Technology: Is it good or bad? We’re still trying to figure that out. Some say that computers are good for us because they let us send funny pictures across vast distances. Some say technology is bad because now all we care about are the funny pictures, instead of taxes or something. Both sides have a point.
Still, a new movement is arising, led by the people who think personal computers and smartphones are turning our brains into Swiss cheese — a movement to get us the hell off of our phones. Escaping technology entirely at this point is a luxury. It’s pretty much impossible to divest yourself entirely from Google and Facebook and Amazon and Apple and Microsoft. These companies and many others have built their software and hardware in ways that encourage users to check in constantly — bright lights, fun sounds, whimsical interfaces, constant notifications. Moderation is not the name of the game.
But you can minimize how much time you spend staring at your screen — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is particularly focused on “time well spent,” the buzzy tech-industry term for “maybe you’ll use social media less, but like it more” — without throwing it out entirely. How? Make it a pain in the ass to use.
As Tim Wu wrote last week, “[T]he battle for convenience is the battle for industry dominance.” Make your phone inconvenient. Inconvenience makes you ask, “Do I really want this? Do I really need to refresh Instagram right now?” The answer is almost always no. If you’ve some time to kill, sure, but if diddling on your phone is superseding other stuff you should be doing, well, that’s a problem.
One easy way of spending less time on your phone is to delete social-media apps from it. I, unfortunately, am not willing to go that far (I do not have a good justification for refusing to do this other than, “uh, I gotta keep tabs on them for my job?”), but here are five other small things that you can do to make your phone less of an enticing attention trap and more of a glass brick that you can call and text from.
Turn your screen black-and-white
“Colorful icons give our brains shiny rewards every time we unlock,” explains the Center for Humane Technology, an initiative spearheaded by former tech employees now taking stock of the monster they created. I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition and one of the guys suggested disabling color, and it seems like it works. I hesitate to say that my phone looks uglier, but it’s certainly less captivating.
On an iPhone, you can set black-and-white mode as an accessibility shortcut. Three quick taps on the home button and you toggle the color on and off. The effect is sort of like a newspaper (a very thin book that old people read to learn the news before electricity) in that I reserve using color mode for the really important stuff, but not the normal garbage I look at every day.
On, iOS go to “Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filter,” and then enable it and check Grayscale. On Android, it looks like you need to enable developer mode.
Disable lock-screen notifications
When it comes to notifications, it can often feel like users get two choices: all or nothing. You can accept every notification or none of them, rendering your phone a pinging noise box that will not let you have any peace or silence and is unhelpful. The middle ground is turning off lock-screen notifications. On iOS, you can set it so that apps only show notifications after you unlock your phone (a.k.a. when you actually want to use it). Fewer interruptions, but still informative.
In the iOS “Notifications” menu, you’ll have to go into each app and toggle the “Show on lock screen” switch. The same applies for Android.
Use Firefox Focus or DuckDuckGo
Firefox Focus is a browser that resets itself every time you open it. So, if you find yourself logging into social-media accounts in your browser despite having deleted the app, Focus will automatically log you out after you’re finished and clear cookies, even if you forget to do so manually. Incidentally, this helps stop trackers from following you around the web. As an added bonus, you’ll never have to deal with the embarrassment of handing your phone to someone, only to have them accidentally pull up your most recent Google search. DuckDuckGo’s mobile app is similarly privacy focused, and has a one-tap button for clearing the browser entirely.
Put two-factor authentication on everything, not just the important stuff
If having to manually log in over and over again is too easy because you have terrible security practices and reuse the same password everywhere, turn on two-factor authentication. Also called 2FA, it’s the thing where you have to punch in a rotating code, or confirm your log-in from an already authenticated device — it’s very helpful, and makes logging in just a bit more of a hassle.
The good news is that two-factor has become prominent enough that a lot of apps are starting to offer it. Even if your account isn’t important enough to you to secure it with 2FA, the security measure has the added benefit of helping to keep you locked out.
Turn off biometrics
Biometric authentication, like fingerprint and facial scanning, have made it easier than ever to unlock your phone without really doing anything. That’s not great, and it’s not even that secure! Sure, Apple says Face ID log-ins are one in a million, but if you have a six-character password composed of the 62 alphanumeric symbols, your password is 1 in 56,800,235,584. Better odds, and it’ll make your phone more difficult to unlock on a whim.