Device Crippling

You are not a victim, you are an accomplice

There is a great awakening happening among western elites. We’ve long known that we shan’t allow our children to stare mindlessly at screens, but lately it seems we’ve come to see that we’re not so very different. We have unhealthy relationships with machines—and particularly, our smartphones: those sleek tailored windows through which we peer down into the world we are creating. Foul-tempered gods tugging pathetically at our touchscreens.

Yes, but who’s to blame?

Depending on the day and the algorithm’s mood, the accusations vary widely. Maybe it’s irresponsible venture capital—those sadistic overlords in Silicon Valley! Perhaps our governments have failed us. Or, it might be that we designers have just lost our moral compasses. I’m sure there’s plenty of culpability to go around, but I would argue that the person best positioned to reduce your sick need for the forged connection, distraction and affirmation that comes from staring at screens is staring at this screen right now.

That’s right: It’s you, buster.


Smartphones come out of the box in full-on casino mode. They are pre-programmed to do everything they can to trigger your inner Neanderthal screen junkie. But it need not be so.

Over the past year, I’ve experimented with many different ways of crippling my iPhone to make it as unattractive as possible. The rationale works like this: I need a smartphone occasionally to do stuff for work, but I don’t want to trade any real life for abstracted virtual life. Ergo, my device needs to be functional but not really all that fun. So, here are three simple little tweaks that have made my phone way worse—in the best possible way.

1. Turn off notifications

All of ’em. Never show previews. Disable banners, sounds, vibrations or badges. I know it sounds scary, but it’s actually incredibly liberating. This tiny move will shift the scales of sanity back in your favor. And don’t worry—you can still use your phone. You will somehow still remember to check your messages, but it will be on your terms. Try it. You’ll love it.

2. Delete your bad apps

Spend a week or so auditing the apps you use and how you feel afterward. Any that you don’t use or that make you feel crappy—delete ‘em! If you need them again, you can get them again. But you probably won’t. If you need help, a quick search will reveal which of your apps are making other people miserable. Tidy up! It may not be magic, but it is life changing!

3. Go gray

Figure out how to disable your screen’s color. In iOS, look in General » Accessibility » Display Accommodations. Occasionally, I like to take mediocre photos with my phone and it’s kinda nice to have color. So, I’ve set my Accessibility Shortcut (triple-click the home button) to switch the color back on for a particularly Kodak moment, but then it’s back to Dullsville. Ansel Adams would be proud.


Okay, that’s it. Nothing too fancy. If you’ve got the chutzpah to try all three of these for a while, I’m willing to bet your brain chemistry will thank you. How about it? Got any simple ways you cripple your device to make it more pro-you?