What Am I Doing with My Phone?

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I recently noticed that I got more and more addicted to my phone during September. In another interesting conversation with he said it would be interesting to build our own phone with limited features to get less distracted. My new addiction and his thought made me wonder how the optimal phone usage for me would look like.

Current Usage

The "Screen Time" feature on my iPhone is really helpful to figure out how I currently spend my time when using it. Although, I noticed that it often does not record the times correctly. For example calls via Telegram get recorded as active usage and calls via FaceTime or cellular network do not get recorded at all. Luckily this data can be combined with the activity data from the battery settings that also shows how long an app was used in background and foreground.

My current usage unfortunately does not mirror my desired behavior. It shows that I still spend way too much time in social networks I essentially despise. For the most hours I use it to talk to important people that live on other sides of the planet. The rest of the usage seems fine to me. I chat a lot with people I can't spend time with during COVID-19, which can get distracting when promptly doing it after receiving notifications, which I usually don't. Additionally it looks like I am checking the news too often during the day. There is not really much happening that I have to keep up to date on.

Optimal Usage

The optimal phone usage would be one where I never get distracted by shallowness and only use it for things that are essential for my daily routine or connecting me with other people on a deeper level. Besides that I use utilities that make use of the phones hardware to make life easier.

Shallowness arises when I use social media apps. They are merely able to bring cheap dopamine rushes and interrupting distractions. Time spent in them does rarely feel valuable and usually leaves me with a worse feeling than before. Additionally they rob my time and focus, by sending pointless and interrupting push notifications. They make profit by stealing time and therefore are the enemy.

Essential I consider apps that I need everyday. For example an app to workout, an app to meditate and the Futureland app that helps me focus on what matters to me.

Connecting with other people is meant in a sense where real connections can evolve. This does not happen through likes or comments on various social media platforms. This category includes messengers and various voice call apps that enable conversations on deeper levels. However, I always prefer face to face communication when possible. There is and never will be a substitution for real human contact.

Utilities are apps that are not distracting in any way but make life easier. This can be everything "boring" like a calculator, calendar, camera or an app that helps me to find destinations when driving a car or scooter. These are apps that naturally only get used when they are needed. They always help but never distract.

How to Get There

The iPhone automatically sends out a notification once a week to compare the phone usage to the preceding week. It shows stuff like "Your usage has gone up by 49%". I don't think this is very useful. Not all the time spent on a phone is bad. There is nothing wrong with a long video call or a good book reading session, even though I prefer to do that on my iPad. To get more conscious and mindful about the phone usage this metric seems pretty useless.

Tools like "Screen Time" that enable me to set daily time limits for different apps seem useful at first. I gave it a try, but a brain drenched in dopamine has no difficulty to just click the "ignore limit for today" button. It is way too easy to go past the limitations. Using them alone is not enough to prevent me from using apps that provide me with a cheap thrill. Although I have to say it can help at first. My Twitter usage almost vanished over night since I am using this. The deeper problem is that one app easily gets replaced by another similar addicting one.

Push Notifications are the most toxic thing about phones. In some cases it is not even enough to go into do not disturb mode because they can get distracting even when they only show up in the notification center. I can't understand humans anymore, that let themselves get distracted by the vibrating and vibrant noises their phones make when receiving a new push notification. I wonder how they get anything done. Even worse, their mind has to be in a constant state of interruption and confusion. It is really hard to think clearly in this state of mind. Having push notifications turned on gives companies the chance to rob the users attention at any moment in the day and exploiting it for their own profit. This is why every app that sends advertisements or shallow and therefore needless notifications, immediately gets its push notification permission revoked. I can imagine that in the future we all will realize that they were a bad idea from the beginning. Similar to the "Like" button they are creating this artificial obligation that quickly leads to addiction. Our bored brains are craving for "The New" and get a big dopamine rush every time we notice a vibration or one of the playful sounds. The reason is the number one ingredient in slog machines: intermittent variable rewards.

I think that being more mindful about the problem can help. I noticed that documenting behavior and patterns can help to achieve this in other parts of my life. Screen Time can be used at the end of every day to judge if a goal was achieved or if the behavior changes for the better. My new plan is to start documenting my progress to be more clear about how I use my phone and where I am solely wasting time.