Hi. My name is Donald. And I spend too much time staring at my phone.
Bad habits are easy to form. Social media and its constant temptation of more vaguely interesting things to read is like Exterm-an-ant for presence, concentration, and actually getting things done. Just like my favourite ant killer, sold at Farmlands,1 they draw you away from your path, providing you with something that smells yummy but is ultimately death.2
Back when I was a student writing up a thesis I realised that I spent too much time reading Slashdot.3 So I modified my web browser configuration, via the under-appreciated proxy autoconfiguration system, to not let me visit Slashdot at all. So when my code (or thesis) was compiling, I’d reflexively switch to my browser and type slashdot.org and … it wouldn’t work, and I’d remember that I was supposed to have finished writing up several months ago and my enrolment had lapsed but the university hadn’t noticed that I still had an office and I should really get back to that thesis.
This seems trickier to do with mobile phones. I deleted the Facebook (good riddance!) and Twitter (moderate riddance!) apps about a year ago. And immediately shifted to just using them via the web browser instead. I didn’t spend any less time at either site. In fact, due to such wonderful misfeatures as Twitter’s sending you back to the latest tweet when your page was reformatted due to turning the cellphone around, I probably spent more.
I’d love to ditch the smartphone entirely. Now that I work from home, I don’t need to listen to music or read things on my phone while commuting. Ironically, the one killer app for me owning a smartphone over a cheap feature phone is the budgeting app we use, GoodBudget. It’s like an “envelope system” – you allocate weekly expenditure to different categories – except that you don’t have to deal with cash. And it’s only available for Android and iPhone.
So I’m stuck with keeping the smartphone, yet not using Facebook and Twitter. I’ve demonstrated that I will jump small hurdles to keep using them. So I’m trying a two-pronged approach.
Unfollow people I don’t have a very good reason to follow
I follow a lot of people on Twitter. Some of them say interesting things occasionally. Some say interesting things often. Some are close friends. Some are colleagues or ex-colleagues. Some are local. Some are far away.
That’s a lot of people. If my Twitter use has any purpose at all, it seems to be to collect potentially interesting people so I can spend lots of my time reading what they write or link to.
That purpose has to change, or I have to drop off Twitter entirely. So I will enact a new following policy: I will only follow you if
- I know you OR
- I’d like to know you and there’s actually some chance of that happening OR
- You’re local (which is really a special case of the above) OR
- You’re the Pope, John Darnielle or Brian Zahnd.
The Pope’s pretty quiet on Twitter (clearly prefers quality over quantity). I absolutely must know if there’s a new Mountain Goats album (or book) out. And I still mean to read A Farewell to Mars.
Remind myself to stop using the darn things
I’m not an idiot. Surely I should be able to remind myself that I don’t want to spend much of my day staring at small rectangle. I have several half-finished books to read, after all.
If you see less of me online, this is why. If you want a quick response I recommend calling me; if you don’t mind, I hear email was quite popular before Facebook messages reared their ugly head. Please don’t be offended if I unfollow or unfriend you. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that I’m trying to opt out of social media as low grade habitual entertainment. I’ll still buy you a coffee if you’re in my neck of the woods, and you are welcome to hold me to this promise.