The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

One month with a dumbed down phone

It’s been one month since I turned my phone into a device that, for the most part, does not give me any new content. No email, no social media, no RSS, and not even any work communication. A few people have asked how it’s going.

In a word, lovely. Absolutely lovely.

Since iOS debuted Screen Time, our family has reviewed the numbers for anyone who owns a device (4 out of 6 of us). I’ve been tracking this since October and we mostly use it for talking about screen usage and addiction, not telling our kids how they have to use their devices.

Looking at my own numbers since dumbing down, there is a small shift. The 4 weeks before starting this exercise, I was averaging 96 minutes of usage, 64 pickups, and 25 notifications per day. Since the change, the numbers have reduced to 83 minutes of usage, 44 pickups, and 17 notifications per day. Not a huge reduction at first glance.

But there is more to these numbers than what you see on the surface. First, those numbers are probably not that high compared to a lot of folks. Second, picking up my phone 20 less times in a day means there are 20 times when I choose to put my attention into something else. Last, my book reading comes into play. I tend to switch back and forth between paper and digital books and I happened to start a new digital book that bumped up my averages over the past couple of weeks.

And I’m definitely ok with reading books on my phone.

But the more important aspect of this entire exercise is not necessarily made obvious by the numbers. It’s the feeling. After the first week of getting used to the change, the compulsion to pick up the device to check something, anything, starts to fade. I've had plenty of moments where I realized I'm not sure where my phone is.

And so the number of pickups drops, yes. But the feeling of not needing to constantly find stimulus far outweighs the change in statistics. That change started to dribble into my work day. But the distractions are still present in that space (or habit field, as Jack Cheng called it) so I still have to fight the urge to shift screens and check something when I bump into uncertainty or switch between tasks.

So the changes are positive. But there is still room to grow.

Related, Isaac Smith posted an update about how his own experience has been going.

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