What kind of relationship do you have with your smartphone?
I’ve been asking myself this question all the time since watching The Social Dilemma. If you haven’t seen it, definitely watch it. If you have seen it, then you know by the end of the movie you’re ready to delete all social media and destroy your phone.
Ok maybe don’t destroy your phone. But we can all agree our phones have dominated our lives, and sometimes not for the best. One particular study found we check our phones 96 times a day.
I think we can do better than that.
Previously I’ve written about strategically arranging our smart phone apps to decrease time wasted on our phones. That particular post addresses how to curb phone usage once we’ve opened our phones.
What hasn’t been discussed is our overall relationship with our phones. By better understanding our respective phone relationships, we can better curb our phone usage.
For discussion purposes, I’ve broken down the relationships between people and their phones into three categories.
Lab Rat Phone User
Lab rat phone users check their phone the second it buzzes in their pocket. The moment a notification is sent, the lab rat user stops everything they’re doing to check a potentially meaningless notification.
Imagine you’re having a heart-to-heart conversation with your friend. While you friend listens, he checks his phone because it made a “ding” sound.
Are you serious right now?
It’s as if a computer chip has been installed into your friend’s brain, instructing him to check his phone at the moment of vibration.
Operating as a lab rat phone user is destructive to your well-being as well as to those around you.
Email Phone User
Email phone users are one step up from lab rat phone users. Instead of mindlessly checking one’s phone at the moment of vibration, one chooses to peer at their phone after an intermittent period of time.
The same way you check your email every 10 minutes is the same frequency in which you check your phone.
Let’s go back to the conversation you had with your friend. Your friend has graduated from a lab rat to an email phone user. Instead of your friend checking his phone mid-conversation, he waits until immediately after the conversation to see what he missed in the last 10 minutes.
In this scenario, your friend had the discipline to check his phone after the important conversation, despite his phone “blowing up” in that timeframe.
Is this better than before?
But is there still room for improvement?
Desktop Phone User
The desktop phone user treats their phone as if it’s a monitor attached to a specific location. At home this means placing your phone in a defined area, and ideally somewhere you can’t hear, feel, or see when a notification is received. When you go to check your phone, you place it back in the defined area.
But what about when you’re on the go? In this situation it’s advisable to stick your phone in your bag. Each time you check your phone, you must open your bag, check your phone, and then place the phone back where you found it. If you don’t have a bag, the next best thing you can do is silence your phone.
It’s not about being disciplined, but rather making it difficult to check your phone.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear explains the best way to curb an undesirable habit is to make it difficult to perform. By placing your phone in a hard to reach place, you’re discouraging yourself from repeatedly checking your phone.
As a desktop phone user, your friend has no idea his phone is “blowing up”. He can fully engage in the conversation between you two.
Removing distractions in order to fully engage should be the norm, not the exception.
What To Aspire To
The goal is to become a desktop phone user. But don’t think about defining yourself or somebody else in each category.
Realistically we’ve all floated between being lab rat phone users, email phone users, and desktop phone users. The key is minimizing time spent as a lab rat phone user, while maximizing the time spent as a desktop phone user.
You decide when you check your phone, not the other way around. Tell yourself you will check your phone an hour from now, and not at the moment of vibration.
Making these commitments will decrease the number of times you check your phone, which in turn will generate more time to be present and do the things you were meant to do.
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