The worst thing about digital distraction is that the problem keeps growing. The time spent, the distraction, the damage — the toll of smartphone addiction never stops increasing.
I have come up with a simple solution that will not only improve your life, and the life of your company, but also get Google to buy you a brand-new phone every year — read all the way to the end to learn how.
Smartphone addiction and overuse are rightly blamed for lost productivity, ruined relationships, declines in education, altered brain development, poor memory, lower IQ, car accidents, neglectful parenting, declining health, depression and even needless death. Phones even make us less likely to smile at strangers.
Worst of all, we’re wasting our precious lives on the frivolous, meaningless and superficial while missing out on the beauty of life, real human connection and our full participation in the world around us. We’re limiting our potential by squandering our time mindlessly, instead of learning, growing, networking and building a better career.
Part of the problem is good old-fashioned denial. Lots of people complain about the smartphone-obsession social disease, but our thought processes goes something like, “It’s other people, not me.”
The fact, though, is that we’re also in denial about the scale or depth of the problem — until confronted with the hard numbers, which are shocking to the point of unbelievability.
Let’s take a quick look at the data. The average smartphone user touches her phone 2,617 times a day, according to a study by research firm Dscout. And “extreme” phone users touch theirs more than 5,400 times daily.
More than one-third of all women walking alone, and nearly one-third of all men, carry their pocketable smartphone in their hand, according to Cornell University research.
Average mobile usage has increased from 0.3 hours per day in 2008 to 3.3 hours per day in 2017 — and it’s still rising. One report says that in the time the average user spends using her smartphone each month, she could read 24 books. That adds up to 288 books per year.
Smartphone addiction takes so much away from us, and we get so little in return. It really makes sense to do something about it. But what?
Here’s a breathtakingly simple solution
To combat the digital distraction disaster, people are turning to extreme measures, including buying “dumb phones,” flip phones and minimalist phones with the intention of leaving their smartphones at home while away from the house. (The idea behind the “lite” phones is that people still want to be reachable without the distraction of online data, apps and social.)
Major corporations like General Motors have banned the use of smartphones while walking around the office — for safety. Governments are enacting anti-“smartphone zombie” laws and building crosswalk lights into the ground so smartphone-addicts might notice them.
But there’s a much easier way. Are you ready for it?
Stop using mobile data. Just turn it off in your phone’s settings.
(On iPhone, tap the “Settings” icon, tap “Cellular,” then turn off “Cellular Data.” On Android, tap the “Settings” icon, tap “Network & internet,” tap “Mobile network” and turn off “Mobile data.”)
After turning off mobile data, you’ll still be able to make and receive phone calls and get text messages. But you won’t be able to access the internet until you reconnect to a Wi-Fi network. Most people have Wi-Fi at home, at work and at random food-and-beverage establishments such as Starbucks.
By turning off mobile data, you end up with a dumb or minimalist phone while out and about, but a fully internet-connected smartphone while at home, at work and in coffee shops and restaurants that provide Wi-Fi. (And, of course, if at any time you truly need mobile data, you can just turn it on, use it, then turn it back off. It’s an option that’s always there when you need it.)
This idea doesn’t end smartphone addiction, but it reduces and limits compulsive smartphone use at the very times when it matters most — when you should be paying attention to driving or walking, engaging with other people and noticing the real world.
The offline revolution
The best part is that, thanks to companies such as Google, you’ll still have access to powerful but non-addictive features. These exist inside new or newly updated apps that offer offline modes.
The most recent and powerful example is Google’s introduction last week of deep neural networking offline speech recognition in Gboard (for Pixel phones). That means when you’re offline, you can talk to your phone and get instant voice transcription. It’s not only as good as the online version. It’s better.
Google Map’s offline capability for turn-by-turn driving directions works just as well as the online version. In other words, you get the benefits of mapping in the car, without the risks associated with notifications and compulsive phone checking.
(You can’t get offline walking directions in Google Maps. For that, I recommend an app called Maps.me.)
If you live in a big city, you can use an app called Transit, which gives you public transportation routes even when you’re offline.
Google last year enabled offline mode in its Gmail app. And Google Docs documents can be set to work in offline mode. You can go ahead and work on them offline, then when you reconnect, the cloud version is updated.
Apps such as SmartNews load content when you’re connected, and make it available to you offline.
When you don’t use mobile data and you’re disconnected from Wi-Fi, you can still get calls and texts, take pictures, listen to or watch podcasts, do emails, get directions, look things up, read books and articles, translate languages and more.
What you can’t do is obsessively check Instagram, get interrupted by Facebook notifications or reflexively scan Twitter. Your brain adjusts to the fact that you are disconnected, and you can forget about the FOMO and focus for a change.
Giving up mobile data will instantly improve your life. But it can also improve the life of your company by reducing distraction, accidents and even costs. And if you have employees and or children, you’ll be setting a good example for them.
How to get that free phone every year
I promised you a free phone every year. So here it is.
I recommend that you, your family and your employees embrace Google Fi, Google’s MVNO mobile service.
Google Fi pricing is pretty good: $20 per month for the service, then $10 per month per gigabyte of mobile data. The amount you pay is capped at 6GB, which costs $60, after which time additional data is free. At 15GB per month, Google throttles your connection.
Most Google Fi users I know reacted to this new pricing scheme, enabled a few months ago, with glee. They started using data with reckless abandon, knowing that their monthly total billing would routinely cap out at $80 per month ($20 for the service and $60 for data).
Six gigabytes isn’t much, and it’s easy to consume. I would typically burn through that amount in two or three days with my Pixel 3 (which I also recommend).
But here’s the trick: Get Google Fi, but don’t use the data. Just turn it off. That brings your monthly mobile carrier bill down to $20 per month for a savings of $60 per month, or $720 per year.
That’s enough to buy a brand-new Google Fi-supporting smartphone every year.
So there’s my advice in a nutshell: Use Google Fi, turn off mobile data and get most of the benefits of a powerful smartphone without the life-crushing, always-connected addiction. And save enough on your phone bill to pay for a new phone every year. You’re welcome!