Making Your Phone Black & White and Boring

Do your devices send you a weekly notification to show the amount of time you’ve spent using the device each day? Mine comes every Sunday morning at exactly 9:08am (I assume there’s a reason why it’s that time in particular, but I haven’t been able to find anything about it in my research); every time I see what it says, I go through a combination of shock, denial, disappointment, and sadness. Am I really spending that much time each day on my phone?! Let alone my laptop, my iPad, my… and so on and so on. Of course, a portion of that time is necessary for work, or for basic communication, but much of it is not; it’s simply too easy to become distracted by all the many things striving for our attention. After all, our devices seem perfectly built to help us avoid boredom at all times – Not sure what to do? Check Twitter and get irate! Read news from around the world and feel despondent! Look at emails you still haven’t responded to and feel anxious… If any of this is familiar to you, what can you do? After all, surely it’s not possible to unring the bell of smart devices, right?

Well, yes and no. Of course one could always eschew the ways of modern technology altogether, get rid of your smart devices, and go back to how things used to be decades ago – remember when a phone was just a phone? – but realistically many of us need to find solutions that work within our lives as they are now. In the first instance, moving apps to different places on your phone is a great way to interrupt muscle memory and raise your consciousness of how often you blindly engage in an action.

One suggestion, in the words of Oliver Burkeman, is to “embrace boring and single purpose technology.” Doing so allows you to focus on the task at hand – or the people around you – and prevents the distractions of social media or streaming videos taking you off course. Where possible, Burkeman suggests, use single-purpose devices, like a Kindle e-reader (or, might I suggest, a book), where it’s tedious or awkward to do anything other than read. You might choose to turn off notifications and pop-ups on your phone for all the many things that you could simply look at when you have time. You could also get rid of any apps you don’t use (or, deep down, don’t want to use!). Beyond that, New York Times technology journalist Nellie Bowles has a more radical suggestion: turning your phone to grayscale. The process for turning your device to grayscale is not easy to deduce without help but is easily reversable anytime; detailed instructions are here. I have done this for the last few months, and while I am able to reverse it with a triple-tap, I find I generally prefer leaving it in grayscale for exactly the reasons Bowles suggests: “After going to grayscale, I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.”

How can you make your devices less of a toy and more of a tool this week?

This Week’s Tip:

Take steps to interact less with devices, and more with people.

  • Less with devices: Depending on your situation and your level of device addiction, steps might include: turning your phone to grayscale; turning off notifications; putting your phone away for stretches of time to have a short sprint on a project; or something entirely different.
  • More with people: When you have taken these steps for a day or two, pay attention to what happens in those moments when you used to check your phone. Do any people come to mind to be in touch with? What might you want to say to them? Take action with at least one of those people this week.

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes – we’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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