Peak Smartphone: Backlash against the Predatory Smartphone and Social Media

Summer, 2007.  Slightly more than a decade ago.  Music was painfully early 2000s.  The Simpsons were in their 18th season.  The UK banned smoking in public places.  And Apple’s “iPhone” ended up in the hands of consumers for the very first time.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Comments from Blogger)

2018-09-24 by Aaron Hurd

I largely agree and have been thinking a lot of these same thoughts. Recently, I’ve been traveling through Germany visiting friends without much access to data and it’s been wonderful.

Here are the things I’ve done that have been most effective in reducing the amount of time I waste… at least this is the subset that is somewhat relevant to this post:
- Email - Unsubscribing from everything that isn’t useful, which is most email that isn’t directly from another person. (Purchase confirmations are, with few exceptions, the only auto-generated emails I find useful.) Anything that I don’t remember subscribing to gets reported as spam. If they send it through MailChimp or Constant Contact, I also spend 20 seconds to send it to abuse@.
- Phone - I’ve removed Facebook. I was amazed at the amount of time I saved. I play three smartphone games… those are probably on the chopping block next. Also, I usually keep my phone in “do not disturb” mode… there are no notifications that are important enough to interrupt me other than calls from my significant other, parents, and siblings. Everyone else can be scheduled or called back. No, I don’t get message or email notifications in real-time. No one has died yet because of that.
News - I have massively cut down my news diet. I used to obsessively check CNN, MSNBC, NPR, MPR, Star Tribune, and about two dozen blogs. Now I get pretty much all of my news from The New York Times. Yes, it’s paywalled. Yes, I am happy to pay for it. I can keep in touch with what’s going on in the world and they provide a good filter. I don’t need to know when Trump tweets something ridiculous.
- Smart Home Devices/Gadgets - I sold my Amazon Echo a few weeks ago. When the creepy laughing thing happened, I unplugged her and I didn’t miss her. I don’t need to have to remember to say, “Alexa, turn the lights in the kitchen on” when a light switch will do.

And yes, life gets much better when limiting distractions. :slight_smile:

2018-09-24 by hoodcat

The Pebble smart watch was the turning point for me. I’m not even on Facebook or Twitter, but I realized being constantly distracted by useless notifications was actively ruining my relationships with important people in my life. Having the notifications right there on my wrist, without even having to use a PIN to unlock, made it even worse.

I sold the watch, and cut right back on notifications (this is after a few years of solidly unsubscribing from every email “newsletter”). Similar to you, I had to uninstall all my fidget apps.

I bought the new Nokia 3310 ( I love it. Once again I can go a week before recharging the battery, and it’s so much smaller than my Android brick. Plus, Snake. It definitely increases the friction factor. I would love to switch full-time to it, only a couple of things are preventing me: the Android phone is useful for work (the paging application, and IM), though there are workarounds for that, Google Maps is handy for directions, and having a camera on hand at all times is great when you have a child doing something really cute.

2018-09-24 by Russell Graves

I’ve been working on the email reduction as well - it’s amazing how much more useful email becomes when you get a few messages a day, mostly from humans, instead of dozens or hundreds a day, mostly of stuff you don’t care about.

Low power mode and Do Not Disturb do a great job of reducing cell phone distractions, certainly. We tend to forget that we lived a long while without those interruptions, though I will keep a work-related number active during the day.

I enjoy living under a rock and having people stare in shock that I don’t know the latest thing I’m supposed to be outraged over. I pay attention to local news, but the daily outrage grind? Nah, I’d rather split rock instead.

I still don’t understand the attraction of Echo or similar. I don’t even have voice stuff set up on my phone anymore (the “yell at your phone from across the room” stuff).

2018-09-24 by Russell Graves

Yeah, cameras in phones are nice…

Theoretically, one could get or write an Android launcher that emulates the behavior of a candybar phone, but still allows camera. I’m playing with expanding the “Downtime” hours on my phone, and simply setting it on the counter in the evening in full “Please shut up…” mode goes a long ways.

2018-09-26 by Cameron

Great article! I got my first smartphone (an iPhone) at the end of 2012. I currently use an SE, and I refuse to buy one of the huge tablets that pass for phones currently. I’ve always had all notifications turned off, with the exception of text messages and phone calls. Not a single other notification (even app badges) are enabled. I also will not install the Facebook app, as much as the mobile website bugs me to do so. I end up not using Facebook messenger much at all, since they removed the ability to use it from the mobile website, and try to force me to install the Messenger app. That’s downright hostile.

My email is pretty tame, though I still do have to go through occasionally and unsubscribe or set up rules to delete useless emails.

Despite all that, I find myself spending more time than I’d like on my phone, on social media mostly. I’ve seriously considered going back to a flip-phone and my iPod (a 5th gen video - not an iPod touch). My biggest reason for not doing so is that my whole family uses iPhones, and we use iMessage for sharing news and photos frequently. I haven’t found a good replacement for that.

2018-09-26 by Russell Graves

There’s a way to use it from the website if you force-request the desktop site, but it doesn’t work well. I agree it’s quite hostile to force users into an app.

I assume your phone doesn’t support iOS 12? Try the Moment app for time tracking and reminders.

2018-09-26 by Cameron

The SE is compatible with iOS 12, I just haven’t upgraded yet. That’s a compelling reason to do so though.

2018-09-26 by Russell Graves

If you’re trying to spend less time on the device, Screen Time is an amazing reason to upgrade.

2018-10-05 by Aaron Hurd

A few followup thoughts:

Call filtering is something I wish were easier. Ideally, I’d like to be able to have a small set of people who can ring me anytime, a larger set of people (contacts who aren’t blocked) ring me during certain hours, and anyone not on my contacts to go straight to voicemail. I haven’t figured out how to do this. Spam calls are becoming more and more of a problem.

I’m keeping an eye on the Sprint/T-Mobile merger… I have a feeling that if that goes through, my sweet grandfathered plan might go away. Lowering my data usage will enable me to jump to a cheap MVNO without much hassle.

So, I guess I haven’t completely gone away from the smart devices ecosystem. I did also have (and still have) a Google Home. It comes in useful in the following use cases:
- Setting alarms (think laundry and cooking)
- Setting reminders that also show up as popups on my phone (for calls, etc.)
- Morning news briefing
- My bedroom lamp - Ideally, I wanted a wall switch, but apartment living means no messing with the wiring and a switch that connected to Google Home was reasonably priced. It has the added advantage of allowing me to mumble, “Google, turn on the lamp.” and then there is no way I’m snoozing in the morning. :stuck_out_tongue: There’s probably a way to connect this to my wake-up alarm, but that’s just brutal.
- Using it as a speakerphone for calls. The sound quality is excellent. My own personal Polycomm!

2018-10-09 by Unknown

Wow. This is like reading a detailed complaint about the threat of jaguars plaguing an amazonian tribe.

I’ve got a smart phone, but somehow just about none of these things have ever turned up. 2am notifications? Messages to check social media? Games that get you to buy upgrades? I somehow missed all that.

OK, I once foolishly signed up to Facebook, then 10 years later remembered and there was only the first ever post. So I cancelled.

But I DID have a problem with spam phone calls. And you can whitelist your phone calls.

Step 1. Get a silent ring tone. I could not find one for download, but you can record your own ringtone, so just record 20 seconds of silence and set it as your default ring tone.
Step 2. Use another ring tone for anyone you actually like.
Step 3. Have a beer.

2019-09-03 by Unknown

This is awesome and perfect. Wish more people could see this. I’ve been working on distancing myself from my smartphone more and more. I think I have a decent balance with keeping “Do Not Disturb” on for most of the day. It auto turns on and off, I only get calls and sound notifications in a small section of the work day. The Google Pixel 2 came with a lot of great features that doesn’t have me looking for my phone every 10 minutes. Just hoping the it’ll last for several more years. I do a lot of armature photography with my phone but next time I’m buying an expensive device it’ll be a more professional camera and not a new smartphone.