Darwin's Theories Blog

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Break Free from the bing of death

Your Cell Phone Should Not Be Your Master

Our cell phones have become a prison to many of us, prompting Dipika Joshi to cartoon the situation (Facebook login needed to view; there’s a cartoon of a person in a cell phone with jail bars over the screen, and the text below reads "People are prisoners of their phones. That’s why they’re called Cell Phones"). But it’s not funny for most of us; many people do feel trapped by their phones. And they are!

This is intentional. All major social media companies depend on advertising, and their algorithms deliberately serve up material that will grab your attention, to get you to click to view more pages. They use a mix of what’s known to be shocking and what’s known to be interesting to you. The latter is based on their very intrusive data gathering on you. These companies are choosing page views (to sell ads) above all else, and this is part of what leads to the strongly polarized societies that have arising in tandem with social media’s arrival. The social media companies know this full well, and, "Frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn." This despite what they claim to the contrary. This is all quite well detailed in the book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—​And How to Think Deeply Again" by Johann Hari, which I recommend.

Whether writing code, writing tech doc, or designing anything, I need to concentrate, to be "in the zone". This means: without interruption. No distractions. The constant interruption of notifications - "the bing of death" - can lead to having "the attention span of a goldfish". So how do I escape from "the cell"? My phone spends a lot of time with "Do Not Disturb" turned on. Immediate family and major clients can call me (in Android, "starred" contacts), but anybody else goes straight to voice mail. And these people don’t usually phone me for idle chit-chat. Social media apps also don’t bing my phone (and annoy/distract everyone around me!) non-stop, as I only access these sites on my laptop. And only when I feel like it. Needless to say these social app web sites also have notifications turned off. Does this make me "anti-social" :-) ? Probably. Do I care?

If you’re in institutional employment, unless your contract specifically requires you to be "on call" 24/7, I encourage you to do the same. You can schedule do-not-disturb times. In current Android, Settings→Notifications→Do Not Disturb lets you set and adjust this schedule. While in the Notifications section, several settings under Privacy also let you control notifications from apps. This is important if you allow social media apps on your phone (PSA: you don’t have to).

As the saying goes, "Just do it". Or, as a famous 1960’s drug culture song ends, "Feed your head." But with knowledge, not with the drug of social media.