Managing our personal technology, time, and attention

Photo of commuters on a train in the 1960s, everyone reading a newspaper with the caption: “All this technology is making us anti-social.”

“All this technology is making us anti-social.” (click to embiggen)

When I first started reading this article: A Phone Setup That Will Make You More Mindful I thought it was heading toward being a rant about how horrible technology is, making us ignore people around us and such1. I almost stopped reading it, in fact. But the screenshot early on of the home screen showing a simple landscape with a single question intrigued me. As I continued to read it, it became clear the author wasn’t anti-technology, he’s just a strong advocate for you controlling the technology, and not the other way around.

Now, before I get into my own comments on this topic, a disclaimer: my use case probably doesn’t match your use case2. I’m not suggesting that anyone use their tools the way I use mine. My talking about the tools I use and how I use them is in no way meant as an indictment of anyone who uses different tools (or none at all) or uses them differently.

I’m not rearranging my whole phone according to his recommendations after reading it4, but the article did make me think about how I let things on my phone distract me from other things I want to do—often things I meant to do on the phone itself. What I have done is cleaned up my notification settings. There were a number of apps I didn’t really want to see alerts from cluttering up my Notification Center and the Earlier Today list. It’s funny how every time I noticed those unwanted alerts before I would think, “I need to remember to go turn those off.” To be fair, the reason is usually that I would tap another alert that I did want and go read an urgent email or message. By the time I’d handled that, I would have forgotten about the annoying alerts.

Rinse and repeat.

This article has made me consider rearranging my homescreen. There are a few apps that I use many times a day that aren’t on the first screen. The app where I record and track my blood sugar readings, meals & snacks, and insulin doses, for instance. I put in on the second page because it’s color is the same another app I use multiple times, and I kept clicking on the wrong one. The article’s suggestion of having a first screen with no more than six apps that you use frequently got me thinking: is the reason that these two are confused because they are surrounded both buried among 22 other icons, many of which are only tapped a few times a week?

Right now all of the apps I have on the phone fit into only two screens. I pull that off by having a lot of apps in folders. My reason for doing this is that back when I had three to five screens worth of icons I would spend a lot of time swiping back and forth trying to find things. I figured just have two screens would cut down on that. Except I swipe back and forth between them a few times sometimes when trying to find an app.

So, I am thinking of rearranging my screen.

I’ve always had a problem with rabbit-holing. I’ll be getting ready for work, for instance, and notice that the empty tube from the middle of a used toilet paper roll is sitting on the counter. I’ll grab it and carry it out to the kitchen to drop in the recycle bin, where I might decide to grab a sip of coffee or water. I’ll pour some coffee into my much from the coffee maker and spill a little coffee on the counter, which prompts me to grab a rag, and the next thing I know I’ve wiping down the whole counter, and noticing that the stove could use a quick wipe, and say, there’s a couple of dishes in the sink that should go in the dishwasher, but…

And then ten or fifteen minutes later I’m finally heading out of the kitchen, but I forget that I was going to the bathroom and head into the bedroom to pick out clothes to wear, at which point I realize I haven’t actually showered yet. So I head toward the bathroom again.

Which eventually leads to a moment when I glance at a clock or my watch and freak out because it’s a lot later than I thought it was.

This tendency to be easily distracted did cause me to be sent for evaluation for hyperkinetic impulse disorder5 in school more than once. But each time they decided I didn’t have it6.

For now, I’ve turned off the badges on things like the Mail app that I check regularly, anyway. And greatly reduced the number of apps that show notifications.

I already have a lot of apps in folders, and for anything that I don’t check real frequently I use search to find them. I’m not quite ready to go as far as this guy: Beautility, My Ultimate iPhone Setup, but I certainly understand his reasoning!

I’m thinking of this as an extension of the project we started last year when we learned our old building was going on the market and knew moving was likely. We’ve been reducing and de-cluttering and taking long hard looks at all the stuff we have. A lot of things were gotten rid of because we seldom (if ever) use them7. So thinking about how I have my phone (and other devices) set up is probably a good next logical step.

Let’s see how this works!


Footnotes:

1. The modern equivalent of the infamous “milkman’s cheery whistle” style essay: where a pundit laments modern society in general by waxing nostalgic about one particular thing the author thought was wonderful.

2. This is a great phrase my friend Duncan introduced me to. People have different workflows, opinions, and uses for the tools they use. We can legitimately like something without being a mindless fanboy or apologist. We can just as legitimately dislike something without being a hater3. I think it’s a much better approach to think of things this way than to angrily ask, “Why would anyone use X?” And so forth.

3. However, if you only comment on someone else’s blog post to call them a fanboy, sheep, or some other disparaging term because they like a product you don’t, particularly if you include a blanket statement such as, “I don’t use products by so-and-so and never will,” you are acting in a way 100% indistinguishable from a hater.

4. Yet!

5. This was the name given to what is now commonly called ADD/ADHD back in the day. The modern name (and definition) wasn’t adopted until I was in my twenties.

6. I could get into a long and very boring discussion of standard deviations and what constitutes a symptom as opposed to a quirk in different people’s perspectives. But maybe some other day.

7. And I’m not just talking about the embarrassingly large amounts of things we found boxed up in the back of closets that had been there so long, we literally had forgotten the closet was that deep8. An example: about a year or so before Ray died, he found a silk jacket during one of his thriftstore runs with his mom. It was a beautiful dark purple and dark teal (a color combo I was really into), it was in very good shape, silk lining as well as a silk outer shell, it was a nice, light weight that would be perfect for the mildly chilly parts of our falls and springs, and it appeared to be my size. It fit me well across the shoulders and was more than roomy enough for my belly. But the sleeves were about four inches short. But it was gorgeous! And it had clearly been expensive. The label wasn’t in English, and the size was odd enough that we strongly suspected it might have been custom made made for another short, round guy, right? Anyway, other than the sleeves, it was perfect. But because of the sleeves, I almost never wore it. I wore it when a few times we went out back when Ray was alive, because it made him happy to see me in it, and I just never talked about the sleeves. Then for about 19 years after his death, the jacket lived in among our coats and jackets in the closet. Every now and then, when the weather was chilly but not actually cold, I would pull it out and put it on—and then remember the sleeves as soon as I lifted an arm. So I would take it back off and hang it up. Because Ray had bought it for me. And it was gorgeous and still in great shape and so on. During the unpacking, it (with a lot of other old jackets and coats) were hauled off to Value Village. I hope that someone who it actually fits found it and wears it and keeps warm while looking great.9

8. Though that was a thing!

9. Then there’s a complete different phenomenon: after we did the purge of the coats, one of the coats I kept was a long cloth raincoat10 that I had bought many years ago at a fancy men’s store. We had several formal functions we were going to that year, and a coat that I could wear over my suit seemed like a good idea. And it worked great and I looked good, and it was awesome. And then it spend most of the next 14-15 years hanging in that same closet. I wore it more often than the silk jacket, but I kept thinking that I should save it for appropriate occasions11. I didn’t get rid of it in the purge, I kept it. Then when the weather started turning cold and wet, I started to pull it out, but immediately had the thought, “But shouldn’t I save this for—?” Fortunately, I also immediately remembered that the whole point was that we decided only to keep coats/jackets that we actually wear. So during this, the wettest time of the year, it has worked well to keep me warm and dry. And what’s the point of owning such a coat if you don’t wear it, right?

10. It’s a microfibre cloth, and water beads on it rather than soaks in. So it really does keep you dry, but with out the crinkling and squeaking and other odd noises you get with plasticized and rubberized fabrics.

11. Whatever that means.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live in Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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