My love affair with mobile technology began with my first orange plastic Mesozoic Era Nokia monstrosity, and grew with each Sidekick, Razor, and other newly burgeoning model. Back then, in a world that now seems almost archaic, cell phones were utilized primarily for making phone calls, and eventually, the long-forgotten primitive method of text messaging that consisted of tapping buttons multiple times incessantly in the name of reaching a particular letter. With each innovation in the realm of mobile tech, I eagerly participated in caring for first generation digital pets, the addition of jeweled cases, and the purchase of the model promising to be the most advanced. Somewhere along the line, unbeknownst to my subconscious, mobile phones became handheld personal computers, and replaced every other specialty gadget (I’m looking at you, iPod).
Like millions of others coming of age in the heydey of mobile technology, I embraced cell phone culture, and remained at the forefront of each trend, downloaded game, app, service, and scheme. Services began to sneak in quietly, with each phone’s bespoke calendar replaced by Google Calendar, various email accounts syncing in real-time, and a myriad of health-conscious apps promising to count my steps, calories, and analyze my sleep patterns. Photos retouched via my phone’s internal settings were no longer good enough to post on the half dozen social media accounts that spearheaded my place in life, replaced by filters that essentially turned me into a living doll.
The prevalence of online shopping propelled my digital hoarding, as each retailer developed their own bespoke app, promising “app only” savings, luring me in with their promises. Cash-back apps were added to be launched prior to shopping apps, in conjunction with virtual shopping list apps, culminating in a sea of open browsers. The sea of lifestyle apps created a never-ending time-sucking portal. From Pinterest’s promise of finding crochet patterns, to Yummly’s life-changing recipes, these apps provided seemingly life-saving hacks that would make my meager existence fulfilled.
Finally, the emergence of just about every type of mindless mobile game parlayed itself via near-constant banner announcements, reminding me of my awaiting jewels, need to complete tasks, and time-sensitive awards ready to be collected. Seemingly the perfect escapist tool, these “I’ll only play for five minutes” games turned into cohesive time-suckers. Before I knew it, I was a hoarder, downloading 8 different Memoji apps before deciding on which one truly encompassed my being in the most profound manner. I was in deep, fiending for my next banner announcement, whilst simultaneously overwhelmed by the pressing need to keep up with my mobile existence. Without my phone making so much as a peep, I continued to feverishly pick it up, thoroughly expecting to have a missed message, call, or other imperative manner to attend to.
You’re probably wondering what rock bottom looked like? Well, like so many millennials do, I eventually (sort of) grew up, and had a child, who ended up being phone-proficient before he could tie his shoelaces. My plethora of mobile games grew exponentially, including the calls of various superheroes, singing monsters, and other kid-friendly creatures. As with everything else in life, I understood the concept of moderation, and attempted to remain thoughtful in my child’s mobile technology usage, starting with only allowing YouTube videos during car rides, or throughout other transitional times. Eventually, though, my best efforts at moderation fell by the wayside, and before I knew it, my toddler began to exhibit the same symptoms as I experienced; the incessant need to check the phone, being upset about having to wait to reap certain game rewards, and the general disconnect that occurred during those times.
From there, I recognized that a swift change would need to occur, and unfortunately, would need to start with my own behaviors. Though I don’t generally lack self-insight, admitting the notion that I allowed digital hoarding to encapsulate my existence, and lead to generalized anxiety totally related to tech remained somewhat difficult, maybe even slightly embarrassing. In a thoroughly digital world, I wondered if my behaviors were more pronounced than the average user. The truth is, it didn’t matter, and my consideration only served as a means of rationalizing my own behavior, which I knew to be troublesome. With a few simple tweaks, changes in behavior, and conscious considerations, I was able to de-clutter my digital life, and regain the autonomy that I lost in the chaos of my phone screen. Read on below for helpful insights, tricks, and the ways in which you can become a proud Reformed Digital Hoarder.
Conscious Time Awareness
Have you ever set out to garner a recipe ideas for a vegan cake, only to find yourself deeply enthralled in a documentary about the history of harvesting vanilla pods four hours later? While it certainly happens to the best of us, getting stuck in a time-vortex is not only counter-productive, but can leave you feeling confused about your original intentions. Without successfully garnering that coveted vegan cake, the only thing accomplished was learning way too much information about Tahitian vanilla. Thus, being consciously aware of the actual time spent partaking in mobile phone activities keeps digital hoarders accountable for the most precious commodity, time. Thankfully, a slew of new digital products exist, created with the sole purpose of providing the digital self-check that many people desperately need. Think of it as a calorie tracker, but for limiting binging on cat videos.
Though there is a slew of digital management apps available, Moment stands out as the most inclusive tool for spearheading digital detox. More than just a great tool for tracking screen time, the app allows users to distinguish between time spent on various apps, tracks how many times users pick up their phones, and breaks down usage per time of day. These metrics provide insight into usage patterns, and present a concise image of daily usage that is hard to deny. Additionally, the app’s built-in coaching device allows users to set controls for usage, delivers small goal-oriented tasks that amount to tangible change, and helps to keep users motivated to be aware of their digital usage. Through these exercises in active consciousness, users can effectively create a hierarchy of what digital behavior is necessary to succeed in life, conducive to relaxation, and even entertaining, while devaluing the actions that are merely deemed “time suckers”.
Eliminate Email Chaos
In the dial-up days of the past, email communication was used primarily for person-to-person communication, with the occasional tech-savvy marketing company sending a curated advertisement. In a manner that almost seems laughable now, email was checked no more frequently than once per day. Fast forward a few years, and the average inbox collects hundreds of emails per day, is checked feverishly with every inbox alert, and contains no less than two dozen spam emails touting the newest prescriptions at a fraction of retail value. While some marketing emails are vastly useful (hello, digital coupons), the sheer volume clouding up the average inbox renders it impossible to sort through the trash, and pick out the treasure. Thankfully, various digital renegades are becoming aware of the grave state of the modern inbox, and are thoughtfully creating bespoke solutions to the issue.
The top contender in this category of email de-cluttering solutions, Unroll Me, works overtime to not only unsubscribe users from undesired listservs, but also creates a totally customized daily email digest that compiles email headlines into aesthetically pleasing snippets, sorted by chosen categories. Upon installation, Unroll Me works to find every email subscription that users are subscribed to, whether actively, or unbeknownst to them. From there, users choose which email blasts to continue to receive, and which ones will be eliminated into the black hole of the world wide web.
Between all the healthy habits and diet restrictions, don’t forget to treat yourself this new year. Here are a few ideas to help you live your best life: https://t.co/sc6huHuPKN pic.twitter.com/N3f73oOSjg
— Unroll.Me (@Unrollme) January 29, 2019
Based upon the remaining winners, users customize several facets of the “Daily Roll Up” experience, including when they would like to receive their daily email recap, and what categories should be featured. In a bespoke digest comparable to a sleek digital magazine, or even a more dialed-in version of Pinterest, the “Daily Roll Up” allows for a seamless, relaxing, and totally serene email experience. It’s like a spa day for your email experience. Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be nice to never accidentally delete the facial coupon for your local spa in between frantically deleting regularly alarming spam?
Turn. It. Off.
This may be a wildly unpopular suggestion, but simply turning off your device should make you feel relaxed, away from stressors, and disconnected from the pressures of daily existence. Instead, the mere thought of turning off a mobile device for minutes instills panic in the average user. In fact, many digital hoarders and addicts get hives when their phone dips below 50% battery life. Constantly being “plugged in”, however, can wreak damage on the psyche, with the temptation to reach for a mobile device even throughout moments that would benefit from total concentration, and conscious presence.
Additionally, with increasing numbers of employers contacting team members throughout all hours of the evening, and text messages being exchanged well into the night, it becomes quite difficult to draw the line between what is considered appropriate, and what crosses the line in terms of maintaining a work-life balance. This constant connection to employment may sometimes blur expectations, and increase stress for individuals, who may feel pressured to answer emails as soon as they come in.
In addition to the physically negative of excessive night-time blue-light emissions, various studies suggest that utilizing mobile tech during the hours that the brain is hardwired to begin to wind down creates feelings of unsettlement, and potential sleep detriments. If appropriate sleep isn’t high on your priorities list, various studies link excessive mobile technology usage to depression, lack of empathy, changes in mood and behavior, and physical ailments like the thoroughly modern “text thumb”, or nerve damage in the neck.
The easiest solution to keeping these potential negative effects in check? Turning off cellular devices during pre-determined time slots. Perhaps this fearless feat can be conquered during an hour-long yoga video that will benefit from zero interruptions, or when you crawl into bed with a book instead of mobile gaming. No matter the time, the situation, or the circumstances, turning off completely can be an empowering method of regaining autonomy, and being free from the tether of technology.
Spring Cleaning For Apps
When the seasons change, and the promise of spring is renewed, countless individuals set out on the quest to relinquish themselves from tee shirts unworn for a decade, closets brimming with unmatched shoes, and everything that was literally swept under the bed for months. Though these semi-annual tasks can seem daunting, their completion elicits a proud feeling of accomplishment. The result of spring cleaning creates a streamlined space, where everything once again finds its home, remains easy to locate, and remains free from clutter (until the next time Home Goods has a sale, anyway). The same practice can be utilized for apps, and digital content alike.
Much like traditional “spring cleaning”, the practice of streamlining apps, getting rid of “ill-fitting” items, and re-organizing the home screen can feel just as rewarding, and diminish the chaos of a phone plastered with who-knows-what. As is the case with getting rid of outdated sweaters, a generalized rule of usage can be applied to the digital sphere. For example, if you haven’t utilized a specific app in three months, it is safe to assume that you no longer require the use of this app, or no longer have the time for it. It’s time to delete it, rather than sticking it into a long-lost folder reminiscent of the dreaded junk drawer.
If the commitment of deleting an app makes your throat quiver, remember that you can recover apps from the land of the dead much quicker than you can fish those too-small jeans from the trash. In essence, this practice is intended to streamline, clean out clutter, and make it easier to access the apps that you truly need, and not an exercise in letting go forever, per se.
By regularly attempting the task of clearing out apps, emails, photos, and iCloud storage, one can regularly be less bogged down, and not require a total mobile overhaul semi-annually. Spending ten minutes on this task monthly every few weeks can suffice, as many people find it much easier to cut virtual clutter when it seemingly blemishes an otherwise perfectly streamlined set-up, rather than starting the process from chaotic scratch. However, if you’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole of digital messes, fear not! Simply making this task a priority once will create the blueprint needed to continue along the path of creating a zen mobile space.
In the Golden Age of mobile technology, choices reign supreme. From a dozen social media outlets, to twenty different takeout delivery services, digital hoarders have countless options that provide essentially the same services beckoning for their attention. Of course, in the era of indecisiveness, it can be quite easy to justify having several apps that serve the same function, with minute differences suddenly appearing crucial to the differentiation of each app. The truth is, however, that many apps and tools are somewhat indistinguishable, and can accomplish their purpose successfully without the need to crowd your digital space.
In the spirit of declaring victory over digital hoarding, one must choose the winners in various categories, and relieve themselves of the seven subpar emoji creators that contain far fewer applicable emojis to your liking. For example, in the battle over online video streaming, countless apps host content that is readily viewed by consumers, but many of them offer similar programming. Thus, deciding between which option is best suited for your own bespoke needs, and eliminating the rest, creates a more streamlined mobile experience, and certainly makes it easier to settle on a show after dinner!
By changing a few potentially toxic habits, even the most extreme digital hoarders can enjoy a more streamlined, effective, and purposeful digital experience. Through the elimination of underused products, streamlining of email, and conscious time monitoring, individuals can retain an active involvement in mobile culture, whilst having the capacity to engage in the physical world. As a former digital hoarder, I can attest to the powerful changes in affect, mood, and general wellbeing that occur after getting rid of digital baggage for good. With digital developers working over time to capture your attention, and social media pumping messages that parlay mobile phones as mere extensions of the hand, it is important to understand the role that digital media plays in our lives, without letting that role take over entirely. Finding the right balance for you is the key to happiness in the digital age.