By Brad Beckstrom
I’ve been playing with the screen time tracker on my iPhone. Apple recently introduced screen time tracking in response to legitimate public concern about rampant addiction to looking at our iPhones.
Apple hid this app in the settings section so if you look for it on your home screen or search bar you won’t see it. You need to go to settings and search for it. I really don’t feel there’s enough data in there for me to decide if I have a smartphone problem but I should keep an eye on it. Actually, I already know I have a smartphone problem. I really don’t need another app to tell me about this. I just want to manage it.
I knew excessive screen time was a problem a few years ago when I started routinely seeing people driving while looking at their phones. My family and I on our way to vacation even saw someone reclined in the driver’s seat looking up at their smartphone. They were driving and flicking and driving! I blew my horn at them and I never blow my horn. Take that, flicker. They looked up briefly and went right back to their phone.
Look up, throw those shoulders back, and move.
I like to call heavy social media users “flickers.” It’s this motion you see when people are trying to get through a lot of posts, making sure they didn’t miss anything. They also keep getting closer to their screens, which I imagine we will start seeing the effects of in a decade or so when our postures start looking like the letter C, or upside down J. I routinely need to remind myself to put my phone away and look around. Look up, throw those shoulders back and move!
As much as I try to put my phone down, leave it behind, turn off notifications etc., it just comes back to me. I mean my iPhone alone replaced 21 things. And then there’s my tablet or my MacBook Pro, always ready to step in at a moments notice when I’m not on my phone.
So, is this what screen time addiction looks like?
You can consolidate screen time tracking on iOS devices like iPads as well. Okay, now I’m really in trouble because I do a lot of reading on my iPad. Let’s just forget about screen time tracking and focus on good versus poor uses for mobile devices and smartphones. Instead of focusing on reducing it or eliminating, it let’s just try to improve with the hopes it will end up reducing bad screen time.
Turning wasted screen time into productive screen time
For example, I can honestly say that I read twice as much, maybe three times as much utilizing the Kindle App for iPad, Audible for my iPhone and Overdrive, our local library’s free version of Audible and Kindle. I also love listening to podcasts while I’m out on a hike or bike ride, then going back and reading some of the show notes, blog posts, or books associated with interesting podcast guests.
When I’m not reading or listening to podcasts, the app I use most frequently is Feedly. Feedly is an RSS feed reader that allows me to follow over 50 blogs organized by topic with categories like Personal Finance, Fitness, Travel, Photography, etc.
I also love some of the fitness and health apps like Health in iOS that lets me consolidate information captured from everything from Fitbit to meditation apps like Calm.
The Bad Stuff
I don’t just want to call social media bad. I really don’t think it is. It’s enabled me to keep in touch with family, friends, and former coworkers that, quite frankly, I’d rarely hear from otherwise. The problem is the addictive element of it. Over the past few years, I’ve really had to search out every single app on any, smartphone, computer, and tablet I was using and turn off notifications. They pop up like mushrooms and, I can’t prove this, but I believe they occasionally turn themselves back on. For instance, notifications just started popping up on my chrome browser and it took me some time to find them and kill them, without killing important notifications like calendar items or to do reminders.
Notifications are those things distracting you from using the good apps on your mobile device. Something simple like a news app can deliver a steady stream of notifications to distract you. Many apps like Amazon can sign you up for multiple email lists based on your purchases.
Once you turn off all notifications from social media, news and, other apps then you’re ready to begin curating your content. Basically, you’re saying to yourself “I know I’m going to be on this screen but I want to make the most of it.”
If you can win the social media/notifications battle. you’ll be amazed at how much time you’ll get back. In the time, the average person (hopefully you are not average) spends on social media (608 hours) per year you could read 200 books. Something that would most likely change your life. The crazy thing is I’m not even including news or television. If you can cut back some combination of these, you can hit that number or a solid percentage of it.
Let’s do this.
Here are 10 ways to eliminate bad screen time and replace it with good screen time or no screen time while keeping your phone in your pocket when you’re listening to a great podcast, music or a great audiobook.
- Use a good quality RSS feed reader. Basically, the way a feed reader works it allows you to follow trusted blogs, specific topics, and writers that are credible. Instead of clicking on Facebook or Twitter, or being baited by a
newsnotification, you can simply open up your Feedly app and read the best content from sources you trust. Just take a few minutes to follow feeds from sources that you know are legit and won’t fill up your screen with clickbait and banners next to every article. My feed updates on my phone in a browser or on iPad. All of them stay in sync and I don’t miss a thing from my favorite writers.
- If you’re more visual and enjoy a magazine style presentation on your tablet, I recommend Flipboard. You can follow the same feeds as on other apps. It syncs across devices and is especially great on tablets. I use Flipboard to follow photography feeds and magazines like Dwell and Wired that are very visual.
- Once you set up your feed, don’t follow the major news sites. This will simply just fill up your screen with all of the random latest news stories that you want to cut back on. They are also incredibly adept at delivering click bait based on news articles you click on.
- Update your feed readers regularly, cleaning out blogs, topics, and writers you used to follow that no longer interest you.
- Turn off any breaking news notifications on your mobile device. These all lead to the “hot stories” and are a big part of the news addiction distraction. Just because Google adds newsfeeds to your smartphone home screen doesn’t mean you can’t turn it off.
- Stop listening to local and network talk radio and start streaming or downloading podcasts. Even if you listen to NPR, their podcasts are better and more accessible. If you’re in your car, turn off the radio and connect your phone via USB or Bluetooth. If you drive a pre-Bluetooth, USB car
likeI do, you can buy adapters at places like Best Buy or Amazon. If you’re out for a walk, put your phone away and listen to audiobooks, music or podcasts.
- Cash in some leftover frequent flyer points for a few good magazines at Magsformiles.com. Believe it or not, high-quality magazines like Fortune, Wired, and Fast Company still use fact checkers. A well-written article that’s going to press gets more eyes in front of it than something that is rushed out online as a “breaking story” via social media.
- But what about the news? Rediscover the Sunday paper and a hot cup of coffee. If I added up all the time I spent checking news sites during the election cycle, I could probably free up five hours a week. Use a fraction of that time to learn about what’s going on in your local area and get a summary of world events that have at least been vetted by an editorial staff. If there’s a writer you really like, you can follow them in your feed instead of following the whole newspaper, as many people are tempted to do with major news sites.
- Create versus consume. Take a photo and write a short story about it. Use speech to text to create a blog post about anything. Combine it with some photos and put it out there. I found this to be one of the best creative exercises of all. Play with a drawing app instead of opening up Facebook.
- Finally, make a conscious effort to keep your phone put away while you’re with friends or family. My wife and I watch one hour of curated high-quality TV per day during that time I tried to pick a show that’s hopefully interesting enough that I won’t need to look at my phone at all.
I know this sounds like a lot of steps just to look at your phone less. I can tell you from personal experience that you will free up a lot of time. Start with the basics and keep working at it. You may not read 200 books in a year or even 20 but you may free up enough time to visit your local library or get one of the free digital reader or podcast apps and rediscover the good part of your mobile device.