Self-control is definitely involved when it comes to using technology, but Harris points out:
“there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”
Many apps, along with the entire concept of notifications, seem designed to keep us checking our phones, hoping for a dopamine rush. And while it’s easy to think we’ll get right back to whatever we were doing,
research shows that when interrupted, people take an average of 25 minutes to return to their original task.
Some of his own methods for minimizing mobile distractions included:
- turning off almost all notifications
- setting a custom vibration for messages
- relegating black-hole, time-sucking, and colorful apps to folders
- using search to launch apps
I do much of this already. My notification-enabled apps are:
- Squarespace Commerce
- Fantastical 2
- Skype for Business
- Find Friends
- Google Hangouts
- Mail, but only for VIPs (0) and Thread Notifications (currently 0 enabled)
- Facebook Messenger
Now, that seems like a lot of messaging apps, I know. But Hangouts, Voxer, Whatsapp, and Messenger are the sole means of contact with 1-2 friends per app. The key here is that I am notified only when someone is directly contacting me, or I have something very important to do (OmniFocus, Fantastical 2, Commerce). Messages has a custom vibration I call Double Tap. My homescreen looks like so. And I constantly use search or Siri to launch apps.
Time vs. Value
I like the idea of tracking how much time I spend in an app on a weekly basis and comparing it to the value I get from each. A rough way of doing this would be to schedule a time each week (perhaps during my weekly review and planning session) to reflect on this. The time data is available on iPhone:
- Go to Settings > Battery > Battery Usage
- Select Last 7 Days and the clock icon.
As much as I’d like tech giants to step in and make ethical design choices, I still assume primary responsibility for my usage, as we all must.