Make my smartphone a dumbphone, please.

A few days ago I did my semi-annual search for the words “make my smartphone a dumb phone” and found the same few  links as the last time I did that search.

A friend of mine discovered AppCertain, an “app nanny” that allows parents to turn off app access for their children (or, if you’re like me, allows my outer grown-up to turn off app access for my inner child).  It lets me put my phone into “curfew mode,” disabling access to all of the phone’s apps, leaving only the SMS text capability and the actual phone itself intact. Upside: unplugged. Downside: no camera and Google Maps. So after a little poking around and thinking about the behavior of mine that I was trying to get a better handle on, I took a pared down approach.

Goodbye, Facebook. Sayonara email. See you later, Twitter. After awhile, web browser.

I still have access to my camera and Instagram, and to Google Maps and my diary app and such, and I still have Flipboard and Feedly. So technically I might see some Facebook and Twitter content when flipping through my news readers.  But there’s still a big difference between flipping through Facebook and flipping through Flipboard:  because of the design of Flipboard, the Internet, at some not too distant point in my flipping, comes to an end.  When that happens, I stow my phone back in my pocket and look out the bus window instead of scrolling through Facebook mindlessly, ad infinitum, my entire way to work.

This little change has freed up enough time for me to notice that I’m neither writing nor exercising anymore. And once you notice a thing like that, and you don’t have a magical infinitely time-sucking device in your pocket anymore, that leads to thinking about the thing you’ve noticed, and then your thoughts turn to wonderings about what your favorite yoga teacher’s schedule is, and you make a mental note to check later on during a quick bit of computer time at home.

Yup.  Still shooting film.  Still loving it.
Yup. Still shooting film. Still loving it.

And then, instead of looking right then and there at the yoga schedule and getting sucked into your deviceworld habits, you think about how little time there is for writing. Alarm clock. Dog walk. Shower. Breakfast. Work. Dinner. Exhaustion. Sleep. A few of those things are mildly negotiable, but somehow it never feels like enough time. So you think about your friend Brendan who just published a book based on scribbled notes on scraps of paper that he scrawled out WHILE DRIVING his car (or van) up and down and around the western United States. And the book made you laugh, and made your eyes well over with tears, and not just because it was written by one of your people.

So this morning, inspired by a writer whose blog was shared with me this week by another writing friend, I packed my off-the-grid iPad so that I could sit on the bus and write a journal entry. Why not? I might not write the next great American novel this way, but I will exercise my writing muscles, at the very least. And this is more words than I would have written scrolling evermore downward through the Facebook app.

So I’ll miss a few baby pictures and cat memes. I’ll still catch most of what’s really important (at least the parts delivered via Facebook) through a daily peek at my “Close Friends” list and during the times I have to get on there for work. I do, after all, still work in social media. But what I gain is more time–that precious resource that, when working a 9 to 5, I never seem to have enough of. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have traded mindless hours in front of the television for only slightly more mindful hours in front of other types of screens, so like many years ago when I left my TV behind, the white space that’s come with being less connected has felt really nice.

How do you keep yourself mindful of your device time?

7 thoughts on “Make my smartphone a dumbphone, please.”

  1. YES. So much YES to this. I’ve needed this post so very badly these days. I had no idea you could turn your smartphone into a dumbphone. And how I wish for the days again of just text and phone calls and minimal ability to use the Internet and FB on my old phone. I’ve tried the cold turkey method (deactivate FB), which I still may do after the holidays for a few weeks but I like this approach too. And make a Close Friends list. And allow time to use the computer for researching more important things, like grants, how to build tables, new adventures to explore…

    I only wish FB had a way to “favorite” posts so I can go back later and look at them.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Tiffany – I use Pocket to save web-based stuff I want to come back to later… There’s a bookmarklet for if you’re on a computer (so if there’s a FB post I want to come back to, I’ll use Pocket to save it and then can come back later); there’s also a way to make a bookmark in your phone’s web browser (so you can “bookmark” an article to Pocket, then see it the next time you go into Pocket); and Flipboard has “save to Pocket” built in. Then you can use either the Pocket website, or, the Pocket app on a phone to read the stuff you’ve saved. I use it quite a bit — partly, so that when I’m in “social media” mode I can just save something for later that I really want to read; then when I want to sit down and read stuff (instead of looking for something to read) I just fire up Pocket.


      The only weird thing about going FB-lite instead of FB-deactivated is that people *expect* you to be keeping tabs to a certain degree on FB. We don’t send long emails (or gasp, letters) because we expect that the people we care about are keeping tabs on our activities through social media. Some are; some aren’t. I’ve been spending some time thinking about the relationships that are most important to me to maintain, and then not presuming that those folks are keeping up with my (diminishing) social activity, and making opportunities to connect beyond social media. You’re one of those people, by the way — I just haven’t yet done anything more than THINK about how much I miss you (but will). 🙂

      So much technology. But hopefully if we’re doing it right, it makes our lives better, not more stressful…….

  2. This is why I’m so hesitant to get a smart phone… still. I love being disconnected until the point when I need to be connected.

    1. I think that’s such a perfect little observation, Ayelet: “need.” When I need to get connected, I can (whether on my phone, or on a computer). It’s the times when I don’t NEED to be connected, that I don’t want to be. Good on you for holding out, especially in our line of work! 🙂

  3. I had a friend helping me on the social side of my business for awhile (as a side project in addition to her 9-5 social job).

    During the holidays she took a hiatus from the web to set up store displays. It gave her time to think, while covered in tinsel and pine: about her future and what not being tied to a computer was like. And all the things still on her various bucket lists. This is when she realized that she preferred other hobbies to my side-project social gig.

    Now that I’ve taken over all the social duties for my business, I find myself wondering how I can ensure I don’t “burnout” on additional consumption, rabbit holes, and metrics that don’t matter.

    I am in a constant search for balance, as my priorities shift around.

  4. Wow. I’m honored! I hope the post inspired you to write some great stuff on the bus, which is not a bad idea when it comes to writing spaces!

    Love the post! Bookmarking you! (Do people do that anymore? What are the kids doing nowadays?)

  5. Nice one, Sarah. The part about filling TV time with Facebook time is pretty much straight out of my life too. When the baby came, years ago, we basically stopped watching TV. We thought that we would have this amazing revolution in our family relationships, that we would be so productive, our house would be cleaner, our food would be healthier. But, at the end of the day, I’m tired. So while the kiddo plays with his trains, we’re staring at our own personal screens, and it actually feels so much worse to me. At least when we were watching TV, we were doing it *together*, ya know?

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