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I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain (nytimes.com)
247 points by imartin2k 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 169 comments



How do you separate the enriching part from the addictive part? To me the problem is that my laptop and my phone are magical doors that lead to both smart people at HN and some niche subreddits/blogs that really make me think, change my opinion, make my life more interesting... and right next to it there are social media bubbles, overwhelming stream of news and insight porn that I can read/watch for hours anxious that if I don't, I will miss out on something important... but somehow it's almost never the case.

I can distinguish how those two types of content make me feel - the first makes me feel fulfilled and inspired, the second tired and depressed. The problem is that the feeling only comes after I absorb the content and does not help me navigate towards the enriching and avoid the addictive - I start riding the enriching wave, I just need to look up some term or get distracted by something seemingly relevant... and suddenly I am sucked into the vortex of youtube-recommended videos and when I am finally able to free myself four hours later, I feel exhausted, sad and guilty that I wasted so much time.


The answer is discipline.

That’s not the answer people generally like, but it is real and honest.

I wake up at the same time every day, have the same routine every day, and have the same commute most days. To an extent, software has made it possible to chuck my own bad habits in the bin and start anew, but it doesn’t have a say in how I spend my time.

I read Hacker News and comment here because I like to, but if I need to stop for any reason during the day, I’m losing nothing by doing so, and if something is worth reading, then it is worth writing down what I’ve read. To me this is just a part of my reading time that I’ve allocated for each day, and not even the largest share of it. Same with /r/AskHistorians or /r/DepthHub. If you treat each thing like it is just a book you haven’t stopped reading yet, then you know you can always come back to it and read some a bit more whenever you want to. There’s no guilt, no stress, it’s just another part of my daily routine. Just like my job is. Just like listening to podcasts is. Or going for a walk. Or drinking a cup of coffee. Or cooking my meals and eating. Or brushing my teeth.

You are the master of your own destiny. You don’t have to spend time in any way that you don’t choose to, so you might as well spend time taking care of yourself rather than trying to figure out how.

Social media might be the digital equivalent of crack, but there isn’t a gun to your head telling you to use it.


>You are the master of your own destiny. You don’t have to spend time in any way that you don’t choose to, so you might as well spend time taking care of yourself rather than trying to figure out how.

Fundamentally, I don't think this is true. I think free will is a meme.

When you exercise self-possession to change your habits (insofar as you really did it consciously to begin with[0]), you're moving within a predefined space whose boundaries are encoded by myriad factors beyond your control. If, in that space, there's both "succumb to bad habits" and "break bad habits", and you managed to move to "break bad habits", great. But what if the space is only confined to "succumb to bad habits" for some people? That's the fundamental difference here: the conventional concept of agency assumes everyone's decision space is equally voluminous or that they can navigate with equal effort.

Especially disgusting to me is that holders of this view can recline in the comfortable callousness their ignorance or mythology affords them. If someone hasn't improved their circumstances, it's their moral failing, so they deserve their misery.

On the other hand, the callousness that materialist elitism affords you, that someone who can't improve their circumstances deserves their misery, is less comfortable, so it's a better kind of callousness. Many of us couldn't survive without the coddling of our parents and our civilization, and, on average, our civilization is a better place for our participation in it. Given our highly collective world of artifice, why would someone have a worldview that emphasizes some kind of Darwinism? It's a little silly and less palatable than the handwaving of moral virtue, so the end the result is that you're more forgiving of people's failures and proactive in their success.

0: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/free-will-...


> But what if the space is only confined to "succumb to bad habits" for some people?

No person would be so constrained. The space of possible behaviours is simply too large, so you're arguing a moralistic stance from an unreasonable assumption.

Furthermore, free will and determinism are not at odds. Even if someone were fully constrained to act in only a single way, that doesn't entail they would not be morally blameworthy.

The mistake you and others who argue against free will make, is that you assume moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment. While this is often the case in religious beliefs, it simply does not follow without additional assumptions. Your beef is not with free will. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.


> No person would be so constrained. The space of possible behaviours is simply too large, so you're arguing a moralistic stance from an unreasonable assumption.

Can you elaborate on why the space is simply too large to make this a possibility? From my observations of people suffering from severe addictions, it seems entirely possible that they have no agency when it comes to combating their addiction. They either are completely unable to grok the consequences of their actions or unable to choose actions that they know will benefit themselves.

> The mistake you and others who argue against free will make, is that you assume moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment

I don't think GP assumes moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment. I think, rather, he assumes that immoral acts are worthy of punishment. That is, if we happen to decide to punish a certain set of actions, we should punish immoral actions. I think this is a fair assumption. The primary goal of morality discussions is to determine which actions we want to strive for and which actions we want to avoid.


> From my observations of people suffering from severe addictions, it seems entirely possible that they have no agency when it comes to combating their addiction. They either are completely unable to grok the consequences of their actions or unable to choose actions that they know will benefit themselves.

I think you'd agree that the space of choices falls on a sort of spectrum, with comatose patients on one side, and the most intelligent or able people on the other. The set of choices available to comatose patients is the empty set, the set of choices available to the other end are enormous. Addiction will carve out a segment somewhere on this spectrum that is not the empty set. If it were the empty set, they would not be able to satisfy their addictive impulses. They're clearly rational enough to be able to figure out how to get their next fix. Agreed so far?

> I don't think GP assumes moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment. I think, rather, he assumes that immoral acts are worthy of punishment.

Immoral acts are morally blameworthy. I don't see the difference you're trying to point out.

> That is, if we happen to decide to punish a certain set of actions, we should punish immoral actions. I think this is a fair assumption. The primary goal of morality discussions is to determine which actions we want to strive for and which actions we want to avoid.

Nothing in this paragraph justifies punishment over say, rehabilitation. And that's the point: you simply can't get to retributive justice, or any form of justice, merely from the conclusion that free will exists.

You always require an additional assumption, but I've had countless arguments with people like the OP where they start with the assumption that punishment isn't justifiable, and then work backwards and conclude that therefore we should eliminate the concept of free will as if that solves the problem. It doesn't, it introduces a whole other set of problems, and punishment remains as a viable option given the right assumptions even without free will.


> From my observations of people suffering from severe addictions, it seems entirely possible that they have no agency when it comes to combating their addiction.

The easy solution here is to simply claim that free will is something you can give up, and once lost it can be near impossible to regain.

I also pretty firmly believe that it's a self fulfilling prophecy. Without the belief in the ultimate power of your own free will, it would seem perfectly obvious that you can be constrained the the point of impotence. I don't judge or disparage people who choose not to believe as I do, for me it is a tool to enable myself to take responsibility and own my outcomes.


How can we possibly escape Darwinism? Isn't it always present in one form or another? There will always be some particular traits will lead to better rates of survival in a particular society. In a world of abundance, discipline could be key - I have seen strong men destroy themselves through a lack of discipline. In a world of scarcity, those same men may have been heroic survivors. In modern society, we try to transform the selection process of Darwinism into something more abstract and therefore less noticeable to our primitive brains.


The answer is discipline.

If the OP had discipline then they wouldn’t be asking the question. That response is as useless as telling a fat person not to eat so much.


It's not useless at all. That the answer is simple does not imply the journey to fulfilling the answer is also simple.

If a person lacks discipline, it is generally within their control to look at themselves and their choices and figure out how to become more disciplined. If they cannot figure out some way, it is generally within their control to figure out how to ask someone for help about how to build discipline. I recognize that there are people with a mental makeup for whom asking for help is extremely difficult.

I do not know what to tell those people, but to continue to make progress in their lives means they have to overcome those blockers somehow.


What you’re saying is certainly true but that doesn’t mean it’s helpful.

It’s good to remember that ultimately discipline is what’s needed, but it’s also helpful to discuss specific intermediate steps, habits, and tools that are helpful in creating that discipline.


I often find myself in fear of good stuff being buried down. But I suppose an RSS setup should solve this.


> I wake up at the same time every day, have the same routine every day, and have the same commute most days.

"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."


The correct quote is "a foolish consistency." And the context of the quote has nothing to do with self-discipline. It is a call to boldly speak the truth today, and then boldly do the same tomorrow. If you contradict yourself, then so be it. The truth might not be found in only making logically consistent statements. "To be great is to be misunderstood."


I can just feel Emerson smiling contentedly at this comment. :-D Thank you.


It isn’t what you do everyday, it is how and why and with what amount of intent.

Just some thought for food.


If you figure out a way to solve this problem, please let me know - as someone who works from home, internet distractions are the biggest thing that stand between me and success.

I've heard the advice for writers of "turn of your wifi and just write without distractions". But, coding requires the internet in most cases. Hacker News is simultaneously enriching and distracting for me. Youtube is the source of all knowledge, both useful and incredibly banal.

I started using hnwatcher.com to notify me when certain topics I care about come up on Hacker News and that was a big level up in being more smart about time spent on here.

Reddit I have no idea how to use. I have the feeling I should just permaban it from my life, but it does have it's uses. Same with Twitter. Youtube has probably sucked more of my life away than anything else watching dumb videos that aren't useful or even entertaining/relaxing. It's one thing to do something to relax, but some of my internet surfing seems to fall into this weird middle ground of neither productive or fun, just addicting.

Perhaps one option is, as someone else mentioned, more curation. I don't usually have to worry about reading the news even though I do, since I know I'll get word of important things from my friends who do read the news a lot.

I recently joined a private freelancer community online, and that has replaced a lot of what I used Reddit effectively for - finding new ideas and rubbing shoulders with peers.

I'm also a fan these days of mailing lists since they are not sources of infinite content like Youtube/Reddit.


> If you figure out a way to solve this problem, please let me know - as someone who works from home, internet distractions are the biggest thing that stand between me and success.

I second that request and opinion.

Nostalgia isn't anymore what it used to be, but I quite fondly think back to the time where I really dove deep into learning computer science and technology. That was 20 years ago, and already back then I considered myself to be quite active on the internet:

Back then it was still dial-up – well for me ISDN, but still dial-up, with the connection metered by the second. Most "consumers" back then just installed their ISPs software on their machine and actively chose to "go online".

For me it was a little bit different. I had a small Linux box running in the cellar (which also worked as a Fax gateway for my mothers small business (thanks HylaFax)), which was essentially a communications hub. It ran an MTA+IMAP (somehow SuSE made creating a sendmail.cf manageable, on that box I never touched that part directly), a NNTP cache (Leafnode), Squid HTTP proxy. And a little script that would actively pull a set of predefined URLs (news sites) and domain local followup links into the Squid cache.

Dial-up happened on demand whenever a request could not be fulfilled from the local cache. And if a connection to the internet was made, all the caches got refreshed and mail fetched and sent out. The upshot of this was, that while you were working on your computer with an open browser, MUA and Usenet client, you might have the impression, that you were actually "online", but as a matter of fact, actually getting connected to the internet happened only sporadically.

But for this to work, you had to predefine, what you'd be interested in, so that it would be cached. For anything outside of the cache you'd hit by the time-it-took-to-dial-up penalty, which kind of discouraged mindless browsing between work.

So maybe that's a way to tackle this problem: Instead of blocking "harmful" websites, just add some significant delay to loading them and make them load slow.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique Pomodoro technique for the win. Just work for 25 minutes and then time box your procrastination for 5 minutes. Be disciplined and you will be surprised how far it gets you!


Reddit is definitely one of my main browsing vices. I've found that the only way for me to use it somewhat responsibly is to make use of multireddits. However, I can't seem to use it responsibly on my phone for some reason. I think it might just be the inherant nature of the form factor as I don't seem to have nearly as much trouble when I use Reddit on my PC, but having a Reddit app on my phone is a surefire way to kill my productivity.

I have always seen my PC more as tool to actually get work done and my smartphone primary as a communication and entertainment device. I think we can all agree that it is very difficult to get actual work done on a smartphone, so perhaps the form factor itself is what makes me more inclined to mindlessly browse.


One suggestion and one question:

- Consider using a tool like Dash to create an offline cache of docs so you can turn off WiFi and still program effectively https://kapeli.com/dash

- What freelancer community did you join?


The trouble is that often the thing you are looking for isn't in the documentation, it's in some random Github issue.


I'm in Kai Davis's Freelance Camp (http://freelance.camp). It's a wonderful group of people.


Self Control helps. The app. https://selfcontrolapp.com/


Let's dive into the "discipline" advice and get practical:

1. Find ways to create cues for yourself to separate the two kinds of activity, and use those cues to hint yourself - create that half-second of separation that gives you a chance to stop, recognize what you're about to do, and make a personal decision about whether you want to continue.

For example, split by device: your phone is for addictive and fun activities; and your laptop is for enriching activities. Or by browser: Safari is for fun and Chrome is for enriching. Or by time: fun before noon, enriching after noon.

2. Write down your intent and start to track for yourself how successful you are at tracking toward your goal. You can use iOS' screen time for this, or RescueTime, a pomodoro timer, or a tangible cue - pen and paper even - that gives you the feedback.

3. Be realistic: start with tracking and don't try to set a massive, aggressive goal ("no addicting activity") up front. You're going to need time and energy to build new habits, and you can't rely on having both consistently: it might be easier to notice your habits when you're less tired at the beginning of the week, or on days you're lucky enough to have fewer meetings. But start, try, and be consistent about getting better through time.

To be clear - this isn't novel advice - you may recognize parts of it from OKRs (write down your goals and revisit them weekly), from "one habit a month" self-help blogs, from mindfulness training, or even from cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Various tweaks on this formula might be necessary for your personal brain chemistry. But practice can give your brain the space to notice the underlying concepts and get better at it.


My "problem" with this is that I don't know how to separate activities into fun vs. enriching. I've gleaned a ton of valuable advice/information from Hacker News and similar sources, and also wasted an awful lot of time on them, and it's difficult to know which I'll end up having done on a given day.


One of the problems with this is that my workflow these days involves fairly frequently using the authenticator apps on my phone for 2fa to log into sites. While the phone is the worst culprit on distraction, I still can't just turn it off and put it away since I have to refer to it often. It would be better if I could at least block particular distracting sites and apps but I haven't found a way to do that that doesn't involve rooting it.


I think a lot of commenters have made productive comments on how to get started in changing bad habits. A commonality between these suggestions is a process of self-evaluation -- that is, it's important to set aside time to analyze how you spent your time and whether it was productive.

One thing I'd like to add is that the process of self-evaluation becomes a lot easier when you learn to shut off the part of your brain that negatively judges yourself. Many people (including myself) have an inner monologue that chastises yourself when you do something that is sub-optimal to your value system. This negative superego makes it REALLY hard to start honestly evaluating your behavior because you equate negative actions with negative self-worth, and nobody wants to put themselves down.

Part of my path towards mental fitness has involved replacing this negative super ego with the same love and compassion that I would show a friend. Then, the process of self-evaluation becomes psychologically much easier to tackle. I like to think of the time I've set aside for self-evaluation as an opportunity to work on my self-compassion as well as a way to identify corrective actions -- two birds one stone.

Nobody is perfect, and even if we end up wasting a ton of time on this earth on mindless activities, it's not the end of the world. At the same time, it makes sense to take actions that lead to our most fulfilling life. And, it sounds like you've identified one change that you could make, so good luck :).


Allocate a fixed amount of time at whatever cadence you like and stick to that. whipping out your phone everytime your bored has a net negative effect, no matter what insights you may glean during a particular instance.


I'm honestly not sure, for me it's mostly i've been on the internet a long time, I know 99% of everything is some bullshit. I look at most of it the same way I look at tv shows or movies. Do I want to spend the limited time I have taking in some bullshit? Or, do I want to spend my time productively? It really is your own choice. It's up to everybody how they spend their time. If you feel like it's a waste and it makes you miserable, just don't...

It's the same way I stopped eating candy and garbage. I still want it, I see it, it looks appealing. Then I remind myself it's a bag poison garbage. Likewise with facebook or stupid shit on the internet, I see it, it looks appealing...but i tell myself it's poisonous garbage...and just leave it.


I find this weird. The main thing I do on my phone is HN, some subreddits and books. Most other things fail to engage me on a phone for some reason. I find surfing the web to be way too frustrating to do it on a phone.


> and right next to it there are social media bubbles

Do you have the native apps or native client apps for these social media bubbles installed currently on your phone? If so, uninstalling them will go a long way to lessening your addiction since the mobile web experience of most social media apps has enough friction to make it more jerky and painful...

Think of it like having cookies at home when you were a child. Having them put on top of the cabinet by your parent out of reach (beyond your childhood height) made them practically inaccessible.


I'm coming to the conclusion that it may be best to somehow curate and control your own 'feed'. Eg for Youtube, block the suggestions and just rely on RSS from subscribed channels, or bookmark videos recommended elsewhere.

What may also work well is to think of a topic that is really interesting, /then/ go searching for it on Youtube. Trouble is the suggestion algorithms also work to wear down discretion, as it seems you've found...


Another thing is to add the DF Tube (or Distraction Free YouTube) extension which lets you hide most of the annoying parts of the UI like recommendations, comments, trending videos, etc.


For YouTube, I reccomend disabling watch and search history. That way, the only thing that shows up is from channels you're subscribed to or videos that are related to other vidoes you've "liked". If you want to remember a video, add it to a private playlist.


You spoke my mind better than I could do.


I followed almost the exact same track as this guy, slowly realizing that my phone was a problem, then the problem, and coming to the conclusion that real drastic intervention methods were necessary, something that went beyond vague "trying to do better" efforts.

I started a daily life 90% detox for a week or two then also did a completely phone free weekend, in my case at a Zen Buddhist monastery (and also in the Catskills, ironically).

I completely and totally agree with his ultimate conclusion. Having a smartphone had literally rewired my brain, and not in a good way. The inability (or unwillingness?) to hold concentrated attention on literally anything that requires more than 5 minutes of sustained attention is just a horrible way to live.

It's a tough thing to do, I freely admit that I have lapsed repeatedly since I started working on this seriously about two months ago. And I don't talk about it IRL with people since it's impossible to discuss without coming across as a holier-than-thou asshole.

But this is a real problem, and looking around it seems nearly everyone in modern society has it.

I think we're all going to look back on this era and what we've done to our mental health in abject horror, like we do on whatever era it was that the Romans decided sugar of lead was an awesome way to sweeten wine.


I called my wireless company 3 years ago and had my phone turned off, best decision I ever made. I have a VOIP phone at and one at the office the house and that is all I use. It was hard at first, but the only time I have ever missed having a phone was in one emergency instance where I blew a tire and my jack does not lift my truck high enough so I had to walk to a store, no big deal but its the only time I thought I wish I had my phone.


One of the main things I do on my phone is read fiction. I find that using a phone focuses my attention on one thing more than almost anything else. Particularly reading in a dark room or when walking outside when it's dark. It's so easy to ignore distractions while doing so. I am pretty much unable to read fiction when it's not on my phone.

It's interesting how we basically have the opposite experience.


I don't preach as much as mostly take light jabs. "Oh, so what's new on Myspace? I am so hip to all this interwebs stuff", that sort of thing. They just give me a confused grin... I mean, what are they gonna do, unfriend me on a platform I'm not on? :P

And I also had a few conversations about this topic, with smartphone users, and they were rather pleasant. It's difficult on the web, then it easily can sound arrogant. But in person, I haven't met a single person I liked, and who liked me, that had a problem with me not having a smartphone... and sometimes talking about how an information age would be neat, rather than a mobile serfdom age. Maybe me and a person who totally "identifies with" their smartphone wouldn't like each other to begin with, but at any rate it never was a problem for me, not even with bosses. Sure, I also don't inspire anyone to give up their smartphone, but in a live-and-let-live sort of way, I don't feel a need to hide my opinion, at all, as long as I keep it somewhat light.


I'm confused about what part of the parent you're replying to, I haven't downvoted you, but it's just not clear what you're talking about in the context of the conversation.


this bit

> I don't talk about it IRL with people since it's impossible to discuss without coming across as a holier-than-thou asshole.


In the future you should quote it in the parent comment. that way people will at least understand what you're talking about.

To make a nice look quote use the ">" and wrap the quote in asterisks to italicize.


Fine, so they can also downvote me so that I can magically realize what was so terribly wrong about comment, I forgot about that.


https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

> Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.


I'm aware of that, but I find downvotes without reply so much more boring. It's not like HN seems to care about the abuse of that, at all, it's just a mechanism for double standards and intellectual dishonesty.

Can you tell me what in the world is wrong with my comment? I don't have a smartphone, I joke around with people about it, that's a fact. Maybe not super interesting, but I just wanted to support the person I replied to with literally the only practical experience I have with what they were talking about... so was genuinely stumped, and because I don't see why I would beg for someone to please explain (that only gets you people who didn't downvote guessing at the motivation of people who won't respond).

It also kinda fits the topic: people mostly in their own heads, clicking buttons, thinking that means something, but being unable to articulate what that might be. I guess that comment deserved to be downvoted because it got downvoted, and I'm not supposed to talk about it because I'm not supposed to talk about it.

A voting system itself makes for boring reading and for boring discussion, because people think if in doubt, they can just tag team people and then the numbers speak for themselves. It's like one-click sophistry. I don't care about the karma, I care about the form of communication that is, and what kind of person I would have to be to tacitly approve of it. The guidelines also talk about a sense of community, but I guess that's just a word, like thoughtful. But have an upvote because you just tried to help :P


I think this is a worthy comment. It reminds me of getting dumped by a girlfriend by text message with a refusal to talk about what happened and why she wanted to end the relationship. How is anyone supposed to learn from that behavior?


In both cases, it doesn't really matter. If a girl dumps you over text message, she wasn't worth your time anyways. If someone downvotes you without explanation, ignore the downvote.


>If a girl dumps you over text message, she wasn't worth your time anyways.

Perhaps, but according to statistics I've seen, this kind of behavior, along with "ghosting" (which can include several different things), has become extremely common in dating these days. If most people are acting this way, it's hard to console someone with "he/she wasn't worth your time anyways".

>If someone downvotes you without explanation, ignore the downvote.

Same goes here: if this is the typical behavior of a majority of people, you can't just ignore it. The whole culture (as in dating above) is broken, and needs to be fixed.


I'm 37, and I have never really had a smartphone, because I don't want one. I know I tend to be addicted to the internet (I can't resit my laptop when it's nearby with wifi), so I think it's more healthy for me to just not have a smartphone than to resist temptation (like an alcoholic simply not going into bars).

I'm a Software Engineer and I've never downloaded or used an "app" on a smartphone.

I did buy a new Android one for $20USD in Guinea, but I just use it to tether my laptop and it doesn't have a single app on it. I've never browsed the web on it or made a phone call because the interface sucks.

It's interesting to watch how addicted people are to their phones, and how much it invades everyday life. I think I have an interesting perspective looking from the outside in.

Whenever I'm out for drinks or dinner, every single other person checks their phone about every 1-2 minutes, often spending at least that long doing nothing other than staring at their phone, oblivious to those around them. During those times I really enjoy looking around to see who else isn't on their phone, and I make eye contact and smile to see what kind of human responses I can get. I have previously been at a table of 10 people and I'm the only one not staring at a phone.

I get that they can make life much easier in certain situations (coordinating meetups with people, locations, timing, etc.), but to be honest the more I observe from the "outside", the more I'm convinced the negatives outweigh the positives.

Of course everyone needs to make their own choice, and I'm by no means saying everyone should ditch their phone or that phones are stupid.


In my current job I'm almost daily going by subway and see most people fumbling on their phone all the time. Many can't even stop when hopping on/off the train. Now when I carefully look at just what it is that captures their attention, it's mostly cheap games or endless-scroll taboola-style crap. A guy sitting next to me the other day simultaneously phoned and frantically clicked on random crap on his phone with no chance of actually reading anything on there. I've noticed some are even staring caustically at the phone's home screen or settings panel after having consumed everything being offered online for the time being.

I don't know, but IMHO these people should go see a therapist, and we should seriously get a move going to call out and stop this pathological addictive behaviour.


>> frantically clicked on random crap

I had a girl like this next to me on a train. For the whole one hour journey she scrolled and switched between apps in a spasmodic manner. At times she would lay the phone down for a few secs then resume at once.

It looked sick. It looked like someone on amphetamines.

We made a mistake with this thing.


> It looked like someone on amphetamines.

The sad thing is, if this was in the US at least, there's a very good chance she was on prescription amphetamines like Adderall.


There isn't much else to do on public transportation. You either fumble around on your phone or stare blankly at the wall. When I took public transit regularly I would read sometimes but there was too much noise and movement around me to really focus. Clearly you find yourself bored as well since you're looking over people's shoulders.


Or you could simply think. We live in an era where there is a nonstop stream of information and at times it seems that people have adjusted to this by becoming more and more passive consumers of it all. I mean if you just consider the headlines you've read in the past week you probably have enough to occupy your mind for many months! And this is still 'driven' thinking, as opposed to more creative thinking on whatever happens to interest you.

I am not picking you here. I think your view is increasingly common. In my opinion there do seem to be cognitive consequences to longterm 'smart' device usage. I would not be surprised if people in 50 years we look back on smartphones as we now look back on cigarettes. After all there was a time when most of everybody also just viewed cigarettes as a mostly harmless recreation and pleasure in times when you'd otherwise be doing nothing. That they were severely damaging your body over decades of use is probably something that did not really surprise that many people, but it was also something that was far from entirely certain. Similarly to today, I doubt many people would be especially surprised if there were indeed cognitive or other consequences from longterm 'smart' device usage, but it's still something that's far from entirely certain.


We think from the moment we're born to the moment we die, whether it is conscious or not. There is a false premise in this thread that states staring idly at a phone screen means there are no other thoughts going through your head.

Being deep in thought doesn't transport you into higher plane of existence. You still need somewhere to fix your eyes so you don't look like a lunatic on a packed commuter train where people are apparently judging your aptitude based upon where you're gazing.


There are a lot of different sizes and kinds of thoughts. With very few exceptions I find that my staring-at-the-phone thoughts are small, fast thoughts.

When you get into the habit of filling every bored moment with whatever you can find in the phone, you start to lose the ability to stare off into space - maybe out of the window, maybe close your eyes - and let your brain put together bigger thoughts.

It doesn’t help that there are a lot of things on your phone designed explicitly to try and addict you to them, either. It can be hard to put down the phone even when you know damn well you’ve gone through everything interesting in whatever apps you’re addicted to.


I hope I am not the only one who appreciates the irony of people posting statements in opposition of unproductive smartphone use from their own smartphone or PC into such a deeply nested comment thread that maybe 5 people will read it.


Sounds more like the habits of an anxious individual to think random observers know what you're idly gazing at or care.


This entire comment thread started with OP talking about watching what people do on their phones while they try to pass the time on public transit and making judgements about them based upon what he saw.

Try looking at another person on public transit for more than a few moments and see how uncomfortable they get. It's not a question of anxiety it's just etiquette.


It’s a miracle people suffered transit at all in the years before the invention of handheld networked devices.


Weren’t people reading books/newspapers before, or playing paper-based games (crossword, sudoku, etc)?

In most public transports the noise would make any conversation impossible anyway even if it would be considered acceptable and normal.


Boredom leads to inventions. Transit must've led to so many great ones.


> Clearly you find yourself bored as well since you're looking over people's shoulders

Observing people can be quite fascinating and illuminating.

In Europe the outdoor seating at cafes face the street so you can easily people watch without straining your neck.


Imagine if we could rework the public transportation culture to one that would generate spontaneous valuable interaction between the riders, things like topical discussions where multiple strangers could have a relaxed dialogue, impromptu games, and artistic performance and observation.


Before I was able to afford a car, I had a 2.5 hour commute to work involving 2 buses and a train and wait times. I can assure you that the last thing I wanted to add to my $50/week transit fee was an arbitrary seating system designed to encourage spontaneous interaction with others. Back then the magazines in my bag and Pro Evo 2008 on PSP were the only things keeping me going during those commutes.


Good luck with that. Women are too worried about getting hit on or even molested by men to want to do anything like that, and commuters are too tired to want to interact with others.


Wow.


There are also those rare moments when you can strike up a conversation with someone else on the train and those can be nice if that's your cup of tea


Depends on where you live. Doing this here would irritate most people a lot.


Thanks, I hated it.


Before there was the iphone people would read the newspaper. People having their attention glued to some 'thing' is nothing new.


But were people mindlessly flipping the pages the same way?..


Yes. You'd be surprised by how much time people used to spend mindlessly flipping through the glossy coupon sections in the pre-smartphone days. People also used to read shampoo bottles while they pooped before they had phones out of sheer boredom.


I used to look at it as a great time to get lost in a book.


I have lived in Japan for the past 6 years and smartphone addiction is high. Mostly eldery people are the only ones reading newspapers or books. I've seen them just looking at nothing (falling asleep while playing some stupid game). The number of times I have come close to bumping into people is insane. My best preventative is to make loud claps and it snaps them out of the phone.

I think most people are stuck to the smartphone because everything (2FA, calendars, messages, phone calls) centers around your phone. I have missed my fair share of calls from the wife and others because I never check the thing regliously. I think it is how much you interact with people that kind of determines how much you will use the smartphone for communication vs entertainment.


I live in NYC and see the same thing. Many people seem to be reading emails in addition to the other stuff.

For me being on the subway is quiet time for me to think about software projects. When I give my mind a chance to wander I come up with good solutions to problems or new ideas to try. I have no interest in taking out my phone and ruining that.


I attended a basketball game recently and saw multiple people playing arcade puzzle games and one person watching a YouTube video of another basketball game.

All of this was happening while the live game was in play!


Cant blame them - you cant fast forward boring bits IRL.


That's interesting, I'm similar. I've just gotten my first smartphone. Weirdly I'm not that drawn to it. It feels a bit too passive for me compared to my laptop. And it's just too large and clunky. Used it twice for walks/maps so far. Which is the biggest draw for me. Many people around me are stuck in their phones. I do find reading on the laptop difficult, and thought the better screen on the smartphone might be easier. But my brain still doesn't like it compared to e-paper. Not drawn to any apps yet, and the thought of trying to key a message into it fills me with horror. Charging is a pain. Years back I'd have loved these modern incarnations, the tech is pretty great, even modern Android is usable and quite slick. Perhaps watching my partner pick up the phone every few minutes every night has been enough to put me off. I'll likely switch back to my old Nokia I think.


It's funny, I feel the same way about smoking when I first tried it. What's the big deal? Why can't anyone just stop? It's only after years of building habits and life rhythms that you realize how deeply ingrained these things become..

I no longer smoke, but my relationship with my device is very choppy. Sometimes healthy (I'm in control, and I use my phone when I want or need to), and sometimes not.


Oh I've totally got an Internet problem regarding my laptop. So understand how that could translate to a mobile. Mine is just a little less conspicuous. I can type relatively easily on a keyboard after many years, whereas the barrier to text entry on a mobile is far higher for me. I think that's part of it. I notice my passivity more on the mobile. Or perhaps I think I'm more busy on the laptop. Whereas probably both are equally futile.


That's not to say that I don't waste oodles of time on my personal computer. I certainly have some addiction there. I've lost months to what amounts to not a lot through computer use.


I was like you until I had kids. Then suddenly no phone implied me not knowing soccer was cancelled, my kids missing birthdays etc. At some point, too much of "real life" moved online, and the consequences of not having a phone overweighted my not very coherent "ideology". But I seriously applaud your efforts!


I have a smartphone. A Windows smartphone. I'd say at least 60% of websites fail to render using the (obsolete) version of Internet Explorer on the phone (but Hacker News renders fine). Windows Phone OS support ends in December 2019 so I'll have to switch to a new phone at some point.

Why do I keep using it? Familiarity and I like the simplicity of the OS. It does have a few essential apps like offline maps. Windows Phone OS is probably the best UI that Microsoft created. It's also refreshingly different compared to the converging design and behaviour of Android and iOS (grid of icons vs tiles).

Ironically, a little-used, dead-end OS with few apps available on the platform means you can't do a great deal on the phone apart from call or text people. Maybe a blessing in disguise?


>Ironically, a little-used, dead-end OS with few apps available on the platform means you can't do a great deal on the phone apart from call or text people.

This right here.

I am quite fond of how using a Windows phone replicates the early cellphone experience from the late 1990s/early 2000s. One only has what they need, but most of the time, it's exactly one would want anyway.

Most commonly used apps are being phased out as well, meaning one has no choice - there is no way to use them, so it's almost as if the passage of time strips the phone down to the barest essentials. Mine functions as an alarm, watch and flashlight. I must admit a VPN and Signal/Matrix/Riot would be nice occasionally, though, but WhatsApp, notwithstanding its ownership by Facebook, works well.


I was this until tmobile changed their network and it no longer connected to me L1520. I loved that phone. I stopped using it right around the time that WP really fell out of favor (End of 2015, when tmo dropped it) but I wish I could still use a current version. Microsoft somehow really got most things right with that UX, the UI was fun and made sense, there were small quirks that I didn't realize other people on iOS (which I switched to) didn't suffer from but for the most part it was a better experience.

By far my favorite thing was the home screen and folders. the ability to have different size tiles and folders made my homescreen unique and incredibly powerful.


Are you me? :)

With my Windows Phone I am immune from websites continually trying to push me to use their app ( take that, reddit! ;) ).

And it makes a great smartphone for my son... just enough capability to stay connected, but a lot of distractions are just not possible to indulge in...


I did try to resist for a long time (about the same age as you), but I finally caved in a few years ago.... But I'm thinking of going back without a pocket computer because the mobile companies can't be trusted.


I am amazed at how my brain's ability to focus on long term tasks has been diminished over the past few years. I used to be a voracious reader, but lately have struggled to read (offline) more than a few pages at a time. I won't blame smartphone usage entirely, but it certainly has been a large contributor to that.

This year, I've begun a concerted campaign to reduce my phone time. The latest iOS screen time tracker ironically, has been a help. I look forward to the weekly reports that say "Your screen time has been reduced by x minutes per day". So far this year, the downward trend has continued.

I spent the weekend just gone reading a lot more, and also taking up painting again after a nearly 3 decade break from it.


Yeah, I've noticed this too. I used to be able to finish pretty long books in one sitting and be completely absorbed in them, but now I struggle to finish a chapter.


It could also be that you've grown older, and have more responsibilities now, so you just don't really have as much time in continuous blocks? I used to be a reader in my teens as well, but in adult life, with work, social life and the tons of other activities that I have access to, it just isn't a priority. Slightly older friends of mine who are married/have kids have even less time. So it seems like free time reduces throughout adulthood until around retirement/kids-go-to-college, and then starts increasing again.


Yeah, it's probably somewhat that, though I usually do most of my reading before bed and I'm still not able to concentrate nearly as much as I was able to.


I wonder whether there's something deeper going on here in the world. The explosion of content on the Internet in the past 15 years has resulted in a great deal of high quality articles and long form journalism becoming readily available. Perhaps books were what we put up with when there was just less quality writing within reach. But now with heightened expectations we grow tired with the occasional rambling, repetition and longueurs that previously we would just power through out of habit.

I'm not arguing this is the case. But it's something I've wondered about as a possible explanation for why books are less appealing to me now.


I don't think that's necessarily true. The quality of writing hasn't change, but the formatting has been perfected. The short burst of dopamine we get from completing 10-30 minute videos, articles and the like are much more achievable, and therefore we naturally spend time consuming that, even though in hindsight it often doesn't make us as happy as reading a book does.


Same here. Still thinking about this Nietzsche quote: “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” [That I consider a valid explanation of why Twitter is so damn great!... [1]]

[1]: ... once you have curated your perfect list of "following".


For developers or people who are on a computer a large portion of the day, I don't think the problem has anything to do with smartphones.

A lot of those addictions (checking email, checking if someone engaged with one of your replies or content, etc.) can happen on a laptop or desktop workstation. The only difference is you're looking at them in a browser instead of on your phone.

I never had a smartphone but I am a freelance developer where I spend most days doing work on a computer and it's really easy to get stuck in loops where you're checking XYZ on an abnormally high frequency. It's especially difficult if your business expects you to be on those sites.

In other words, ditching your phone (if you have one) isn't going to change much if you spend most of your day on a computer. At best you'll be less rude to people out in public which is a good thing, but it's not going to fix your brain.


Totally agree. Actually I think were are worse in that laptops and workstations are more potent drugs than the phone ever could be. People will be glued to their phones in public, but we don't even bother to go out into public.


Yup, would have to agree with this. I don't see how the smartphone is really the issue, when the internet as a whole is the "problem" (or really, you yourself are the problem).

I use browser extensions to keep myself from loading distracting websites out of habit, and that generally helps as long as you have the discipline to not just turn the extension off or something. I also don't have chat apps like discord or slack open most of the day, because those are majorly distracting to me as well.


I have been studying this problem as it developed over the past decade (mobile revolution), and am torn between the two perspectives on it.

What desktops and laptops afforded that mobile takes away, 8 usable fingers aside, is the factor of dedicated computer use (reduced context switching with non-mobile), providing a much better opportunity to keep predominant brainwave patterns away from the "fight or flight" state historically associated to rapid context switching.

Therefore there is one categorical problem (excessive computer use) that is indeed shared across mobile and non-mobile computational platforms alike, and we can point to the people who used their desktops or laptops so much that it could be considered unhealthy, all well before the mobile revolution.

At the same time, the modern epidemic exacerbates the problem by not only summing total computer time between mobile and non-mobile, but there is added the additional factor or rapid context switching which is nearly unavoidable with mobile platforms.

If that wasn't enough, there is also evidence that these newer behavioral patterns are bleeding back from mobile into non-mobile computing, meaning that people are now using desktop/laptops as though they were mobile platforms, rapidly context switching when 10+ years ago they simply did not do this.

Altogether, the evidence indicates that you are right overall, the smartphone was a catalyst to a change in how the internet is interacted with which is the real problem by and large, but conversely, we might be able to use both mobile and non-mobile platforms in a way which minimizes context switching and in so doing restores healthy beta brainwaves rather than encouraging the unhealthy "fight or flight" patterns indicative of this modern (first world) epidemic.


Another strategy to help ditch the phone - try for a few days rating each day on a scale from -2 to 2 and recording a few notable things about each day. I learned about this technique from Jim Collins, who shared it on a podcast with Tim Ferriss[1]. Collins says sorting the spreadsheet is especially useful because you can see patterns and learn what separates good days from bad days.

I bring this up in relation to this article because after three days of doing this (for those interested, [-1, 0, 0]), I concluded distractions are the biggest reason I didn't go [2, 2, 2]. My phone for me at least is the #1 cause of distractions - simply looking at it and seeing a notification can derail my train of thought. Setting it on Do Not Disturb and only checking a set number of times I'm thinking will be helpful.

One more thing here - knowing that I need to rate myself at the end of each day absolutely is in the back of my mind during the day, which I think is a positive.

[1] - https://tim.blog/2019/02/18/jim-collins/


There was a period a few years ago, where I went without a smartphone, and used a flip phone instead. (My iPhone 4 became too slow after upgrading iOS too many times, and before I got an iPhone 6.) Phone service without a data plan is a lot cheaper too.

From the article: “A phone-free weekend involved some complications. Without Google Maps, I got lost and had to pull over for directions. Without Yelp, I had trouble finding open restaurants.”

I these types of cases, researching, planning ahead, and writing things down are the solutions. That’s what we used to do, and it still works.

What eventually made me justify getting a smart phone again was Uber (Lyft now), particularly when traveling. Funny, that’s 1% of 1% of what I actually use it for. (I don’t travel often.) So that might be an interesting thing to figure out: how to have a smart phone available for short periods of times when the benefits really call for it.

I recently read Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism, which isn’t about breaking phone addictions. (It’s not decide-specific.) It’s about choosing the specific things we do on all digital platforms. It might not be the phone that’s the problem. For example, YouTube seems to be designed for maximum engagement, and it is an issue for me on phone, tablet, and Roku/Chromcast. It didn’t seem to be a problem on a PC, which I used before discovering the apps (which I originally installed in order to cast YouTube videos on a Chromecast).

Newport’s main philosophy is to get rid of most of the apps, websites, social media and then choosing (or tweaking) specific tools among those only if they are the best way to do something in support of what you value most. This is the opposite of the approach of using a digital technology just because it might have a benefit.


I'm reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport right now which was the first thing that came to mind reading this article as well. For others that are curious, that book asks the question "Does the way we spend our time [particularly in the digital world] reflect our values?"

https://www.amazon.com/Digital-Minimalism-Choosing-Focused-N...

http://calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/

IMO Cal's approach being driven from core values and encompassing all device usage resonates on a deeper level for me than the author's. That said, I haven't read yet the book written by the coach of the article author, How to Break Up With Your Phone. Looking forward to checking that out.

https://www.amazon.com/How-Break-Up-Your-Phone/dp/039958112X


> Funny, that’s 1% of 1% of what I actually use it for. (I don’t travel often.) So that might be an interesting thing to figure out: how to have a smart phone available for short periods of times when the benefits really call for it.

consider getting google's phone plan, idk if it will work with a regular phone, but if it does you can stick the sim card in whichever device fits your use case that day. You don't get unlimited data, but it sounds like you're not the sorta person who needs or wants it.


Self-correction: Where I wrote “It’s not decide-specific” should say “It’s not device-specific.”


I got a cellular Apple Watch and leave my iPhone at home. Productivity at work went through the roof, and meetings aren’t as painful anymore because I have no choice but to pay attention and participate.

It does all the smart phone essentials, including maps and Uber and two-factor auth, but the tiny screen staves off the addiction.


I got the non-cellular watch a while back and have found it pretty good at avoiding the “hey here’s a text message, but why don’t I also check the news” loop. I think I made a mistake in getting the non-cellular version as I still am compelled to get out the phone and thus risk distraction when I want to respond to a longer text message.


Watches are the worst, I find people with them look at them far more than phones. Its like they think it's not distracting for them to look down 15 times in a 10 minute conversation.


I've always loved to read, any kind of book would do, but recently I've been unable to sit down and read a book, even technical ones. Guess I got used to the instant gratification that Reddit & friends give to the brain. Considering to ditch the smartphone as well.

Actually, I can't ditch the WhatsApp because it is the new phone company these days... Using a very weak smartphone with small screen, too small and slow to read, would be a solution?


My latest personal find has been audiobooks. Suddenly all the time in the car is “reading”


My Pixel 2 is, honestly, a glorified iPod touch. I guess with a radio chip. I don't have it near me to check but I'd imagine that at least 50% of that devices usage is audio. Audiobooks, podcasts, and music. I don't really have apps on it, and I've never really used smartphones apps. For me, it's a communication device that has the storage capacity and capabilities to handle my audio library. I love it for that and it works exceedingly well.


I can read just fine, as long as YT video plays in the corner of second monitor and I have 3-4 other tabs to quickly switch to when I get bored :P :(


One idea: you can try having a "no phone hour" before you go to bed, and hide your phone in the closet or wherever. That might give you some space for reading. The laptop can also be put away during this time.


I read on my phone. It's the main thing I use my phone for. Before I got a smartphone I basically hated reading fiction (thanks mandatory reading from school).

Have you tried reading on your phone?


I can't read even in the computer, for some reason screens are associated with 'quick read'.


I can't read on a computer either, but for me it's because I get distracted and feel like I should be doing something more productive.


I've just setup a new phone and have decided to leave all of the dopamine triggering apps off of it. I installed one thinking "it won't be that hard to moderate" but my fingers were immediately flipping it open and scrolling unconsciously. So off it goes.

I'm already noticing myself not caring about those platforms and not even really checking them on the desktop.


My spouse and I did this with all of a few company's apps, utilizing the mobile website only.

The difference in time saved is notable.


I tried mobile site only hut they quickly became as bad a habit.

As much fun as arguing on Twitter is and seeing those analytics go 1+, it's not improving my life, skills or earning potential.


As a mindfulness-building experiment, I'll occasionally try writing down everything I do on a given day (before I do it). Even small things, like reading an article on hacker news, or responding to a text.

It's kind of the inverse approach to what is described in the article. I don't necessarily forbid myself from doing any smart-phone related activity. As long as I intentionally make some mental note of what I'm about to do before I do it. For some reason this seems to be more effective for me than the elimination approach.


I like the way the author talks about rewiring of the brain. A lot of articles like this focus on the social aspect of phone usage; anxiety and isolation. There are however more intagible but noticable affects.

When I went on an international vacation and didnt buy a phone plan, I just turned it off at the airport and left it in my bag. I felt a strange clarity of thought and change in perspective about 3 days in. When I look back, I sadly think I was the best version of myself that week.

I am not a heavy phone user; I have a Blackberry so there arent many apps and I am generally uninterested in social media. But for anyone reading these articles thinking its mumbo jumbo, I would encourage you to give it a try.


You must have an old BlackBerry, because new ones are just like any other Android phone.


I have the Blackberry Classic, from summer 2015. They did an integration of some sort with Amazon Fire apps, but they don't work super well. My next one will probably have the Android; I wonder where they are privacy wise.


As the author noted in his article, I would emphasise the importance of having a hobby you enjoy. My rock climbing gym is full of programmers, just saying, it's a nice sport that's accessible to all strengths, and you can probably find a meetup at the gym near you.

Also, biking to work can be a great way to avoid both phones and advertising, and also reconnect with your surroundings. I hate taking the subway only to be bombarded by advertising, so I read on my phone, which has ad blockers.


I find it's really hard to play with a phone while surfing. :-)

Also to surf moderately well requires keen observation of nature. It's very meditative.


I've found it effective recently to push my chair out from my desk or to shove my phone back into my pocket as soon as I realize I am about to engage in a distracting activity. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing, meditating if you will, until I feel the temptation pass. It might help to build some concrete habit to replace a bad one rather than focusing on eliminating the bad habit directly.


“I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping.”

So don’t take the call and keep having the conversation. Delete all apps that aren’t a net benefit. Is this really that difficult?


Problem with the self discipline argument is that there are thousands of highly paid software engineers and designers who spend every working day aiming to break that discipline, and they have a mountain of data and a powerful low latency feedback loop as weapons.


Yep, in hindsight, I’m off base here. I delete apps as soon as I feel like I’m being manipulated (people too). I pretty much use my mobile devices for note taking, calendar, email (with rule sets for the “offenders”), reminders, and internet/music. Basically it’s augmenting all the stuff I normally forget.


For some people it seems to be, others either see through the shallow attempts at creating and stimulating a need for more instant gratification which the 'app' world is so rife with or just plain are not interested in wasting time on caressing their touch screens for no identifiable purpose. Some - me amongst them - fit in both categories.

Mobile devices can be handy tools as long as they are seen as just that, tools to perform tasks which are laid aside when the task is completed. For some this seems to be difficult as this happens to be a tool which can be configured to call for attention at any time...

...a family is having dinner, 'bleep' says the phone in mommy's pocket and she is instantly is pulled off-balance by the urge to look for the cause of that 'bleep' versus the annoyance she knows this creates. Either she gives way to the urge and annoys her partner who feels these devices have no place in this context or she keeps it where it is and feels the pull of the thing in her pocket, the unfulfilled desire to know what made it bleep even though she knows it will just be another pointless message...


Yes. People who think they have better self control over something tend to just have a different level of enjoyment.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/11/3/13486940/se...


First of all, I completely disagree with this article.

Anecdotally, I always had insane amount of will-power compared to my peers/people that I can gauge.

From the article:

"But if, for example, the change is to eat fewer sweets, and then you find yourself in front of a pile of cookies, researchers say the pile of cookies has already won."

I use to do this daily on purpose, just to better my will-power. I bought tons of stuff that I specifically didn't want to eat (I had 6 pack, attempting to get 8 pack) and I put them on my table so I can see them the whole day. I never reached for them, cause even if sometimes I thought of it (especially when there was no other food available (rarely), I STILL didn't touch them). Cause it's my choice, and it's up to me and I'll do what I decide to do. End of story.

It's up to you. It's a choice. Forget everything you have been thought, it's completely up to you. When you take Coca Cola and put it in your mouth, you are doing it. Not some abstract will-power or genes or anything. It is you!

Similarly, we can make up our minds on anything and stick with it. I refuse to believe that we aren't control of our own, damn it!

There's some dumb things in the article like:

“People who are good at self-control … seem to be structuring their lives in a way to avoid having to make a self-control decision in the first place,” Galla tells me. And structuring your life is a skill. People who do the same activity — like running or meditating — at the same time each day have an easier time accomplishing their goals, he says. Not because of their willpower, but because the routine makes it easier."

So according to them, there is no such thing as "willpower" cause it's always something else. They say nobody has willpower anyway; there are people that have no temptations and that's why they persevere. Ridiculous.


Hmm. Maybe it’s not black and white - try this idea out for size: “willpower” as a finite resource. Some have more. Some have less. Some learn how to develop it and increase capacity. Some use their current capacity to greater effect by creating systems for themselves that maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their current level.


By the sound of it, for them that was all apps. So just use a normal phone, no point in a smartphone without apps.


Yes. The system is designed to be difficult to ditch. For a lot of people, the little thrill of an unread notification badge is like mainlining heroin. It's a dump of happy chemicals right to their brain.


Cigarettes might be a better analogy: that little pick-me-up in small bursts throughout the day.


The 'notification junkie'... :P


Yes, obviously, or they wouldn't struggle with it.

If you're addicted, rational thought isn't dominant.


For those of you who have succeeded, how long was the withdrawal period? I try but in always get sucked back in after a few days.


IMO we should fight to consume the modern Web and apps in ways that benefit us and not somebody else.

Throwing away the devices is a radical and unrealistic measure for many.

If you need to live on a lonely island somewhere in the Pacific for 18 months then by all means, do so.

I quite like it in the civilization when I am focused and not constantly distracted though. And that's achievable.


> IMO we should fight to consume the modern Web and apps in ways that benefit us and not somebody else.

That's kind of a self-defeating statement. The modern web and it's requiring the end user to blindly run third party code to even get text to show on a webpage is the problem. And 'apps' on locked-down, proprietary computer devices like smart phones only makes it worse.

My solution to the problem was to not start. I have never owned a smart phone that connects to a telco network. Only in the last year or two have I bought a ($15) smart phone to use over wifi with my custom 910 MHz wireless ethernet bridge between my home network and car network. But in the end I never used it since my thinkpad laptop was so much more powerful and better for getting actual work done.


> The modern web and it's requiring the end user to blindly run third party code to even get text to show on a webpage is the problem.

Not really self-defeating. I am pretty sure you don't inspect every line of code of every software you run. There are reasonable compromises but we currently don't live in a system that has them (not in the widely used software anyway).

> My solution to the problem was to not start.

Good for you. I will again repeat however that there are many people like me who consume responsibly and make the system work for us, not we for it.


"like getting really into healing crystals or Peloton."

A dude with an apartment like that is going to tell me Peloton's a cliche?


I'm not a cyclist, what does reduced drag by biking in a group have to do with healing crystals?


They're referring to the Peloton brand of exercise bikes, I think.


I've been able to more or less "conquer" my smartphone by using the nifty little app called AppBlock on Android. Since the phone is not rooted, I can make it literally impossible to use certain apps unless I wipe the phone (I think you need the paid version for that, but it's like $7). Otherwise I'd just turn off the blocker.

I just block the browser and Youtube and Reddit and everything else. I rarely have a case where I really need to use a browser when away from my laptop that isn't wasting time.

Now my phone is just a thing that does calls and texts and that also plays music and podcasts and has ebooks and alarms and maps. Not a source of infinite novelty.

My laptop, on the other hand, is the harder one to tame, since the really problematic things are so close to the productive things, especially when coding.


Honestly, I'm shocked by all the comments here from people without smartphones or only flip-phones, in what's supposed to be a community of technophiles.

Personally, I'd be lost without my phone. I don't understand the "addiction" bit at all, it's just a tool to me that is extremely useful, mainly because of a handful of apps. The phone part (for talking) really isn't that important, because I don't talk that much on it. Here's what I use my phone most for:

1) navigation. Seriously, why the heck would I want to go back to the inefficiency and danger of paper maps when I have a navigator telling me when to turn and keeping me on track as I concentrate on paying attention to other drivers?

2) calendar. My calendar is online so it's easy to keep myself organized with it, and my phone gives me reminders.

3) texting. So many people text now that to communicate with them you have to text too. The nice thing about texting is that you don't have to interrupt what you're doing right that second to respond. Also, there's more to texting than SMS: there's many apps like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, LINE, etc. which can offer more reliable and better user interfaces (such as read receipts).

4) calculator. I don't have to carry around an old HP RPN calculator, because my phone has an app that does the same thing.

5) notes. Instead of taking notes on easily-lost pieces of paper, I have an app for writing random bits of information down.

6) socializing. Meetup.com and various dating apps are quite helpful in finding events and meeting new people. How else is a single person supposed to meet dating partners anyway? (No, I don't drink, so don't tell me to go to a bar.)

Web browsing is actually not something I do that much on my phone, because the screen is small and the UI for it sucks, so I generally save that for my PC. It's nice to have the capability now and then, for instance if I want to look something up on Wikipedia really quick when I'm out, but it's not something I spend a lot of time on.


Oh yeah, I forgot a really big one:

7) camera. Instead of having to carry a separate camera around just in case I see something I want to photograph, I already have one built into my phone that's pretty good (though admittedly of course not nearly as good (particularly for low-light conditions) as a serious DSLR or other good camera). My new phone even has dual lenses, a 16MP regular lens with OIS and an 8MP wide-angle lens. Considering I carry the phone around all the time anyway for the other functions, the camera is a really nice bonus.

Along with this is 8) Banking apps, with check-deposit functionality (enabled by the camera in #7). No longer do I have to take time off from work and waste my time and gas going to the bank when someone sends me a paper check; instead I just take a couple photos on my banking app and it's deposited.


For people who advocate getting rid of their smartphones, what about apps for:

1. Audiobooks & Music

2. Mobile Authenticators

3. Flash Card apps (anki)

4. Podcasts

Is it also valuable to get rid of those things? Are they part of the problem, or would they be a casualty of the abstinence?


3 months smartphone free

1. Audiobooks & Music - I don’t really listen to music on the go but I’m considering an MP3 player

2. Mobile Authenticators - most password managers can handle OTPs

3. Flash Card apps (anki) - Using a Kindle for Mandarin and Bible Greek. It has language learning features that work okay, maybe a little better because there’s less temptation to quickly switch to another app.

4. Podcasts - Same as number 1


The first and last are possible with a subset MP3 players - if just used for that purpose they are cheaper and more efficient.

All but the second may be served by a sim-cardless smartphone/mini tablet. Putting aside if you should there are alternatives.


> changed my lock screen to one that showed three questions to ask myself every time I unlocked my phone: “What for? Why now? What else?”

How does one do this? Asking for a friend...


I'm assuming they just made a wallpaper with that text on it and set it as their lockscreen background?


You could also make it your unlock password.


I downloaded an app to track my phone usage on a daily basis, and the shame power of seeing how much time I wasted helped me cut down to the essentials.


I still use a flip phone, even though its getting harder now that they are trying to force everyone to use smartphones. For example, ticketmaster is mobile only now (for NFL games at least). There is no option to get your tickets physically sent. No matter how hard it gets, it simply won't ever be worth the massive privacy implications to me.


I wonder how one would go about finding out which flip phones don't track you, eg, via contact lists or w/e. The answer doesn't come up in google searches.


Say you keep wifi off most of the time and don't use a lot of apps. What's the massive difference in privacy?


I got rid of my phone for 3 years and my employer (between failed attempts at startups) was appalled that I would even consider this. They became irate but eventually acquiesced. It's weird how much people can't understand how others don't want their addiction. This doesn't happen with heroin, or other drugs, just technology.


I’m really interested ingetting a weekly “digest” for each of my subreddits. That way I can just block reddit and stop wasting time but I can be sure I won’t miss anything important. I just want to see the top ten posts of the week for each subreddit.

I guess that wouldn’t be that hard to code up. I think they have an. API.


When the author mentioned the joy brought on by having that "digital retreat" it reminded me of my cross country motorcycle trip this past March. I rode from Boston to Chicago to Seattle to San Francisco to Utah and Colorado and then back to Boston in 3 weeks. If you do the math, I think it averaged out to like 450 miles a day on a motorcycle. Which if you've ridden you'd know is a shit ton of riding back-to-back. So while I brought along my laptop and my Nintendo Switch, I ended up not touching them because as soon as I got to the hotel I'd usually pass right out.

That whole trip as a result was rather fantastic. Every day was just punctuated by the changing sights and sounds around me, as well as the physical challenge of the amount of riding every day.

That is, except for my phone, which was the ever-present companion on my journey. See, I didn't have GPS, instead opting to strap my phone to the handlebar with a little mount and use it with Google Maps to navigate. At one point, 3 or 4 days into the ride, somewhere in Wisconsin or Minnesota, I saw my dad (who I was riding with for half the trip), take a photo with a little camera he had stashed in a tank bag. I was jealous, "Aw man, I can't take pictures till we stop." But surely it'd be inane to take my $1,000 iPhone X out of it's secure mount and hold it one-handed while riding at highway speeds on a motorcycle just to take some pictures. I'm sorry to say that that idea became less and less inane as the days went on and I was eventually pulling the phone out of its harness god knows how many times a day while riding.

At this point you're likely thinking, so when did you drop it? Which is a great question. The answer to that question also brings us back to my original point with this point. I broke it right after the PCH goes from the 101 to the 1 on the coast of California, specifically right after it touches the coastline revealing absolutely breathtaking views. I was devastated, and a little concerned as I had no GPS and had been relying on it entirely for the ride up till that point (some, I don't know 4k+ miles).

In fact, what it turned into is one of the best days of that trip. I was completely blind and completely detached from anything that wasn't physically connected to my body flying down the coast of California. I had to navigate by following signs and asking for directions. I noticed the surroundings much more along the way. Everything seems more vivid when you've lost the sometimes, I'm embarrassed to say, manic need to take pictures of things as you go along. The brutal irony of that day was that I dropped the phone because I couldn't stop taking pictures of the sights on the trip and as a result I lost every single picture I took from Boston to California. Thankfully I had kept a travelogue of daily Instagram posts, so then the only day that has no pictures to account for it was the day I rode down the coast of CA. Those are views that can only be recreated in my mind, sans-iPhone, and I kind of like it that way.


I'm sorry you broke your phone.

We just got back from a Caribbean island, and once or twice my wife used Google maps as a backup to our paper map.

It was almost always wrong. Google was always selecting really stupid routes that anyone actually living there would tell you are really impractical.

It became a kind of running joke, and we would amuse ourselves by talking back to the Google voice which was always telling us to take the wrong exit in roundabouts, or telling us to do a u-turn for no reason.

Once, a few years ago, before we gave up on GPS, Google planned a route including a highway that had been closed for 2 years. We had to turn back. Thanks!

I now never use GPS, even when travelling. I buy paper maps and plan and memorize ahead of time and watch for road signs. I find you meet more people and have better interactions with locals if you ask for directions.


This is a fantastic strategy! The times I’ve done this have always resulted in more fulfilling journeys. Even just the act of burning new routes into the synapses of your brain and honing your internal compass is super rewarding.


Reading this made me think of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Really nice story.


I no longer have social apps installed on my phone and I’m just doing fine. The social networks are full of garbage these days. I use HN for tech news and use feed api for reading news.


Piece of advice: Turn off notifications for messengers and email apps. You’ll see how you feel better without being distracted. Also it makes you more productive.


No need to ditch your phone, just uninstall Facebook, Candy Crush, and other time-wasting apps.


Which app did he use to get usage statistics ?


> as measured by the iPhone’s built-in screen time tracker

I somehow missed it.




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