The rise of smartphone technology and the internet (STI) was a game-changer. I could summarize the impact in general, but I prefer to tell you about how STI has shaped my own life. STI has enabled me to instantly look up tens of thousands of words in English, Spanish, and Arabic, for more than a decade—no small asset to a lifetime student of linguistics! STI has enabled to meet people around the world to do language exchange with and communicate with friends and family on a daily basis via iOS group chat and WhatsApp. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the daily habit of Googling and YouTubing whatever questions frequented my intellectually curious mind. Thanks to STI, I’ve learned so much about history, philosophy, theology, psychology, economics, investing, sports, exercise, and health. If it weren’t for STI, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading this!
STI, however, also has a dark side that many of you are familiar with. There’s pornography, a scourge on mankind; there’s also cyberbullying, black market activity, video games, fake news, and social media. Some STI is downright sinful, while others is simply a waste of time. Sometimes we think of “a waste of time” as no big deal, but the truth is, when we waste our time, we waste our lives.
Entrepreneur Naval Ravikant did an interview with Joe Rogan once in which he described the constant stimulation afforded by STI as a “disease,” and “the road to misery:”
I always needed to be stimulated, and when the iPhone came along, boredom was dead. I would never be bored again. Even if I’m standing in line, I’m on my iPhone, and I thought it was great. And when I was a kid, I used to try and overclock my brain. “How many thoughts can I think at once?” The answer is only one. But I would try to think multiple thoughts at once. And I was proud of that, and I was proud that my brain was always running. This engine was always moving.
And it’s a disease. It’s actually the road to misery. And now that I’m older, I realize that you actually want to, again, rest your mind. You want to learn how to settle in to your mind. Now, I look forward to solitary confinement. You leave me alone for a day, it’ll be like the happiest day I’ve had in a while. And that is a superpower that I think everybody can obtain.
iOS screen time data don’t lie. Recently, I had to check myself for how much time I was spending on my phone. A lot of it was for a good cause. Research, study, communicating with friends & family. However, a lot of it was also wasteful and damaging to my mental and physical health. Scrolling on WhatsApp, responding to messages all day, checking current events and headlines for the novelty effect and not for some noble motivation of staying informed. Enough is enough!
Without further ado, here are four practical steps that are helping me limit STI as much as possible, settle into my mind, and be more present in my own body.
1. Buy A Watch
We live in a very time-oriented culture. Often, the reason we check our phones is to see what time it is. The problem is it’s a bait and switch. How often do we end up spending 20 minutes when it only takes 2 minutes to see what time it is? Buy a watch with an alarm and stop watch feature, so you can stay chronologically grounded without needing to access your Smart Phone.
2. Turn Your Notifications Off
You don’t need to be at the world’s beck and call 24/7, unless you’re a 911 dispatcher or a policeman or a firefighter. If you have a phone job, then buy a separate phone for work and turn off the notifications on your private phone. YouTuber Nate O ‘Brien talks about his strategy of “bulk responding” to messages periodically in How I Cured My Phone Addiction. Instead of responding right away, set aside time, say every hour or two hours, where you address all recent notifications.
3. Use Your Tablet Or Laptop
Let’s say you need to write a paper, do research, computer work, or watch a lecture on YouTube. It can help to use a second device without the distractions of live text messages and notifications.
4. Go Off The Grid In The Evening And Early Morning
The evening and early morning can be a great opportunity to go off the grid. In the evening and early morning, we typically aren’t working or studying, and we have less productive motivation to be on our phones. The night, especially, is when most of us experience the greatest temptation to watch pornography or engage in other mindless activities.
Without STI boundaries, we slowly lose control of our lives and become at the world’s beck and call 24/7. If people need urgent help with something, they can call the nocturnal authorities (ie. 9/11) or check back with us at our next availability. It’s what humans have done since the dawn of civilization, and reality is that the stakes are almost never that high. Establishing boundaries and prioritizing mental health is actually a very loving and altruistic thing to do. The healthiest version of ourselves, both mentally and physically, is by far the most useful to society.
STI can enhance productivity, or it can kill it, depending on how we use it. STI can benefit relationships or harm them, depending on how we use it. STI can be used to enrich our lives or impoverish them, again, all depending on how we use it.
Life is a beautiful thing indeed, and a terrible thing to waste. I don’t know about you, but I want to be from every addiction and compulsive activity in my life, whether that’s work, drugs, pornography, coffee, or my smart phone.