idea how about selling phone compatible tools?


After I got mu PhD in the neuroscience of habit formation, I made an app to help people reconfigure their phone to prevent or dismantle exactly this kind of compulsive relationship with their phone.

Check it out here: https://youjustneedspace.com/


Based on the title, I thought this was gonna be about how the entire UX design of smartphones is utter garbage, and hence they cant be used to do most kinds of work, and the stuff that is possible is much slower / error prone.

Imo they have been designed from the ground up to be merely shiny toys / gadgets.

The most fundamental flaw in the design is the touchscreen. Eg. Press a button which is just part of the screen and has 0 haptic feedback, so the only way to locate it is by looking at it, but your finger is obscuring it (as you are moving to press it with your finger) so you cant see it. It is a paradoxical situation.


>For most of us, they easily soak up far more time than they save, capturing our attention dozens of times daily, and directing it to gratifying but mostly forgettable activities, usually infused with advertising.

I suspect this to be one of those things we all think everyone else is doing but that very few people are actually doing in reality. Frankly, all time I spend on my phone is actually valuable, or at least not better spent doing anything else, and I think it's the same for most people.


More people said it here but I do 60-70% of my work on my smartphone, including dev. No games, no social networking, just work. It is not only not a toy, it is vital to my workflow.

No, smartphones are tools used by companies to extract personal data and/or money from people.

And, when needed, LEO tracking devices.

Like anything else, though.

Computers in the 70s might have been business machines, but families got them because kids wanted to play videogames


The reason we'd have difficulty explaining the smartphone to someone from 60s is because it uses a while lot of infrastructure for all those spicy functions to be available. This is not to take away from the pocket computer's awesomeness, but there decides in our pockets aren't self-contained.

(Edit: keyboard mis-swipes)


A lot of good usage tips in this thread. One that not enough people use (IMO) is to get a notification inbox app. Like this one (although I use one I made myself): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wandoujia....

Basically it sucks up notifications from all (or selected) apps into an inbox-like interface similar to email. You can check it when you want, but it's not in your face.

There are a lot of apps where I don't want to disable notifications, but I also don't want them interrupting me. NYTimes is a good example of that, since I do want to read the news but only on my own schedule. A notification inbox has helped me a lot.


Smartphones are totally toys. I am so efficient on a desktop I can't stand to use them for anything work related. I pretty much use it to glance at emails and take pictures. Oh and don't forget the government mandated backdoors and location tracking a la the 911 laws.

I only use my phone for taking photos so I can remember what I saw or as reference to what I am doing. I wish there's an app that could tag the photo automatically so I can search it and reference it again.

The only time it would ring or get a message is if there's something important from my wife.


> I wish there's an app that could tag the photo automatically so I can search it and reference it again.

Google photos does exactly this.


I tried it, its only good at categorizing images. I wish it could index the text and numbers at different angles also. I also wish it can further filter what you have already searched.

I was strongly reminded of this yesterday when I wanted to send someone the PSK for a home WiFi network. It baffles me that I'd need root access and a separate tool to extract the PSK.

Are there any phone manufacturers that still let you root without potentially bricking the phone etc?


Very poorly argued. The premise ignores that many of those superpowers are available on your computer. So giving up the phone is not as big a sacrifice as is being claimed.

Having a metered plan helped tremendously (and saves me money).

I tend to eschew Twitter/Reddit and focus on podcasts, or binge a little Wikipedia waiting for the train.


my phone is my most powerful daily life, work, research device

Well I didn't read tfa, but I disagree with the title.

I use the camera, document producing capabilities quite frequently in my work, in addition the regular features of loudspeaker conference calls (when Skype for Business fails) and so on.

I only take time to play with it, when I'm bored on plane rides.




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