My Smart Phone Made Me Dumb. I Fixed It.

I’ve been one of the many millions of people addicted to my phone, in the last 4 or 5 years – constantly pulling it out to check … something… anything… twitter, Google+, email, the weather or news… anything to get my fix. My wife constantly complained about it. I ignored people around me, quite often. It wasn’t good. 

So nearly a month ago, I uninstalled all the social network junk from my phone, and I’m glad I did. Twitter, Google+, Facebook… all gone. Games? Gone, as well. I never played them on my phone anyways, so why keep those around.

I find myself still having that urge to pull the phone out and get some kind of fix, still. But it’s getting less and less over time. I also find it awkward to not have anything to do, while waiting around for something else, at times. But this is one of the primary reasons I wanted to get rid of all these things. It takes effort, but I always find something else to do – even if that something else is just to sit back and relax, to unwind a bit, and not worry about what the world is doing. 

Not Giving Up My Smart Phone. Just Using It Smartly

I thought about giving up my smart phone entirely, for a while. That would be the “easy” way to kick the habit of constant connectivity. But after getting rid of the social media crApps on my phone, i found out that i really do like having the phone for other reasons. Here are the things I still use it for:

Reading email, when I think it’s important. I left my email accounts in tact on the phone. I never really had a problem with constantly checking those, anyways. I only read email on the phone, and only when i think it’s something important. I very rarely reply via my phone – rarely, as in maybe a few times a month if that.

Google Maps. I love this feature of my Android phone. GPS + Google Maps === easily driving wherever I need to go. I use this a lot to find directions somewhere.

Runkeeper, Fitbit, etc. Exercise and health apps like Runkeeper and Fitbit are great to have on my phone. I can track miles and time walked, and log other fitbit info without having to be in front of my computer. Having access to these things works out well for me, as they aren’t things I check constantly. I use them when needed, and then ignore them.

Shopping list, notes, etc. I use my phone to track my shopping list, notes for things i need to do, etc. 

Mobile Bank App. I use my bank’s mobile app on a regular basis – checking balances, transfers between accounts and depositing the occasional check that I get from various things. It is nice to have this when I’m out doing things.

Tethering for internet access. I have a 4G phone with unlimited data (grand-fathered plan, paid full price for the phone to keep the plan). I use the tethering feature 3 or 4 times a month, and it’s worth it for me. When I’m out away from the house working, and I don’t have a wifi connection (or the wifi is garbage), having the phone for tethered internet access is quite nice.

#ProTip: Uninstall The Social Distractions From Your Phone

In the end, I think it’s worth it for me to have a smart phone, still. At some point in the future, this may change and I might switch back to a dumb-phone. But at least for now, I’ve started using my phone in a more reasonable and responsible manner. 

If you find yourself constantly checking your phone and wondering what’s happening on twitter or facebook, wondering if someone replied to you or not… do yourself a favor. Stop lying to yourself about not needing to check your phone, and uninstall / turn off / log out of all the distractions.

I’m not saying you should leave twitter, facebook, or whatever behind entirely. I still use twitter nearly every day. But I do it from my computer or from my iPad when I’m in a situation where it is appropriate for me to be working from my iPad. I’m saying to get it off your phone, and get your social life back. No,  not your “social network” life… Remember when “social” meant human interaction in real life? It’s time for us to get back to that.

About Derick Bailey

Derick Bailey is an entrepreneur, problem solver (and creator? :P ), software developer, screecaster, writer, blogger, speaker and technology leader in central Texas (north of Austin). He runs - the amazingly awesome podcast audio hosting service that everyone should be using, and where he throws down the JavaScript gauntlets to get you up to speed. He has been a professional software developer since the late 90's, and has been writing code since the late 80's. Find me on twitter: @derickbailey, @mutedsolutions, @backbonejsclass Find me on the web: SignalLeaf, WatchMeCode, Kendo UI blog, MarionetteJS, My Github profile, On Google+.
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  • I truly admire this strategy. Right now I’m walking around with not just one phone, but two! I despise the “look down” position that people are in all the time, staring at their phones in public, so I try to make a point to not do it when others are around. It can, indeed, get awkward. Just need to practice I think.

  • Varun

    Even I am following the same strategy. I don’t have any game on my phone and I have removed Twitter for start from my phone. I am also using the phone when I need to and it is very liberating.

  • Bob Archer

    I have Facebook and Twitter on my phone, but I generally don’t use them that much… mainly to “check in” on FB, I like the history of places I have been. Mainly twitter is there to get mention and dm notifications… since those are generally tweets I don’t like to miss. So, I guess I follow the same “idea” but I don’t feel I must always have my phone out at all times even though they are installed.

  • Dan

    I think your great great grandfather may have had similar feelings ;-)

    The Pace of Modern Life:

  • It was so sad to walk into the lunch room today and see every single person with their nose in their phone. Not one single conversation was happening in the room.

    I didn’t uninstall all the social apps from my phone, but I have turned off ALL their badges and notifications. They’re still there for when I want/need them, but the constant nagging for attention is gone. It’s made a huge difference for me. Now if only iOS 7 would get here so I can be done with the constant app updates.

  • simonmales

    Disable all push notifications. Solved. The only push notifications I get now are phone calls and SMS.

    • i’ve never had push notifications enabled for any social network, on my phone. push notifications aren’t the problem for me… the constant desire to check the networks, to see if there was anything interesting… it was easier to do that than to be engaged in the real world.

      if disabling push does it for you, awesome. you probably don’t have the same problem i did, and i envy you for that. :)

      • simonmales

        Also not having the smartest smartphone helps. Up until a couple of months ago I was apart of the fraction of a percent still using Android 1.6.

        Nowadays I’m on FirefoxOS, basically need to code apps myself to be all social like.

        I’ve also always had the smallest possible data plan, and thus toggle data only when I need to (maps). Disabling data downgrades your phone to a feature phone.

        Try it!

        • that’s a great idea! would let me try out the idea of going back to a feature phone without having to buy a new phone … if it doesn’t work, could just turn my data back on. nice. :)

  • Mark LeMerise

    Social apps are the worst! A constant flood of useless notifications. I hate when people use their phone as a “social fallback” when they are in real social situations: dinner, hanging out, etc. When I found myself guilty of that, I deleted them all so I wouldn’t even be tempted.

    Glad to hear you’re utilizing your phone for good rather than a distraction!

  • njp

    Intestestingly I recently did the same thing after breaking my phone. In the process of getting my old phone working I realized it didn’t use the micro SIM card that my other phone did, so I was with a phone without voice or data plan for a week.

    Realized I didn’t need any of the social network apps in the phone while being data-less, and got used to not having them. Once I got my phone working again, I didn’t feel the need to reinstall them and feel good with it.

    If ever need to reply something on Facebook I just do so through the Gmail app, or I just open it up on the browser. This helped me a lot to keep me on check.

  • Bastian

    nice article, i even removed the mailclient from my private mobile phone a couple of days ago…

  • Michael Fasani

    The best usage for a smartphone is reading blogs like this that make me smarter!

    Comment posted via my iPhone…

  • geekdave

    Funny that we both had the same realization around the same time. I solved my issue in a slightly different way, by disabling cellular data at certain times of day. I call it “Mindful Disconnection” and I wrote about it here: