Silence your smartphone, gain a daydream

Posted by in Productivity

Would it surprise you to learn that, on average, we check our smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up? I picked this snippet up from a recent newspaper article, and count it among a number of statistics that confirm the perhaps obvious extent to which information permeates our lives – and the lure it presents.

15 minutes of peace

It’s not much, is it? 15 minutes of relative peace, before we willingly let information intrude on us. Each time, the decision rests with us, but the Internet and smartphones have made information abundantly available and easily accessible, respectively.

Under such conditions, information becomes a craving easily indulged, with potential both benevolent and malevolent.

Benevolent, because information is how wonderful things come to be. Malevolent, because humankind is biologically addicted to information in an age where its mere abundance threatens to overwhelm us.

Malevolent, because you might not remember the last time you were able to pause for more than a minute without whipping our your smartphone.

The Internet and smartphones killed the daydream

The Internet brought information availability; smartphones brought information accessibility. And together, they have very nearly brought down our ability to pause. To idly observe the world and its proceedings. To talk, even awkwardly, with acquaintances and random strangers alike. To do whatever we can imagine.

To daydream.

It seems to me that these days, we only daydream in situations where it’s socially inappropriate to be seen dawdling with our phones. I wager if you travelled back in time to ask the 5-year old you for an opinion on the matter, he or she would find it sad.

Daydreaming, after all, is one of the key indicators of our quality of life. Why? Because daydreaming offers a break from pouring all of our mental energy into private or professional concerns. In some cases, it doesn’t even take place until we are sufficiently mentally rested to let go of said concerns. I know people for which this rarely, if ever, happens.

Which is just godawful.

I consider daydreaming a precious thing, and I’d like to share with you how I go about reducing the potential my smartphone has for interfering with my quality of life.

Smartphones, done smart

With my talk of smartphones being the devil, am I now to suggest we toss them away merely because we seemingly cannot keep from reading news, playing games and futzing about with social media?

Of course not.

Smartphones, despite their inimical lure, hold tremendous potential for improving both private and professional aspects of our lives. How then, do we manage to keep the benefits they offer without having our attention fall as prey?

The trick, I believe, is to convert the stream of information from push to pull – for which the right place to start is with the configuration of your devices. Here’s a rough outline of my boundaries: phones for communication (social media withstanding), tablets for consumption and laptops for production. This is surprisingly helpful, once you realize that I have different app loads for different boundaries – and that a tablet isn’t always with me.

Most people would find my smartphone a very quiet place indeed. To begin with, the only notifications I receive are when calls or messages arrive and appointments or tasks are due, because these may be important. My personal and professional e-mail accounts are present, but never make a sound nor a sign that anything new awaits. Similarly, there are no widgets of any kind to draw my attention.

Social media apps are nowhere to be seen. My only present (and rare) use is when I post a photo to Facebook. Front and center are my calendar, task manager and note taking apps, because I consult those often. My browser collects dust, and my RSS app is out of both my home screen and single-tap reach to reduce its lure.

Some describe this approach as a ‘dumbing down‘ of smartphones. It’s a catchy, as far as headlines go, but making this leap occurs to me as the very opposite. Actively narrowing ones span of attention entails applying intelligence to quell a natural instinct which, in the age of information, dallies on the verge of being harmful.

Peace at last

Ask yourself: 5 years ago, prior to the arrival of the iPhone and others of its ilk, would you have picked up your phone in the morning for purposes other than shutting off the alarm – or, at the very most, checking your messages and e-mail?

I doubt it.

Reducing accessibility is the first step towards resisting the lure. To do so on your smartphone, move all non-essential apps out of single-tap reach. Then, start paying attention to what you do whenever your smartphone is in your hand.

Every time you find yourself doing something other than making a call, responding to a message, taking a note or paying for something, put the phone back in your pocket.

Do it for long enough, and you just might get a daydream out of it.