The miracle tool and the whip

The smartphone is both a miracle tool and a whip.

In horse-drawn carriages, the charioteer uses a whip to veer the horses back on track whenever they seem to go off track or slow down.

We aren’t subjected to such brutality, thankfully. But, we do subject our minds to such brutality day after day, hour after hour.

Every time your phone buzzes in your pocket, that is the equivalent of the horse being whipped. It is the phone’s way of getting our attention back.

Smartphones are powerful tools. I use mine to listen to music, read articles, watch videos, talk to my friends and family, take photographs, find my way when I’m lost in a new city, look for nearby restaurants, hail a cab, buy clothes, and so much more.

But, it is a two way street.

As much as I use it for the things I need, it uses me for things I don’t need. It uses me to tell me there’s a new email in my Inbox, to tell me someone liked a picture I posted, to tell me the prices are lower for something I checked out, to tell me somebody wants to talk to me right now, and so much more.

And it does all of this without concern for what I’m doing right now.

It doesn’t have to be a two way street. We can make it a one way street if we so wish.

All it takes is one simple action. Turn off all notifications.

But the smartphone is wise to our act. At least, some sophisticated apps owned by Facebook are. They don’t make it easy to turn off notifications to their apps. They give me the option of turning it off for one hour, eight hours or twenty four hours. Not forever. Because they feed on our attention. Every second of our attention adds to the stock price of these companies.

There are ways to do it though. If I go down to the system level, I can turn off the notifications forever. Which I have now done.

But if you don’t want to go to the trouble, there is a simpler way. Just put your phone on airplane mode. And turn it back on only when you need it.

The smartphone is both a miracle tool and a whip.

But you don’t have to let it be both.

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