Tech hacks for taking life back from technology

I don’t care what you say, you are addicted to technology. And so am I. But perhaps, it’s not our fault.

So maybe its time to do something about it.

I was inspired to write this post after listening to my favourite podcaster, Sam Harris “Waking Up” in which he interviewed Tristan Harris. Tristan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person at the Oslo Freedom Forum, is the former Product Philosopher at Google, a new role created after he published an 144-page Google Slide deck “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention,” critiquing the way the (mostly homogeneous) product teams in Silicon Valley have so much impact on how millions of people around the world spend their attention. Tristan is now the founder of a company called #TimeWellSpent focused on raising peoples awareness to their relationship to technology.

The reason their segment stuck with me is because I’ve always been sensitive to our society's increasing addiction to technology. And now I find that it’s getting more invasive than ever.

I feel ignored when I am talking to my date lying on thecouch, humming and umming under the spell of his phone, confirming that the outside world is more important than the daily nonsense conversations we share

First, a little boring stats. Hang in there.

According to eMarketer, we spend more than 4 hours a day on our phones in 2017. We check our phones 150 times a day, 67% of the time without any apparent reason. And nearly half of that time is spent on the social media sites YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter accordingly.

At this rate, we’ll spend a full 5 years and 4 months on social media during the course of our lifetime. Alternatively we could spend that time flying to the moon and back 32 times. Not surprised? Consider that the portion of our total lifetime spent satisfying one of our most innate human needs, eating, requires a mere 3 years and 5 months.

I can’t stand it when I am telling my mom a non-newsworthy story and she suddenly hears her phone ringing, points a finger at me and says “oh, I have to get this”.

The blue lit mafia

I am the first to notice when my friends eyes glaze over in the middle of a conversation. Noticing the dopamine release in their brain as they suddenly notice that oh-so-sweet buzz on their phone, a second of doubt arising before failing to disregard the urge of reconnecting with their digital selves.

I find myself staring disappointedly at their blue lit faces in passive aggressiveness for a second before I fall pray and join the blue lit mafia.

I hate when I meet a person I haven’t seen for months is on the phone as we meet, excusing that they will be “done in a second” as if our special moment of reconnection can be re-lived once there is no retina screen between us.

I can’t stand it when I am telling my mom a non-newsworthy story and she suddenly hears her phone ringing, points a finger at me and says “oh, I have to get this”.

I feel ignored when I am talking to my date lying on the couch, humming and umming under the spell of his phone, confirming that the outside world is more important than the daily nonsense conversations we share.

Myself, along with most others reading this post, feel guilty now.

You’ve probably created or witnessed several of these situations today.

On the other hand, I find myself in awe of the few friends that never take out their phone during a dinner. Whom I notice that when they check their phones as we leave, unaffectedly dismiss an endless string of nonsense notifications.

In my opinion, we should all strive to be them.

Recently, as I continue to become ever more obsessed with technology (side effect when you are a public speaker on the topic) I find myself reflecting more on my personal relationship with it.

In fact, I am going to tell you a secret. Instagram stories is the perfect example of how Facebook has cracked the code to human curiosity.

In the Atlantic article “Addicted to your phone? You are not alone”, Tristan talks about how Silicon Valley works methodically to crack the human psychological code, perhaps beyond what should be ethically considered OK, to optimise the time we spend on any given app.

The tweaks are tiny and unnoticeable to the average user. Unconscious features like the slight time lag before the small red notifications show up when you open the Facebook-app, to constantly tweaking what kind of notifications they give you, knowing what you’ll be more likely to click on.

The ultimate addiction

In fact, I am going to tell you a secret.

Instagram Stories is a perfect example of how Facebook has cracked the code to human curiosity, resulting in an endless urge to keep coming back.

Although it has not been publicly announced by Facebook (at least to my knowledge), it seems they have chosen a very unique way of ranking who has viewed your instagram story, one that I am positive they cleverly suspected would hook their users indefinitely.

I use Instagram Stories a lot, its become an important part of my work. But I have wondered how they rank the people viewing my stories for quite some time, because it's certainly not intuitive. The people showing up on the top of my story-viewers are almost always the same and people I hardly ever interact with or rarely visit profiles.

Intuitively I would have thought that the people I normally interact with, like my family and friends, would show up on top. But wait for it.

The trick?

The people on top of my story-viewers are people I used to date or new/ex-girlfriends of the people I have dated. Creepy huh?

After some digging in online forums, I found that the consensus online is that the viewers showing up on the top of your story are the people who visit your profile the most, regardless of whether you ever interact with them.

I have a hard time believing these “stalkers” know this- and slightly wary of who I am showing up on top of- but it’s impossible for anyone who has grown akin to posting stories to not be curious about who is “stalking” you.

I tested it myself, asked a friend to not visit my profile at all, while I would visit their profile a lot, and sure enough I showed up on top of their list of viewers.

But I guess the point is, kudos to Facebook for making this feature utterly addicting and yet another subtle hack to keep us spending more and more time on their platforms.

That said, the dumbfoundedness arrived when I realised that my exceeding phone usage might not be something I consciously control

In light of the conversation between Tristan and Sam Harris, I felt dumbfounded. I am in no way arguing that my phone doesn’t give me a lot of pleasure, I can read articles for hours and always research any peculiarity my mind wonders to.

I can take pictures of people and situations I care about, I can share updates with friends, network without physically moving and keep in touch with friends scattered around the planet. I can voice my opinion freely and engage my network. There is no doubt that I am immensely grateful I own a smartphone.

That said, the dumbfoundedness arrived when I realised that my exceeding phone usage might be not be something I consciously control myself, but a clever manipulation to trigger addictions in which we naturally are prone to foster. Our insatiable curiosity.

So I decided to make a pledge. I am going to take back the control of my relationship to technology and become more aware of the time, place and actions I allow myself to indulge in on my smart phone.

If you find yourself in a similar situation; noticing that your head is tilted more down than up, I am going to share them and perhaps inspire some conscious actions in you too.

7 hacks to take back your time

  1. AWARENESS. The first step to realising you have a problem, is to become aware of it. A while ago I downloaded the apps Instant and Moment that monitor my phone usage on a daily basis.
Slightly embarrassing disclosing my personal information but its for a good cause.

Also, If you go into the battery section of your settings in your phone you can view the apps which require the most battery, giving you an indication of which apps you are the most addicted to.

2. “Out of sight, out of mind”. Remove the apps you use the most from your primary home screen. Having beaming red notifications the instant you unlock your phone drives an urge to open them. Place them on a screen a few scrolls away, making them less accessible and tempting.

3. #TIMEWELLSPENT. Set your lock screen with a reminder to not look at your phone (image below). I created my own background screen that reminds me every time I find myself bored and checking my phone, that perhaps I don’t need to. We all know that even if our intention is just to check our phones for a minute or so, we fall prey and find ourselves an hour later mindlessly wandering around the digital sphere. The screen saver reminds me of this tendency and triggers me to ask if there might be something else I could do that would be #TimeWellSpent instead.

4. BUZZ-STOP. Don’t wear your apple watch in social settings. I have been an advocate for the Apple watch. That was until I was out at dinner with my family the other night. My cousin was telling me a story and I kept noticing that I was losing focus because my watch kept buzzing. I finally got so annoyed that I took it off, and haven’t used it since. I now intend to only use it when outside of personal social settings.

5. TECH-BREAKS. Take tech-breaks when you are out with friends. Ok, so there are times we do want to check our phones, even in a social setting. If you’re a mom you want to be reachable to your kids. If you’re an entrepreneur you seldom feel like you can afford to be offline for long. Perhaps you are just meeting someone later and need to plan. These are situations that require some phone interaction. My recommendation is to take common tech-breaks, in which everyone checks their phone simultaneously, for no longer than ten minutes. That way you avoid everyone disappearing from the conversation at separate times and have an agreement to keep focus when you’re off the tech break. Oh, and if someone breaks the rule, they have to pick up the check.

6. SMILE! Everyone knows it didn’t happen unless its on social media. But here’s a tip I use: one person takes a picture, everyone shares and posts it later if they want to. I love taking pictures. And although I know everyone has a different relationship to excessive sharing on social media, I personally love to treasure the moments I have with the people I care about on social media. Looking back at pictures brings so many fond memories. That said, I don’t believe it’s necessary that five different people take the same picture in one night, and I certainly don’t think it is necessary to post it immediately. No one but you really cares about it, so create a shared album for you and your friends and wait with posting it until you are alone and not in the process of actually living your future memories.

7. OFF. Turn off notifications for the apps you use most in your phones Settings. Perhaps an obvious hack, but undoubtedly the most helpful trick of all. I am not the only one who clicks the home button and sees a nagging stream of notifications, most of them utterly useless. Go into your settings on your phone and turn them all off. This might take you a little time, but you will win the time back in the long run.

Have anymore tips? Feel free to add them in comments.