Be a smart phone user.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Ruby developer recently went for three months without his smart phone and decided to write about his experience. Certain discoveries on his part both remind me of -- and help me better understand -- why I was such a late adopter of the technology. (I apparently also don't use mine to the near-constant degree that many others do.) For example:

... A few spare minutes would usually result in checking my email, Twitter and Facebook. I was a little bit everywhere, all the time. But not truly anywhere. Without the temptation available from my pocket, I feel like I am more present being wherever I am. Now I was certainly no addict, but it's led to a small freedom I encourage you to experience. I've realized that not being constantly plugged in, has had notable benefits. When I am not on my computer, only my immediate friends and coworkers will be able to reach me by phone. My smartphone helped fill little voids of time with mindless entertainment and shifted me away from the context of whatever I just did and was about to do, silently replacing what I see as mandatory reflection. This context switching I found to play a larger role than I thought. It's been rewarding to indulge more into my own thoughts and reflections, in lieu of attempting to occupy every gap of time with Angry Birds, news and tweets. [bold added]
Hmmm. That sounds familiar -- and yet it is also very insightful. I have always hated phones, but had mainly chalked up this distaste to my introversion. I think, though, that it's the yanking-from-context that a phone ring -- and the immediate problem of whether to answer it -- represents that I really dislike. What Simon Eskildsen notices here is that smartphones make it easy to "embrace the ring" and, for all practical purposes, barrage oneself with context-blowing distractions. (I haven't any games installed on my phone, but Eskildsen has helped me notice that certain phone-related rituals have invaded some of my idle time.)

Eskildsen's solution to the problem is to rid himself of the smartphone for the indefinite future. However, I don't think it's necessary, at least in every case, to deprive oneself of the advantages smartphones offer, just to regain control and become more "present" in one's life.

I think making a habit of asking oneself things like, "Why do I need the phone for this?" or "Why am I doing this at all?" and deliberately making phone-free breaks a part of one's life on a regular basis would go a long way towards making these devices the extensions of our minds that they could be, rather than millstones around our necks.  Eskildsen's take-home lesson isn't that we must toss our phones into the ocean, but that we should be careful that we are actually using them in a life-enhancing way. One can form good smart phone usage habits just as well as bad.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write: "Eskildsen's take-home lesson isn't that we must toss our phones into the ocean, but that we should be careful that we are actually using them in a life-enhancing way. One can form good smart phone usage habits just as well as bad."

Had to chuckle at this post since I read it on my Blackberry after getting home from work. In my case at least it's fairly self-limiting: I don't have Internet at home and it's so inconvenient to surf on Blackberry that I easily limit myself to five minutes at night and five in the morning for necessary email checking, though I do go online at other times to check reference sites. It's this last part that I'm pondering how best to change, since even that disrupts my train of thought and distracts me inordinately.

Anonymous said...

I didn't purchase my first smartphone, the iPhone, until 2008. I was using the flip phones and on the pay as you go plan for years. The iPhone suited my needs because a) I wanted immediate access to my email accounts and internet; b)iTunes, and c) my employer at the time had a discount on monthly payment plans.

I have no regrets. I do not use any other Apple products. I still have the 3GS model. It works fine with me. I do not wait in lines for the latest models. It seems that's become a ridiculous ritual. I also do not have games on my phone.

I admit I can get distracted on YouTube, and of course your website(wink, wink). But overall, it has been a good decision. Especially since I have my Mary Kay Cosmetics business. I'm able to contact customers in a timely manner.

Bookish Babe

Gus Van Horn said...


Heh! I bet about a quarter of my readership had a similar laugh -- before realizing that this site is an essential one, of course.

Depending on how you use the reference sites (i.e., assuming they don't change frequently or unpredictably), if there is an instapaper-like app for Blackberry, you could save what you need to Instapaper, tether your phone at work, and then use the material quickly at home.

Or, if you take a laptop to and from work, you could send what you need to EverNote and access a local copy once at home.


It was the birth of my daughter last year, as well as a desire to project a more professional image when networking or working with clients that drove me to buy mine.

I was holding the baby constantly and realized that hand-held Internet would make certain job-related things easier, as well as foraging for blogging material easier during the enforced idleness of late-night/early morning feedings and resettlings.

On both counts, three cheers for my phone, Dropbox, and Pinboard!


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "I bet about a quarter of my readership had a similar laugh." I'm tempted to reply, "Yes, Gus, that's what I said." (And you might well reply that a novel beginning "Snedcat laughed" isn't promising.)

In slightly similar vein, my father once told me of an exchange in one of his math classes. The professor said, "Although the highest grade was lower on this test, the average grade for the class remained the same." A student said, "But you didn't tell us what the average is." Without a pause the professor replied, "It's still true."

Thanks for the recommendations, by the way; I'll look into them the next couple of days.

Gus Van Horn said...


You could go even further and turn a reference site into an ebook and the fetch news function of Calibre. (I don't know if you have a separate ebook reader, but with Calibre, you can read ebooks of any format on a computer.)

You could even use Instapaper as the "news" site for furher customization.