I’ve been carrying around an iPhone since the first day it was released in 2007. Over the last decade, the iPhone (and, more generally, the smartphone) has significantly changed how we interact with technology on a daily basis. Overnight in 2007, we went from having to physically sit in front of a computer to being able to carry around one in our pants pocket and use it anywhere and everywhere we go. As you can imagine, overall computer usage went up… dramatically.
“The numbers are staggering: a New York Times analysis calculated that as of 2014, Facebook users were spending a collective 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every single day. It’s attention that we didn’t spend on our families, or our friends, or ourselves. And just like time, once we’ve spent attention, we can never get it back. This is a really big deal, because our attention is the most valuable thing we have. We experience only what we pay attention to. We remember only what we pay attention to. When we decide what to pay attention to in the moment, we are making a broader decision about how we want to spend our lives.”
– How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan To Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price
A few months back I read How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price and found it an absolutely fascinating read. A real wake-up call. Unfortunately, with my work and travel schedule, it is rather impractical for me to embark on a 30-day smartphone detox. So instead I decided to “hack” my iPhone with a bit of software and automation to make it significantly less “addictive.”
Addictive by Design
There has been a lot written lately about how smartphones in general and their user interfaces are designed to draw in the user and keep their attention so that they continue using both the device and the app/service for longer and longer periods of time. You see this in how devices are designed… brighter displays, more pixels, and less lag. But it doesn’t stop there. The applications and services within that shiny and lightning fast device are also vying for your attention. News feeds are designed to be infinite, so as you continue to read and scroll down your news feed you are given more and more articles and ads to read. It never seems to end. Then there is the problem of notifications. I highly recommend you limit notifications on your smartphone to only the absolute essential apps and services. Better yet, if you own an iPhone and an Apple Watch, take advantage of that amazing piece of technology on your wrist and use it as a filter from notifications instead of making them more prevalent. I wrote a GeekDad article a while back about how to set up your Apple Watch in such a way as to minimize how many times a day you are distracted by notifications.
Breaking the Cycle
The 30-day plan in Catherine Price’s book is designed to gradually break the addiction cycle many of us have with our devices. If you have the ability I highly recommend weaning yourself in this way. But there is another way to do this. I wrote an article here on GeekDad last month about how I have tricked out my tech gear with Ready Player One visuals and my iPhone home screen was an example of that. I mentioned in that article that I would have a follow-up article to explain why my home screen was empty and here is that reason.
The first step in breaking the addiction cycle is to eliminate the temptation to click on “just one more app” before you set your phone down. Your smartphone is a remarkable piece of computing technology but it has also been weaponized in the war to win our attention. It’s time to turn the tables and take back control. Step one is to make your smartphone “environment” a place of comfort and solitude and not a place to get easily distracted. How many time have you grabbed your phone to do something only to get distracted by a notification or an urge to check in on Facebook and forget the reason why you reached for your phone in the first place? If you clear out your phone’s home screen you significantly reduce the likelihood that you will get distracted from the array of application icons you are presented with. So I moved all of my application icons into just a handful of folders and moved those folders to my 2nd screen, which left my iPhone’s home screen empty except for the dock (which I also kept rather sparse).
I chose James Halliday’s childhood room concept art from the book The Art Of Ready Player One as my home screen. For me, the imagery of a room full of retro technology and pop culture is like a warm blanket and I wanted my iPhone home screen to reflect a level of comfort and tranquility. Maybe for you, it is a picture of your family or of nature or wildlife. The point is, your smartphone should be something that helps you and not hinders you, so configure your home screen so that it minimizes distraction and reminds you that you have control over how you use this device.
Hacking Your Phone
Now that you have a relatively “distraction free” landing space on your smartphone, it is time to take the next step and insert a “technology safety net” between you and everything on your phone. Think of it as a “heads up display” for getting things done. If you want to start using your phone as more of a tool you need to make it look like a tool. That means minimizing temptation and highlighting capability.
If you don’t take the time to really think through your phone’s home screen layout and design, you end up with a home screen and dock filled with your most commonly used applications. But as I pointed out earlier, the applications we use the most may not be what we would really like to see ourselves spending time on our phones doing. That is where Launch Center Pro comes in.
Launch Center Pro is an application that is designed to kick off applications, activities, and even workflows (Siri shortcuts) on your iPhone with just the touch of a button. So how does an application like this help break the addiction cycle with your phone? It helps because you can control the activities/options you see when you start using your iPhone. Rather than seeing a page full of application icons you see a tiled display of actions you can take with your iPhone.
In Part 2 of this article (which will be published later this week), I will go into detail about how to customize and use the Launch Center Pro application to not only help you break the addiction cycle with your iPhone but to also maximize the utility and power of your smartphone.
Part 2 of this article has been published, click through below to continue reading: