The smartphone is one of the greatest innovations of our lifetime. It is also one of the biggest sources of mindless distraction to afflict us. For the first time in human history, access to all of the information created and accumulated by humanity is available to anyone, instantly, in the palm of their hand. With voice assistant apps like Google Now and Siri, we don’t even have to press buttons or type anymore. We can contact anyone in the world instantly. It is understandable that this kind of power can be very addictive. There is a lot of great, useful information out there. There is also a lot of things that are totally mindless at best and actively destructive to our intelligence at worst.
One response to this is to become a Luddite, shun the new technology and go on as if it never existed. After all, everyone got by just fine before these things were ever invented, right? Maybe, but these people are discarding awesome power to benefit themselves and others just because of the potential distraction introduced by this technology. The intelligent thing to do is to find ways to keep the awesome power and benefits of smartphones and reduce the potential negative side effects. Here are just a few ways to do this.
Every app you install seems to want to constantly send you notifications about every little thing that happens. App developers think everything they want to tell you is the most important thing for you to hear. Fortunately, these settings can be adjusted, at least some extent. Be ruthless with this, you can always allow notifications again if you miss something important. Look at your phone and see what notifications you get the most often. Turn off anything that isn’t critical. Despite claims from business and self help types, the human brain cannot multitask. Instead, it constantly switches focus between different things. This takes time. Checking that facebook notification while you’re working on something important incurs a task switching cost. It takes time for your focus to get back where it should be. Fewer notifications and interruptions allow you to focus on one thing better and get more done. Similarly, don’t use a smartwatch. These exist mainly to put more notifications in front of you, to distract you further from whatever you were doing.
Useful things, not cat pictures. Apps like Duolingo allow you to learn foreign languages. Coursera and similar apps allow you take courses from universities all over the world for free using just your phone. Depending what course you take, some, like computer programming, may require a PC, but you can at least watch the lecture videos on your phone when you have some down time. The Ted Talks app also has a lot of great, entertaining and educational videos that you can watch for free. There are many apps including Kindle, Overdrive, and Google Play Books that allow you to read books on your phone. Check your local library website, they probably have a free ebook and audiobook lending service that you can take advantage of.
Train your brain:
There are many apps available to train your brain in various ways and potentially increase your intelligence. Dual N Back training has been shown in some studies (and disputed in others) to actually increase your IQ with regular use. Basically, it increases your working memory, the RAM of your brain. Whether this can be scientifically proven or not, try a few sessions and you will actually feel your brain almost getting sore like a muscle after a workout. There are other brain training apps that focus on things like memory, attention, pattern recognition, and other aspects of cognitive enhancement. Try a few and see what works for you.
Be active and healthy:
Apple and Google have both added health and fitness tracking capabilities to their phone operating systems. Adding an external device such as a Fitbit tracker that pairs with the phone works even better. Track your steps, active minutes, flights of stairs, sleep, and other pieces of data, depending what app and device you use. This provides a good motivation to get up and be more active each day.
Put it down when you’re driving:
In most places, this is the law. Even if it isn’t, don’t be stupid. Remember that multitasking is a myth. If you’re paying attention to the phone, you aren’t paying attention to the road. Put it where you can’t hear or reach it. Use bluetooth and voice controls if you have to make or receive calls. Don’t pull the phone out at red lights. You don’t want to be that jerk sitting there getting honked at when the light changes. You don’t want a ticket, and you don’t want to get into an accident and kill or hurt someone. Intelligent people don’t use their phones in the car.
Leave it behind sometimes:
Despite restricting notifications, some things, like text messages and phone calls will still come through. Depending what you’re doing, this can be an unwanted interruption. Further, even if you’re doing something useful, the temptation to pull out your phone and do something can be overwhelming. Idle time has its benefits to the brain. People aren’t comfortable with this, so they always seek distraction. Don’t rely on willpower, it will fail you. I like to go outside and take a walk in nature and leave my phone at home. Notice the real world. Let your brain think thoughts. This is part of where intelligence comes from. Leave it in your pocket in social situations and actually spend time with the people you’re with.
These are just a few examples of ways to use your phone intelligently. Basically, the thing to keep in mind when you use your phone is whether you are doing something useful or just distracting yourself. We aren’t robots, so occasional mindless distraction is fun and useful to relieve stress, but avoid the technology addiction that so many people seem all too willing and eager to subscribe to.