Productivity Technology

Using Your Smartphone for Good Instead of Evil – A Short and Easy Guide

By Jon Rumens on 14 October 2019

In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine life without our smartphone. And let’s face it, it can be a rather useful gadget. You can book a flight from anywhere, do your banking, find a girlfriend or boyfriend, have all the information in the world available in the palm of your hand, and communicate in a thousand different ways with a billion different people.

And all that just with a small device that fits in your pocket.

But a smartphone is a tool like any other. You can use it responsibly and with care, or you can use it in an improper way and hurt yourself.

The same goes for any tool. You can use a hammer to build a dog house or hang a painting on the wall. But if you’re not careful, you can hit yourself on the fingers and be in a world of pain. You can also bash in someone’s head with it (definitely don’t do this).

The same goes for guns. Some people use them to hunt for food or protect themselves, while others use them to rob banks.

And let’s not even get started about chainsaws…

In the same manner, a smartphone can be used for good purposes or for bad ones. Today, we want to teach you responsible smartphone use and allow you to find out how to make a smartphone work for you, not against you.

Handle with care – how smartphones can mess up your brain (and body)

At first sight, a smartphone seems like an innocuous, innocent electronic gadget. A tool you use to plan your day, communicate with your friends, family and colleagues and handle both your private and your professional business. They’re extremely useful and are supposed to make our lives easier and better.

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, things turn out a bit different. The unlimited access to music, videos, games, social media and other sources of entertainment has created a severe dependency and addiction to our mobile devices.

There are even legitimate medical symptoms that can arise due to overuse of smartphones. For example, the following symptoms can arise when you use your smartphone too much:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Eye strain
  • Neck problems

Smartphones can also make you look like a jerk

Is there anything more annoying than being on a date with someone who absolutely NEEDS to check their smartphone every five minutes when you’re talking to them?

What about friends or family members who are constantly playing with their mobile device while having dinner?

It’s like they’re silently trying to convey a message: ‘You’re not quite interesting enough to me.’ Ouch.

Then you’ve got those people who go to concerts and feel the need to get a subpar recording with terrible sound using their shitty smartphone camera, and blocking the view of the people behind them. All in an effort to get imaginary internet points.

Every time someone does this, two kittens and a puppy die

We often tend to blame a lack of courtesy for this behaviour, but in reality, most of the time this is not a conscious choice people make. The use of addictive apps and websites make our brains hardwired to craving constant novelty and a need for exposure to ‘interesting’ stuff, that makes casual conversation pale in comparison.

It’s our stupid, impulsive monkey/lizard brain that is making us do this, not our ‘higher intelligence homo sapiens brain’.

Nevertheless, the side effect remains: you look like a jerk. Even if it’s unintended.

Here’s how to use your smartphone for good

As of now, we’ve mostly talked about all the negative aspects of smartphone usage. But we don’t want to be technophobe Luddites. We truly believe that technology can actually make a positive difference, provided that it’s used responsibly. And there are, in fact, many apps out there that can significantly improve the quality of your life.

For example, you can install Tinder to upgrade your love life. You can install an app that allows you to build and track your habits (we looooove building good habits). There are apps that help you find a nice restaurant, apps that help you find the fastest route from point A to point B and apps that allow you to learn a new language.

This is the kind of technology that provides real value, the kind of technology you should be using every day.

Now, we obviously don’t install apps because we know beforehand that they’ll be detrimental to us. All apps give us some advantage in one way or another. But they might come with hidden costs and drawbacks, of which we’re not conscious at the time we download them to our mobile device.

What you need is some kind of criteria, to decide: is this app worth the trouble? It’s simply a matter of economics, of costs versus benefits.

To help you out, here are a few examples of questions you can ask yourself when deciding upon installing an app.

  1. Will this app bring me a significant benefit that I wouldn’t be able to get without it? (Mere entertainment value doesn’t count, by the way.)
  2. How much of my attention does this app demand? Does it have a news feed, notifications, updates and other addictive and attention-grabbing mechanisms?
  3. Does this app save me time and/or money, or just the opposite?

Let’s take a look at a few apps

To explain in detail how the three criteria I mentioned above might play out, let’s give some examples.

  • Duolingo

Our first example is Duolingo, which is an app that helps you learn languages.

Obviously, learning a language is a significant benefit and this app makes it really easy to do so. So, lots of points on question A.

Looking at question B, there are notifications and gamification systems in place that are designed to make sure you use it a lot and make it somewhat enjoyable, and in all honesty, also somewhat addictive. On the other hand, that’s also what makes it so effective.

Does it save you money and time? Well, you don’t have to spend money on language books and courses, and you don’t have to take out time to go to your Spanish class. The app has a paid ‘premium’ subscription, but 90% of the functionality is free. In our opinion, it tends to score rather well on question C.

  • Facebook

Does Facebook provide you with a significant benefit that you wouldn’t able to get without it? Well, you can communicate with others, organize events, post pictures of yourself or other stuff you’re interested in. You can keep in touch with old friends or people you met at one time.

First, is that a significant benefit? We’d argue it’s a small benefit at most, and mostly for entertainment value. A lot of the other functionalities, such as communicating or organizing events, can also be done with other, more minimalist apps.

Second: are there addictive and attention grabbing mechanisms in place?

The answer: absolutely. The entire business model of Facebook based on grabbing as much of your attention as possible, and the platform specifically engineered to keep you glued to your screen.

Lastly, does it save you time and money? We think it’s safe to say it doesn’t. Very much on the contrary, it’s a huge time drain. It does not increase your productivity either and has no obvious money-saving functionalities. On the other hand, by itself, it doesn’t really drain your savings accounts either.

Then there’s the privacy destroying aspect and the scandals, the fake news, the low quality arguments with people you don’t even know, and we’re pretty sure of ourselves when we call Facebook ‘El Diablo’.

Bad, bad, bad.

  • Tinder

Based on point A, the significant benefit is a higher chance of getting a girl-or boyfriend or a more casual type of relationship. We’re not going to be prudish: those can be significant benefits :). Although it could be argued that Tinder is used primarily for entertainment value, the entertainment tends to involve valuable time spent with real people, so we’ll give it a pass.

If spending hours of your precious time swiping left and right on some dating app can lead to this…

Then there’s question B. Tinder works by providing a constant stream of new people to swipe left or right to. That’s a significant novelty-providing mechanism, which can be quite addictive. Addictive = bad.

When taking question C into account, one could seriously argue that Tinder can be a significant time drain. On the other hand, it can also lead to more real life quality time with real people. And once it’s helped you find a new love interest, you theoretically don’t need it anymore (unless you’re not inclined to monogamy).

Final verdict: undecided. There is no clear-cut yes or no here. Although Tinder can provide (friends with) benefits when used in the right way, it can also be a big drain on your attention and your time.

In this case, you’re going to have to weigh the pros and the cons for yourself. Everyone is different, and everyone might also have a different answer to each of those three questions.

…or this, it might actually be worth it.

Note that the three questions we provided above are merely guidelines. You might have your own ideas of what constitutes added value. We all have criteria of our own, and questions that fit their own needs and wants.

Maybe you’re not even completely sure about a certain app. That’s alright, you don’t have to make a choice beforehand, either. You can simply give each app a trial period of one month, after which you can see for yourself if using it has brought real value to your life, or if it has merely been a waste of time.

Being more specific – four easy rules to live by

  • Delete all social media apps

Facebook, reddit, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Snapchat…yes, all of them. I mean it.

If you really, really, really must be present on these platforms, and you can’t bring it to yourself to delete all your accounts, by all means, don’t do it. But at the very least don’t give yourself 24/7 unlimited access to them. Make it so that you need to be at your desktop computer or your laptop to check your Twitter feed, which will at least create a small but real buffer and provides your brain with some time off.

These platforms are highly addictive (and that’s by design) and cause real damage. Just like it’s obviously not a good idea to let an alcoholic walk around with a bottle of whiskey in his pocket, it’s not a good idea to have social media access within arms reach.

Here’s a list of things to delete

  • Delete all mobile games

Mobile games are in the same camp as social media, with one significant difference: they often include mechanisms such as loot boxes, engineered to increase both your credit card bill and the GDP of China.

If you want to play video games on the road, get yourself a Nintendo. Zelda rulezzzz.

  • Don’t use your smartphone for e-mail

E-mail is one of those other things, that, for some obscure and unknown reason tends to drain a significant amount of our attention. Somehow we feel a need to check our inbox every five minutes, because we think that if we don’t reply to our e-mails instantly the world is going to end.

Yet again, it’s that hidden craving for novelty and dopamine that is forcing you to do this, not a real and valid professional need.

Let’s be honest: no one needs 24/7 access to their mailbox. Inbox Zero is not a valid life goal.

Try going without for a month: you’ll survive.

  • Install the (free!) FocusMe mobile app

Yup, here we are again with the advertising.

As we’ve said many times before: we’re not strong believers in discipline. Even though you’ll probably be able to resist the urge to install your Facebook app or check your Twitter feed once or twice, it gets really hard after a while, and our brain, over which we unfortunately don’t have full control, tends to compel us to do so. It craves that dopamine shot and it craves that instant gratification and novelty of liking or upvoting things.

We believe the most powerful way to counter this is to simply make it as difficult as possible for yourself to access it. You need the digital equivalent of locking the door and throwing away the key, and that’s what our app is designed to do.

It scores pretty well on our three questions too:

  1. The significant benefit: FocusMe prevents you from becoming addicted to smartphone use, thereby freeing up more time for real human interaction and real productive work
  2. There are no pop-ups, notifications, or news feeds that clamour for your attention or sneaky ways that we use to make you want to look at it three times a minute.
  3. The mobile version is completely free

Some closing thoughts…

It’s safe to say that the introduction of the smartphone has drastically changed our society. It changes how we live, how we handle our affairs, and most of all, it changes how people interact with one another.

All this is still a very recent change. I’m quite sure that we haven’t seen the full extent of how smartphones will change both ourselves and our society. In the long run, there might be significant negative effects, which we’re not completely aware of right now.

That being said, I think it’s a good thing to be conservative with smartphone use, and be very conscious about the way you use it. A smartphone has a way of eating at your time and attention that can be very detrimental to both your productivity and your social life. Then you’ve got the health dangers too.

A smartphone is a great tool and can definitely change our life for the better, but like with any tool, you need to use it responsibly, lest it become a double edged-sword.

See you next time,