This article was heavily edited by a contractor named Benjamin.
The new Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma” was a bucket of cold water on my sleeping face. I was already aware of the problems associated with social media use, but this was a new wake-up call.
The film is another reminder of how social media companies use us as the product. They herd us onto free platforms, then sell us to their clients – other companies.
Facebook, Quora, Youtube, and hundreds of other popular platforms want to maximize your use of their services. In other words, keep you addicted.
They use elaborate designs, psychological maneuvers, and top-secret algorithms to bring you back to your smartphone again and again.
What The Social Dilemma Taught Me
Here are just a few startling quotes from The Social Dilemma:
"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads."
That sounds like an exaggerated audio bite for the trailer, but it’s probably much more true than I want it to be.
“There are entire teams of engineers whose job is to use your psychology against you.”
“If you want to control the population of a country, there has never been a tool as effective as Facebook.”
That’s simply alarming.
By now, you’re probably aware that this isn’t fake news (But did you know that fake news travels 6 times faster than real news?). We really are surrounded by giants that want to feed on our habits, interests, and identities.
Even worse, the only escape means breaking from a carefully-engineered dependency. Often that dependency is a full-on social media addiction. Many of us are afraid of using the word addiction, even though it’s true.
How I Noticed My Technology Addiction
For years I’ve used my smartphone for all kinds of important things. It’s essential for communication related to my business and personal life, transactions, important notifications, everything you can imagine.
Many people, myself included, noticed that I checked my phone every free second. If there were a few moments of silence, I immediately checked messages, scrolled through social media, or Googled something.
Chances are, you can relate to my technology addiction.
In many ways, I’m the perfect target for social media and smartphone companies. For one, I’ve owned my own company for over 10 years so I need to communicate and stay connected.
I also get addicted to things like food or video games pretty easily. Plus I get bored quickly. All in all, that’s a great recipe for forming a dependency on your smartphone. And that’s exactly what happened.
It’s fair to say that technology had hijacked my mind. Here’s good news – I worked past it. Here’s even better news – if I can escape a smartphone dependence, I’m sure everyone can.
I wrote this article to give a clear path where people can get back to a healthier lifestyle and stop falling prey to the unethical practices of social media and smartphone companies.
Several suggestions exist that tackle the problem. Over the years, I have personally tried out a lot, and here I would like to walk through what I’ve tried and what I’ve ended up doing now.
Making Radical Changes
When I notice that I’ve developed a problem, I take big steps to solve it. After I found myself playing the video game League of Legends too much, I changed my operating system so it was impossible to even download the game on my computer.
I took similar big steps to combat my technology dependence and high stress levels. For example, I went on two 10-day Vipassana meditation retreats. They are designed to take the meditator very deep and unravel things that are happening within themselves.
When you arrive, you give up your phone. There’s no talking, and it’s completely free. That was perfect for me. The experience was like a hard reset on my brain.
I highly recommend it for anyone with the opportunity. If you’re interested, here’s a list of free Vipassana meditation retreats around the world.
Luckily, you don’t need to go to these lengths because I’ve found a simpler way.
The Key Is Changing Your Environment
The lesson I learned from overcoming past addictions is to change your environment. By that, I don’t mean you need to move to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas.
Instead, find solutions that take your willpower (or lack of it) out of the equation. Alter your lifestyle so that weakness isn’t an option.
With this in mind, I researched lifestyle changes that would corner me into changing. It’s paradoxical, but putting myself in a corner was the key to breaking free.
All My Failed Experiments
First I tried screen blocking apps designed to limit social media use. But sometimes all I had to do was disable the app, and I was back where I started.
Some apps allow you to set up a PIN code, which I gave to family members but kept hidden from myself. However, this method was too annoying when you really needed to use your phone.
These apps just weren’t an effective long-term solution for me.
After that, I tried keeping my smartphone out of certain rooms. My bedroom became a No Technology Zone, which is a decent system that works for some people. Once you form the habit, it creates a sanctuary.
Ultimately this method didn’t work for me either. It still relied on my personal willpower and mindfulness. The practice is more manageable if you create a phone station where you “holster” your phone before entering the room.
In the end, you still have to remember to remove your device every time and resist the urge to make exceptions.
Next I tried switching to a feature phone, also lovingly called a dumb phone. Of course that eliminated my app use, but I often missed out socially. Plus it was a nuisance when it came to running a company. So after a few months I bought a smartphone again.
I felt stuck. It seemed like smartphone and social media companies had created an inescapable maze. Either drop out of society or accept the puppet strings on your back.
The Breakthrough Moment
Then came an epiphany. As I watched The Social Dilemma, I wondered if creating No Technology Zones was the reverse of the solution. What if instead I designed smartphone “capsules”?
These capsules would be specific areas where my smartphones remained. Yes, smartphones. I decided to replace my old smartphone with three new devices.
One of the phones has a fixed location in my car. I use it for navigation, calling, a To Do List, a music player, but only from its fixed location with a magnet in my car.
Another phone is fixed in my workspace at home on a phone stand, and the third phone is fixed in my actual office at the place I work. A fourth phone, a feature phone, is always in my pocket.
Now hold up. I know what you’re thinking. It seems like this solution has a lot of drawbacks, but I’ve found workarounds for many of them.
Plus, feature phones are getting cool. Check out Daniel Day Lewis using a feature phone on the NYC subway.
While this system isn’t perfect for everyone, it will work for some. It’s one contribution to a growing number of methods for tackling internet addiction and recovering the freedom that we’ve surrendered.
How My System Works
1. Buy multiple smartphones and a feature phone
I have four phones in total, but this system easily pares down. If you work from home, you only need one smartphone and one feature phone. That means you probably only need to pick up a cheap feature phone.
If you work in an office, you can easily get away with buying another smartphone and a feature phone. But if you already have a tablet, that can easily work as your home smartphone. Your regular smartphone stays at work, and you carry the feature phone. Voila.
Personally, I stay highly connected by using 3 smartphones. With my car smartphone included in the system, I don’t lose out on any of the benefits of being a smartphone user.
2. Buy SIM cards for each phone
The smartphones stay connected to WiFi, so they don’t need data plans. However, some apps (like Whatsapp) require a SIM card.
3. Set up call plans for each phone
I have a data plan for my car smartphone, but the system works just as well if you simply buy basic SMS and call plans for each. In many cases, three basic plans will be even cheaper than a hefty data plan.
4. Set up call forwarding from the smartphones to the feature phone
This way you never miss a call. Simply hand out one of your smartphone numbers as your primary number. If you don’t pick up, the call forwards to your feature phone in your pocket. I use a 10-second delay before call forwarding kicks in.
5. Set up Whatsapp on your smartphones
Each smartphone will need a separate Whatsapp account connected to its SIM card. You cannot use one account on multiple devices. However, Telegram is a great alternative because it allows for multiple devices.
6. Create Whatsapp chat groups
My workaround to the Whatsapp problem is setting up chat groups that include my contact(s) and all of my smartphone numbers. It’s like having a conversation with a friend and clones of myself, but it works!
7. Create smartphone capsules
Now holster those smartphones in your office and/or dedicated workspace at home and/or car. Enjoy the freedom of having a smartphone in your hand without being in its hand.
- 1x Samsung E2370
- 3x Moto G7 Power
- 2x Anozer Phone Stands
- 1x VANMASS Magnet Car Mount
- A car radio that supports bluetooth
- If you decide to buy budget Android smartphones like me, I recommend you to disable over the air system updates for the smartphones. This will allow your smartphone to stay fast and work smoothly for a much longer time. (https://www.hofmannmoritz.com/disabling-ota-android-system-updates/)
- smsQ (available on F-Droid) - A free app that distributes incoming SMS messages to all your devices using Telegram.
- Spotify Premium (Free Alternative: Youtube-App NewPipe from the F-Droid App Store)
- Remember The Milk (To Do List)
- 1Password (Password Management)
- On my computers at work and home, I run Pop!_OS Linux and the uBlock Origin browser extension for Ad Blocking
Advantages and Disadvantages
- No more checking the phone wherever I go. Now my phones are truly “small computers” and “tools” again, unable to use me as my old smartphone did.
- No expensive data plans. I use one data plan for the smartphone in my car, but you can leave out this step. Because my home and office smartphones are always connected to WiFi, they don’t need data plans.
- No dead batteries. Because my smartphones are permanently plugged in, they stay charged. My feature phone’s battery life lasts weeks.
Disadvantages and Workarounds
- Whatsapp doesn’t work on multiple phones. However, the simple solution is creating Whatsapp groups with your contacts and all of your smartphone numbers. Then you see the conversation no matter which smartphone you use. Alternatively, switch to Telegram for increased usability.
- Can be expensive. The startup costs especially can put a dent in your wallet. But this system still works if you start small. There’s no need to buy all of the equipment I use. Plus, if you work from home, you only need one smartphone and one feature phone.
- No Google Maps. Many people won’t want or have a car smartphone like I do. For people using public transport, the lack of Google Maps can cause some hesitation. App-free navigation is a skill we’ve mostly lost, but it’s also not hard to learn again.
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