Teaching Our Phones Some Manners

My last post seemed to resonate with some of you, and thank you to those who reached out to me as well. If looking up from the phone is a goal of yours this year and you want to talk, well, I’m here, even though I recognize the absurdity of the fact that you’ll have to contact me by said phone. Here’s how far gone/addicted I am – my first instinct was that maybe we need a Facebook group to talk about these things! Um, no. We do not need another Facebook group. Old habits die hard. But like I said in my last post, this is not about quitting my phone or social media, but rather about approaching it with a renewed sense of agency and intention. I’ll probably keep sharing on the subject for those who want to follow along. For the rest of you, please feel free to scroll on by!

Earlier this week we went over to our friend’s house to play board games and her four-year-old had all the requests. If you have young kids, or ever had them, you likely remember the toddler/preschool years well. As soon as you sit down to do anything, your toddler needs something urgently. And toddlers do not prioritize needs. Needing help in the bathroom or needing a cheese stick or needing you to brush their doll’s hair are of equal urgency – all code red. It was amusing in the way it can only be when your kids have outgrown that particular stage. But later that night, I started thinking about the way our phones are a lot like toddlers. They demand our attention, they don’t distinguish between the urgent and non-urgent, they are more than willing to interrupt us no matter what we are doing. But unlike our toddlers, who we love and are in the process of raising to become independent adults, our phones will remain in the toddler years forever if we don’t do something about it. The good news is that we can train our phones a lot faster than we can train our toddlers. We have all the tools we need, right there on the phone itself.

If you are ready for your phone to grow up a little, here are some quick ways to teach it some manners:

1. Turn off all notifications for anything non-urgent. This means different things to different people, but for me, it’s basically everything. My phone only makes noise when it rings, or there is an emergency alert. It does not alert me to text messages, I have no notifications turned on for any apps, it does not tell me that I have new email. If this sounds extreme to you, well, maybe it is. But once upon a time (ie- less than a decade ago) we all lived our lives this way and we somehow functioned and were possibly less anxious. The email is still there, but it waits until I am ready to answer it. That photo a friend posted to Instagram isn’t going anywhere. And even text messages can sit unread for a moment if I’m engaged in other work or having a one-on-one conversation. If you aren’t ready to turn off all notifications, try turning off just some of them for a week and remember what 2010 felt like when you were not constantly interrupted.

2. Teach your phone to prioritize. For me, this means assigning different ring tones to different people. My children’s schools have their own ring tones for example, so if I’m deeply involved in a project and my phone rings, I’ll know if it is the school calling with a possible sick kid. I’m fairly certain you can personalize text alert sounds too, so you know if it’s your boss texting or Jo-Ann’s Fabric for the 1,000th time that week.

3. Put your phone in time out if it’s misbehaving. What’s time out? The power button on the side of the phone. It is okay to turn off the phone. I realize sometimes it’s not okay, like when you are at work, but we should all be able to identify some chunk of time in a given week when it would be acceptable to just shut the thing off and walk away. It will be there when you get back, and unlike your toddler, it will not cry while it is in time out.

4. Download apps that help you use your phone as a tool for you, instead of being used by your phone. I mentioned Moment in my last post, which is a great app to try if you want to get a baseline look at how you are currently using your phone. I also love Freedom, which allows you to block certain apps for a certain period of time.

5. Ask yourself “why?” all day long. Okay, so this is actually making you behave like a toddler, but it works. Every time you pick up your phone, before you open a single app, ask yourself “Why am I opening my phone right now?” and then identify what you intend to do. Challenge yourself to only do the thing you intended to do, then put your phone back down. Asking “why” for even just a week can start to retrain your brain’s responses to how you engage with your phone.

I hope something on this list helps you out. And as far as your actual toddlers go, good luck! Unless you are looking for picture book recommendations, you’re on your own there. 😉

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