The Light Phone Experiment That Wasn’t

So if you’ve been paying attention to my posts at all, you’ll know that I was planning on running an experiment based around using a Light Phone 2 provided by a buddy of mine with the intention of seeing what it was like to be ‘smartphoneless’ for some given period of time. Well, that idea has crashed and burned or perhaps more accurately, fizzled.

First off, it was taking awhile for the Light Phone folks to ship their product – a not-unexpected occurrence – given that this was an Indiegogo thing and these things take time. Not an un-ironic comment on how our everything-immediately-on-demand world has influenced our expectations and perceptions of time. Still, the length of time it was taking started to sap interest in the desire to play around with the device. Steve – the guy who was going to loan me his version of the phone – and I remarked on this a few times in our correspondence. Still, I remained committed to giving it a shot and he still felt I was a good candidate to put it through its paces.

When the phone finally shipped to Steve, once he received it, decided he wanted to give it a temporary spin so set about trying to get it up and running with his cellular service provider. He hit some snags though, and then decided to try using the Light Phone’s own SIM plan and ordered up a card – only to have issues with getting the SIM to be recognized once it arrived. Last we spoke, he still didn’t have the thing up and running.

In the meantime, I had my own circumstances change in that I agreed at the last minute to coach my kids’ hockey team this winter. Based on my previous experiences coaching, the prospect of trying to run the team as well as coordinate with parents and league staff all without a ‘smart’ phone (one with a calendar and access to a web browser and email) seemed like an exercise in futility and one that would only make life miserable. Due to the time it was taking to get the Light Phone into my hands, my interest in the experiment as it was initially formulated had waned. Being faced with this new organizational challenge – I told Steve I wasn’t really interested in it any longer – at least not at this point.

I will say this though, that the whole idea wasn’t without it’s upsides. Through the process of thinking about the phone and preparing to use it, I went through several phases of evaluating and thinking about what apps I have on my current phone and how I use them. That process has led to a major cull in both apps on the phone as well as phone usage/screen time in a way that has been overwhelmingly positive. Probably the largest single change has been the elimination of email from my phone. While I did, initially re-install it after agreeing to coach, I uninstalled it after only a short while realizing that the several months prior of having no access to it on the phone had taught me I don’t need it and I was able to pretty much manage things by sticking to the routine I’d established of basically checking email once a day, intentionally, at a regular time.

One screen to rule them all. Still.

In closing, I’m still glad that I went through the whole process, even though things fell apart at the end. The result is I’m still using a phone that’s about as ‘light’ as I can get, and the apps that are on it I’ve given a lot of thought about whether I want to give my time and attention to and if they’re of real value in my day-to-day. This idea of considering how we use the technology we have very intentionally is something Cal Newport talks about at length in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life in a Noisy World . Although I’ve actually only just started reading this, I had inadvertently already begun what Mr. Newport calls the ‘Digital Declutter’ without even knowing it. When I wanted to reevaluate my relationship with the technology in my day-to-day life, it just seemed to be the sensible way to do it. That said, the book is great so far and I highly recommend it if it sounds like something you’re interested in or are considering.

For those interested/playing along – I’ve stuck to my initial plan of keeping my phone to ‘one-screen’ of apps. Each one has had to ‘earn’ its real-estate there (exception being the un-installable apps, some of which I wish I could nuke). I also didn’t cheat by putting apps I can’t remove in a folder to give me more space on the ‘one-screen’, so I really had to think hard about it. Interesting note – I’m up for an upgrade of my iPhone SE and I notice that even the smallest of the newer iPhones is larger than this one. While I’m not excited about that – I like a small phone – I think it does mean more screen real-estate for apps, I guess I’ll have to see how that goes.

The Phone Foyer Method

Cal Newport talks in his latest post, A Piece of Advice I Wish I’d Included in My Book about leaving your phone in the foyer of your house once you get home.

The Phone Foyer Method: When you get home after work, you put your phone on a table in your foyer near your front door. Then — and this is the important part — you leave it there until you next leave the house.

Several months ago, I started something similar, only, my dresser is where the phone stays. This also happens to be where I charge it. I come home, empty my pockets and leave the phone there and don’t carry it with me around the house or out into the garage or the yard. It’s been great. Very liberating.

Naturally since we’ve all become accustomed to being ‘connected’ all the time, at first there where those pangs of ‘what if I miss a call or a text?’ If I’m inside, I can still hear the ring and go answer if I want, same with a text. If I’m outside – there’s voicemail.

I’ve experienced all the benefits and good mojo Cal mentions in the post in spades. Sometimes, I even put my phone there and – gasp – turn the ringer off.

What’s funny is when my kids or my wife notice it vibrating or ringing and come and find me in a panic – “your phone is ringing – making noises! You’ve got a text!”

“Yep. That’s what it does.” is what I usually say.

“Addiction is actually the point.”

It would seem more people are getting it. Via Cal Newport’s blog post, Senator Hawley on Social Media: “addiction is actually the point.”

“Social media only works as a business model if it consumes users’ time and attention day after day after day. It needs to replace the various activities we did perfectly well without social media, for the entire known history of the human race with itself. It needs to replace those activities with time spent on social media. So that addiction is actually the point.

-Josh Hawley, Missouri Senator (emphasis mine)

And another great one – I’m stealing these directly from Cal’s post, but they’re too good to pass up. Cal’s original post is short and well worth the click-through to read.

“This is what some of our brightest minds have been doing with their time for years now. Designing these platforms, designing apps that integrate with them. I mean, what else might they have been doing?

-Josh Hawley, (emphasis again, mine)

It’s refreshing to hear a politician – any politician – talking in such a frank manner. Video of full speech available on the Senator’s website, and is totally worth your time.

Arizona Cardinals Give Players ‘Phone Breaks’

“Alright Gentlemen, let’s take 5 and check your notifications!”

Interesting article on Cal Newport’s blog, about an NFL Coach giving his players phone breaks during team functions.

(Do you know what lasts much longer than 20 – 30 minutes? NFL games. And there are no phone breaks once you’re on the field.)

Instead of accommodating his player’s twitching hands, therefore, perhaps Kingsbury should see this reaction as a crisis. Elite level sports require phenomenal concentration. Even a small epsilon degradation in this ability can be the difference between a cornerback disrupting a play or being burned on a slant, which itself can be the difference-maker in a game.

How long before this starts getting written into player contracts?

“Setting a new precedent, star running back Steve Ferguson signed a 3-year contract with the Cowboys for 47 Million and 120 hours of phone access per season. That’s 30 more hours than any previous player. ‘I’m really happy I’ll be able to keep my fans in on the action,’ Ferguson commented. ‘Guess I’m really going to have to up my selfie game'”

Powering Down

Cal Newport’s latest book, Digital Minimalism, is on my to-read list. I came across this blog post of his recently about a Sam Harris podcast with Stephen Fry.

In response to Sam comparing the practice of meditation to the human development of the skill to read, Cal writes;

“Meditation, by contrast, is more palliative than instrumental, especially in its modern secular applications. It’s meant to soothe mental dis-ease, not to unlock accomplishment previously unobtainable to our species.”

I agree with most his points, though I don’t know that advances couldn’t be made if more people hit the meditation cushion. Probably not in as tangible a way as say, the effects of reading have been felt, but surely in terms of human relations and perspective on our world and existence.

“A big part of waking up, in other words, should probably involve powering down.”

Cal Newport

Definitely on board with that though.