Tips for divorcing my phone?
December 15, 2016 5:47 PM   Subscribe

It didn't even happen all that slowly or imperceptibly: I turned into someone who immediately reaches for my iphone if the person I'm dining with leaves the table or I'm walking somewhere or almost any other thing happens.

Looking at the internet is fine. I have done it much of my adult life and that's just how the world is. I'm not going all "telephones are ruining neighborly interaction" on anyone,'s a bit much. Facebook is a great crutch because my friends are unfortunately all spread across the US, but the thing about a crutch is you use it until your leg heals and then toss it. There's something permanent about the place of that little rush of acknowledgment from a like or a message in my life.

Over the years I've collected enough things to tab from one to the other to the next at great length with only the occasional pang of "what if the internet can't save me right now?" There was email and blogs and Slack and now this.

I'd like to do it less. I guess I'd like to feel less chained to it. The goal isn't very specific, but includes things like "read a book once in a while though there's nothing to click" and "don't feel the need to google things in conversation" and, as above, just not have gazing at the thing be a default. I think it's diminished some things in my life and I know it's made me worse at working, not that I'm deeply enthralled by productivity.

Anyone had good luck taking steps toward less habitual reaching for the interwaffle? (I am old. I still think "interwaffle" is cute.)
posted by Smearcase to Computers & Internet (43 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what an interwaffle is, but I keep my phone in my purse and just don't touch it when I'm out, no matter how much I want to. I also have a box at home that I put it in when I get home from work for a few hours. Not having it on hand goes a long way.
posted by sockermom at 6:06 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Go to a cabin for a weekend that has no wifi or cell service. These are easy to find on AirBnB. You'll be itchy for 12 hours and then it will be really relaxing. The longer you can stay, the more you'll realize how little you need it.
posted by AFABulous at 6:09 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also frequently leave the house without my phone. Unless you have a terminally ill parent that you are the sole caretaker of, nothing bad is going to happen.
posted by AFABulous at 6:10 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I basically don't use notifications on my phone at all. I've also experienced the whole no access to wifi/cell service weekend and that was good, too. You might look into the More Social, Less Media program. I'm a little scared that it's too stringent for me...which probably means I need to do it.
posted by katie at 6:12 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, I have no notifications on my phone either, or any social apps. These things help, but prepare for your friends and family to be annoyed when you don't reply to texts right away anymore. I have to constantly explain to people that I don't use notifications and that I'm not ignoring them.
posted by sockermom at 6:15 PM on December 15, 2016

One thing that helped me was to unfollow literally every single friend except my husband on Facebook. So my timeline is empty and there isn't endless content to scroll through.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:20 PM on December 15, 2016

I turned off the notifications. I had a phone for a long time with a terrible battery so I didn't use it for things that drained it (i.e. facebook). I have a routine where I get up in the morning and do something, anything, for 45 minutes that doesn't involve a screen (seriously I set a timer for 45 minutes) and do the same at the end of the day. Once the day is less bookended with internet time it's a little easier to make space for more non-internet time in your life. Seriously the morning thing has been HUGE for me and managing general anxiety and I highly recommend it.
posted by jessamyn at 6:30 PM on December 15, 2016 [16 favorites]

I do one of two things: either turn off my wifi and mobile data, or make it so my browsers don't connect to the internet if I'm on mobile data. I can undo each of these, but that extra step makes me think about whether or not I really want to.
posted by umwhat at 6:38 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I'm with anyone else, looking at my phone is rude. I usually pull it out of my back pocket and put it facedown on the table/couch/whatever. When I go to the restroom, I take it with me, but I never use my phone (besides occasionally looking at the lock screen) while I'm interacting with another real person.
posted by bendy at 6:38 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also use bendy's method. For me, pulling out a phone when I'm interacting with someone is rude, and I remind myself of that if I start to do it. The only sound notification I have turned on are text messages, and I minimally use social media. When I go on vacation and don't use the phone for news, I actually feel better and not worse.
posted by cnc at 6:48 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sideways suggestion, but meditation helps with this. Not because of woo, but because it cultivates awareness and you end up making more intentional choices rather than just finding your body doing a thing without having thought about whether you want to. Also making it more comfortable to just sit for a few moments and watch the world go by, calmly and without getting bored.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you might also benefit from practicing being present. Find the joy in that moment looking around the restaurant and people watch while you are waiting for your dining partner to return, strike up a conversation in a waiting room instead of playing a game on your phone. Stop using the phone as a way to fill in the empty spaces in your life; just feel them.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:39 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I spent several months with a non-smartphone after mine got stolen. When I got a new one, I turned off most notifications and disabled Facebook altogether, and always keep it on silent unless I'm expecting a specific call or message. If people get annoyed that I don't respond immediately, well, too bad. Instead I catch up on social conversations a few set times a day.

I frequently just don't take my phone with me and never ever carry it in my hand or put on the table in front of me. Thanks to my smartphone-less days I have a tablet for casual internet browsing, so I find faffing on the phone rather frustrating anyway. In any case I have set pattern locks on several applications on my phone so the added hurdle of entering a pattern for casual timewasting acts as a disincentive.

I also like keeping certain functions entirely separated from my phone, though this doesn't work for everyone. I don't listen to music or podcasts using my phone, instead I have an iPod Nano. I don't read on my phone, instead I have a kindle. So my phone is more of a functional communication device than a blended entertainment/ work hub and even when I'm bored it simply doesn't occur to me to go to it for entertainment.
posted by tavegyl at 8:13 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I downgraded to a $3/mo pay as you go plan and only have Internet when I'm on wifi. The sheer lazy of having to log in to local wifi has kept me at reasonable usage.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:27 PM on December 15, 2016

The biggest thing that helps me use my phone less is spending time with good company. I use Facebook to feel (at least somewhat) connected to people. If I've had a lot of quality social interactions in my day, then I've already fulfilled that need.

Other ideas:

- switch to a plan where data is expensive
- switch to a phone that annoys you (just enough to make you use it less, for example an older and slower iPhone)
- turn off notifications, as mentioned upthread
- set up IFTTT alerts for any important emails you expect to receive, then feel confident in checking your email far less frequently
- move to an area where you have no/bad reception (alternative: tell your friends that your workplace suddenly has terrible reception and you're going to be turning off your phone during work hours because it's useless anyway, or maybe say your boss is cracking down on workplace interruptions, or just be honest and say you're trying to use your phone less during certain hours)
- only charge your phone to 50%, then when you're out of battery, that's it until tomorrow (surprisingly effective! you can use a wall charger with timer)
- become busier and/or do more meaningful things, whether through friends or hobbies or exercise or job or volunteering
- disable internet access on your phone during certain times of the day or after you've spent a certain amount of time online (article)

And yes, leaving the house without your phone can be incredibly empowering and freeing.
posted by danceswithlight at 8:30 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Coming back in to say: when I was younger, I used to feel contemptuous of people who sit in waiting lounges seemingly staring into space, but I was the type who always carried a book with me. Now, I really value short stretches of nothingness when I can think about something or nothing or everything instead of needing a constant stream of stimulation. I've now consciously started doing that - not reading or listening to music when I'm waiting in line, not having earphones in when I'm walking somewhere, but trying to be happy to be with my own thoughts, even if they are small scattered and pointless, or mulling on easily google-able things, and accepting that sometimes it's ok to be bored. It's difficult to begin with and works best in contexts like those I've described, but I recommend it. It reduces that slightly anxious reaching out towards the phone at other times, and gives you the freedom for idle speculation which being always-connected has taken away from us.
posted by tavegyl at 9:01 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Some strategies that help me:

- Remove apps so you have to navigate to social media through the browser.
- Log out after checking FB or Twit so you have to log back in to see it again
- Change your password to a prompt to not log on at all (like "bepresentinstead") or whatever you actually WANT to be doing at that moment
- Put any tempting apps in a folder on a back page.
- Change your homescreen wallpaper into a prompt to do something good (mine is a screengrab of some typed text reminding me of my main goal right now) so you see it when you open the phone.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:36 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Remove apps so you have to navigate to social media through the browser

Pulling this one out for extra emphasis. Also, I have a strict NO FACEBOOK ON PHONE EVER rule. If you can't bother to get in touch with me personally, you can wait till I get back to my computer to see your micro-press release.
posted by tangerine at 10:47 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Take Louis seriously.
posted by flabdablet at 11:05 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I deleted Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone! Obviously I can still access fb and twitter via my browser, but the experience is less streamlined and efficient for mobile browsing, so I don't spend zombie like amounts of time on the websites anymore. It makes a huge difference. Now I check Facebook and Twitter a few times a week rather than every 10 minutes. I don't get the pesky notifications and I don't automatically open the fb app to see whats up when I am just waiting around
posted by moiraine at 11:31 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lie in bed for an entire day with nothing but your phone and by the time you go to bed you will be sick of your phone for a good while.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:05 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Because if the nature of my job I'm pretty much never more than three feet from my phones.

I've uninstalled all social media apps and turned off email notifications etc.
If someone is sending an email for anything urgent then they deserve to be ignored.

If I want to use social media or browse the internet I go to a PC otherwise when I'm alone I enjoy the silence.

I find this strikes the right balance between not worrying about missing something important and yet being able to check things when I want to.

Edit: oh and I regularly tell people to phone me for urgent things and my various signatures say the same.
They rarely phone for non-urgent things because it's much more intrusive than reflexively firing off an email/message/whatever and it forces them to think about it.
Train people to interact with you in the way you want them to.
posted by fullerine at 3:26 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

FOMO. It's a thing. And devices perpetuate it, and anxiety grows. We have done it to ourselves.

Since the election I have changed so many habits. One of which is choosing what I want to devote my time and attention to, and making sure the things, habits and people I choose to let in are improving my quality of life. Social media/device-checking was one of the first habits I made a strong, conscious effort to break and it has been a godsend.

I deleted all the apps. I never save my FB password, so if I check it (usually weekly, sometimes less) I have to do the whole "forgot your password?" process every time, and jump through all those hoops. It works.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:02 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing don't bring it with you. Remove the temptation.

I also had success with a one day per week internet sabbath. I don't find it necessary any more, but spending Sundays without internet mean that I got a LOT done!
posted by metasarah at 4:50 AM on December 16, 2016

While internet-free vacations may be a good start, what will really help you is figuring out how to address the issue in your day-to-day life. Along with what others have suggested (turning off notifications, removing apps and using social media in browser only), I really like the mindfulness technique of learning how to acknowledge the urge when it arises and compassionately explore it. This has really helped me with the phone issue.

Here's how I employed that technique: every time I wanted to reach for my phone, I paused. I asked myself why I was reaching for my phone, and what I was hoping to get from it. I examined whether there were any feelings or tasks I was trying to avoid, and I put them into words in my head. I was not hard on myself, just curious. Then, most times, I consciously decided not to take my phone out.

Two additional actions that have helped: 1. Wearing a (non-smart) watch so I don't look at my phone for the time. 2. Deactivating Facebook and only logging in very occasionally if I have to look up someone's contact info (then deactivating again).
posted by beyond_pink at 6:05 AM on December 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

One thing I've worked on is making this decision consciously rather than unconsciously. Like literally just learning to intercede when my hands are about to type "" in the browser, and think "OK, I'm going to choose to read Metafilter now."

Think of it sort of like the advice if you want to lose weight, which is supposedly surprisingly effective -- eat what you want, but write down everything you eat. Just practice watching your own brain enough to make your decision on purpose instead of habitually. That's a big win and doesn't even require you to do anything different.

And then if you want, as long as you're pausing to make the decision deliberately, you could check in on other things. Like, "OK, so I chose to open Facebook while my friend was in the bathroom -- do I feel better now?"

Or, "OK, so I'm going to open Facebook now. What was I thinking about the moment before that? Oh, it was that work project I'm trying not to think about again. So that's what this is about." Or whatever.

Anyway it's been a pleasure writing this comment to you from today, which I definitely chose deliberately to do and didn't just pop open the moment I sat down with my coffee.
posted by john hadron collider at 6:20 AM on December 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Or, "OK, so I'm going to open Facebook now. What was I thinking about the moment before that? Oh, it was that work project I'm trying not to think about again. So that's what this is about." Or whatever.

This is the key because in all likelihood, compulsive phone use means you're trying to avoid thinking about something else (or doing it). The cabin trip I suggested forces you to be alone with yourself (I recommend going alone, if possible) and it was deeply unpleasant to not be able to distract myself from... myself. Awareness about that has helped, and I am more likely to do whatever I'm avoiding (in my case, writing a painful letter to a family member).

There are lots of resources to combat procrastination and those will go a long way towards creating better habits, including phone use. Maybe I'm wrong and you handle your life in a magnificently timely manner and you're completely content with your thoughts. But I doubt it.
posted by AFABulous at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. These are great. Still figuring out which ones might work for me.
posted by Smearcase at 8:02 AM on December 16, 2016

I suppose this is obvious but you could also read books on your phone - if you want to reduce the consumption of ephemeral internet content but still find yourself wanting some reading material to fill those interstitial times. It is pretty awesome to have your book in your pocket at all times (and with ebooks you can always have a copy on your phone and a copy on an actual ereader if you don't want to do all your reading on your phone).
posted by yarrow at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Read a book" works for me only on my Kindle now. I have the plain e-reader/paperwhite Kindle, NOT the Fire, so there are no apps, no browser, no Internet other than WiFi etc. It is just a book reader. I love it as a no-distractions device and I read a lot in bed.

Speaking of which, I charge my phone downstairs, nowhere near where I sleep. I go to bed and that is it -- no Internet connected anything.

I long ago silenced all of my apps. My phone is not the boss of me.

In your case, as much as I loathe saying this, a few minutes a day where you turn off your phone and practice mindfulness meditation would be good. Or a meditation class. Or swimming. Or some other no-devices activity.

Finally, when you are with other humans in a setting that is about being with other humans -- a meeting, a coffee place, a meal -- do the thing where everyone turns their phone face-down on the table and the first person to turn their phone over has to buy coffee for everyone.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:24 AM on December 16, 2016

A couple years ago, I was watching old episodes of Sex and the City (don't judge) with a friend. In one scene, Carrie reflects on the experience of sitting, alone, with the intention of being fully present in the moment without distraction:

So, I sat there and had a glass of wine...alone.
No books, no man, no friends, no armor, no faking.

Friend and I looked at each other. Could we do that today? Could we possibly have a full 45 minutes to ourselves, without looking at a phone, a book, a paper, or... anything but our surroundings? We made it a challenge, by the end of the month we both wanted to test ourselves in this sort of solo outing. When I had an afternoon open up with no other obligations, so I left my phone (and everything else but my keys) at home, walked around the block to a neighborhood café, and had a meal and a drink alone.

It was a bit strange, but it felt familiar. The lost art of being alone, or even being bored. I still try to do this sort of thing once a month or so, especially when I'm traveling for work. It feels like an extension of mindfulness or even meditation, since it requires intention and attention albeit in passive form. It's nice.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm just trying to solve this problem for myself. The plan: dumbphone, with janky smartphone backup for times there's a legit reason (map access when traveling, pager duty at work, etc). I'd lose the phone entirely except that I'm a parent, which is sort of permanent pager duty.

There's a lot to be said for looking to the root causes of addictive behaviors, practicing mindfulness, developing willpower and so on. But starting right out with the deep work sounds a lot like setting oneself up for failure. There's a reason AA meets in church basements and not bars.
posted by The Prawn Reproach at 9:48 AM on December 16, 2016

If you're at dinner with someone, when you sit down to eat, try shutting down your phone. When you feel the urge to check it, you'll have to go through the whole boot up cycle, which can take a minute or two. Just knowing you can't have that immediate gratification may help you wean yourself off of it. And you can shut down your phone during other parts of your day too.
posted by Leontine at 10:03 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I believe studies show that the best way to break a habit is to replace it with a new one.

When I want to reduce my surfing, I come up with other things I will do instead.

In particular, if you're reaching for the interwaffle when the person you're dining with leaves the table, come up with a list (BEFORE your next dinner) of things you can do while your friend is gone. For me, that list might include:

* recite to myself, in my head, a poem I'm learning by heart
* look around the room for something I could sketch. I will not be sketching it now, but I will be trying to notice and remember enough to sketch it later
* focus on my breathing, in a kind of meditation, and with each breath, try to notice something with a different sense: what do I hear right now? what do I see? what are my fingers and arms and feet sensing?

If you're reaching for the interwaffle when you're walking somewhere, come up with a short list of things you would rather do instead. For me, that list might include:

* watching for birds
* looking for specific architectural features
* reciting that poem to myself

The more you do this, the more you'll find yourself refining those lists of things you want to do instead, to be more aligned with your new and renewed interests in the world around you, and the more you'll be drawn to spend time on those interests.
posted by kristi at 11:05 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have:

+ Turned off almost all notifications on my phone. The only things that can demand my attention now are a text, a call, or a calendar reminder that I set up.

+ Removed Facebook from my phone. It sucks attention, it also sucks battery life and memory something fierce. If I really need to look at Facebook (which is rare), I log in via the browser.

+ Took a break from Facebook. I deactivated my account for several weeks. I re-activated it because I needed to promote a project. On coming back I noticed that most of the conversations are pointless and circular, and that I wasn't missing much at all by not being there. I also noticed how the site is engineered to be addictive, but it honestly doesn't have much to offer.

+ Started playing the New York Times crosswords on my phone. This is a good solitary enjoyment that can be put aside with no problem. (It never needs to be attended to *right now*.) It can also be social and collaborative with a little effort.

Maybe some of these things can help you.
posted by Cranialtorque at 11:10 AM on December 16, 2016

I love my dumbphone. It makes phone calls quite well. It texts ok. I can theoretically get on the web with it, but I've never tried because it would be a HUGE pain in the neck. I keep it with me, on, and fully charged at all times because I have an elderly grandmother, two kids, friends/caregivers who routinely need information from me, and myriad health problems.

If someone wants to text me a picture, I direct them to my Google Voice number, which does ring through to my tablet. However, my tablet only has connectivity through wifi, so I can't just whip it out everywhere. Most of the time, it stays home. It follows me everywhere when I'm home, because it gives me multiple communication options no matter where I am in the house. (My caregivers prefer Facebook Messenger, so I do my best to accommodate them.)

I do have a book (or two, in case I finish the first one) with me every time I leave the house. There are long drives to doctor appointments and long periods of waiting in the car while my friend who drives me places stops to do his job. (He does merchandising work in various locations across the state.) But I make a very conscious decision that when I'm with a person, and we're interacting, I'm not picking my book back up until we're completely done interacting. So no picking it up when they go to the bathroom. To me, it's just basic manners. If I'm hanging out with you, my focus should be on you. Period.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 10:49 AM on December 17, 2016

Response by poster: Small update: I took facebook and slack off the phone and unfollowed quite a lot of people on facebook (loosely on the basis of "we're fb friends and I like you but I haven't seen you in five years and don't need to know the contents of your head.") It's made it easier to only look at the phone for a minute when I do look.

Next steps, I'm thinking, will be put a book-reader on the phone though I'm a little doubtful I will use it, and get a watch/repair the clock by my bed. I honestly sleep with the damn thing beside me. It is humorously pathetic. Dumb phone is no-go because I find a few things like the maps really practical and also I loathe talking on the phone so I doubt I'd use it at all.
posted by Smearcase at 11:30 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm struggling with the same kind of issues myself, OP, so can't help all that much - but just to say that getting an actual Kindle (other e-readers are available) has helped me a great deal. I always thought I would read books on my phone but it does so many other things that it never really happened. I also think the bright light from my phone screen stops me from sleeping well, if I use it just before going to bed. So a non-backlit single-tasking device has been great from that point of view.

The other thing I do is to charge my phone overnight FAR AWAY from my bed, so repairing your bedside clock sounds like a good plan to me. Good luck. I think the ultimate answer for me may well have something to do with mindfulness.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:24 AM on December 19, 2016

Turn your screen grayscale.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:30 PM on December 21, 2016

I'm not entirely impartial on this one, but what I discovered was:

1. Use social media to follow friends who change in a way similar to ways I'm changing. Keep long-term ties that make sense, because those are rare enough already!

2. Use social media to find new friends, groups, and things going on; use it to discover the world, not repeat the past.

3. Don't get stuck trying to repeat the past. To some extent, we've gotta choose where to spend our time, and the future looks pretty grim if all we do is look back.
posted by talldean at 12:09 PM on December 22, 2016

You all inspired me to take Facebook off my phone, and it's quite a bit more peaceful. It seems to me FB was about 85% of the problem.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

not the answer you're looking for, but i'm chained to my Kindle, it stops me clicking on the interwebz and keeps me glued for hours, the difference from a book is you have lots of different ones to choose from and all the webpages or longform journalism you want (i use Push To Kindle firefox addon, which sends it wirelessly, you can also transfer via wire). I'm not specifically in favour of giving Amazon more tax-evading money, any ereader will do, but i find it glues me to it like the internet does on my laptop, ie once i'm on it, i don't even think about my laptop (once it's on, i can't stop, worse than you and your phone but i have to leave it at home). For longform journalism, i use longreads' twitter account as it contains more links than their webpage, open every interesting-looking tab, read a bit, pick the ones i fancy and send those, takes a long time i just do it when i feel the need, waste an hour or two once a month. Also, any i encounter in passing, including the more technical and dull of wikipedia pages, things that are interesting but can't compete with constant updates and mental sugar but become interesting when read in isolation. Nb recommend the plain one latest version, the web on kindles is foul so you won't find yourself browsing for pleasure! Gutenberg contains lots, remember copyright is now expired up to the end of WW1, and foreign language stuff is best on specialist foreign language sites, plus eg Text Classics do cheap books but drmd
posted by maiamaia at 11:50 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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