How much do you love your smartphone? Chances are, the answer is too much, right? We all want to spend less time looking at screens, and more time having real-life experiences. The data is pretty clear: we are all way too obsessed with our phones. One in three people around the world has trouble unplugging, even when they’re aware that it’s way healthier to put down their phone.
Why are smartphones so compelling? They’re designed specifically to be that way, with bright lights, high-definition colors, and unending pop-up notifications and prompts aimed at capturing your attention. But fortunately for us, there are a lot of things we can do to change how our phones look and perform. In fact, if you want to make your smartphone look just dull, boring, or straight-up ugly, you can do that.
Let’s start with the tools that are already on your phone. Apple’s iOS 12 update included a new feature called Screen Time, which gives you a wealth of data about your iPhone and iPad usage, breaking down the amount of time you spent in each individual app on your device. There’s also App Limits, which let you set a daily allotment of time for a particular app or for an entire category of apps, like social media, productivity, or entertainment. Once it runs out, iOS will gray out the icon and display a full-screen banner telling you you’ve reached your time limit.
Android phone users have a setting called Digital Wellbeing, which is pretty similar to Screen Time. The main difference between the two features is that you can basically press a button to ignore it on iOS, but on Android, you have to manually remove the limit, which is way more annoying.
There are also third-party apps that can make your phone way less appealing. An Android app called Siempo gives you a white background with bland-looking icons. It also lets you delay and cluster notifications. And there’s a twist: Siempo constantly rearranges your icons so you can’t form the muscle memory habit of reflexively launching the apps.
You can also turn on your phone’s grayscale function. In iOS, go to settings, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters, and then select grayscale. Everything should turn dull and gray. (It’s like that movie Pleasantville, but in reverse.) I’d also turn off all non-human notifications, which is basically everything except texts you get from iMessage, WhatsApp, or any other messaging app you use.
Suppose your fixation is more severe than what can be changed by toggling a few settings or downloading some new apps. You might need to alter your behavior, but you don’t want to quit cold turkey. Think of it more like going on a diet: you still need to eat, but your goal should be to cut back to more healthy levels. How do we do that?
Some tips I’ve seen outlined by various experts in behavioral psychology include setting goals for using your smartphone and working up to that. Turn your phone off during certain times of the day. Don’t bring your phone to bed. Delete triggering apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And accept the fact that by limiting your smartphone use, you’re going to miss out on certain invitations, breaking news, or gossip. Take a deep breath. Embrace the FOMO.
For more extreme cases, you can also get rid of your smartphone altogether. Currently, there’s a trend in minimalist phones, which are basically just phones that do a lot less. There are a whole bunch of minimalist phones that range from most functionality to least. Devices like the Unihertz Jelly are tiny smartphones that are harder to use, while others like the Light Phone only make phone calls.
If all else fails, there’s always… (drumroll please) digital detox camp! These places have been around for a while, and honestly, they’re pretty easy to hate on. Rich, privileged people who head into the woods where they learn to cope without electronic devices? Inaccessible to most of us, but if you can afford it, have fun.
Hey, I get it: phones are great. You can play Candy Crush, watch YouTube tutorials, troll the president on Twitter. The real world is kind of a mess. But when it starts to interfere with your life, it may be time to reassess your relationship with technology. Then, hopefully, you can achieve that perfect phone-life balance.