Is using something digital to manage our own usage of our devices an excuse for wanting to change?

This article details Cal’s thoughts surrounding the aid of digital tools in using them to manage our tech addictions and managing our time spent on our devices.

I thought this was an interesting bit in the article

But something about this growing digital wellness movement makes me uneasy, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on the source of my concern: it’s infantilizing.

I’m a grown man. If I’m checking my phone every 5 minutes, or playing video games instead of paying attention to my kids, I don’t need an animation of a dying tree to nudge me toward better habits, I need someone I respect to knock the stupid thing out of my hand and say “get your act together.”

My sense is that more and more people in our current culture of digital excess are hungry for this type of strong challenge.

They don’t want to depend on Apple to tweak their OS to be slightly less intrusive, or need to download an app that provides a fun reminder about disconnecting; they want instead to be so wrapped up in doing things that are hard and important and meaningful that they forgot where they left their phone in the first place.

Curious what others think regarding using digital devices to manage our addictions to devices. Personally I’m open to Apple’s latest methods and welcome it, disagreeing strongly with Cal.

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I think Cal has a good point - are we refusing to take personal responsibility to change ourselves and putting that onus on Apple/Google/etc.? I’d largely say yes.

A tool can’t make me do anything differently. I can’t choose that. But what these digital wellness tools provide is awareness, and that’s the key to starting to make transformations in my life.

While I kind of agree with Newport, it’s not a zero-sum game like he is somewhat insinuating.


I am a big fan of Cal Newport’s work, however, I find it funny that his entire recent success outside of his day job is due to the things he rails against. He may not use Twitter, but that is how a lot of people discover his work, etc.

I think the bit that is missed in this is that most people don’t actually want to change. Humans have gravitated towards distracting behavior for centuries (always?), it is just better now. Bread and circuses and all that.

It is all a disease of relative affluence. The average person in the western world has not experienced a large amount of real turmoil or strife - compared to what those terms would be defined as across all of human history. We have more free time and mobility than any point, and that is a scary thing to stare into. So, people distract themselves. David Reynolds had some research that China didn’t have neurotic disorders in their populace until the 80s/90s. They had to develop some semblance of a middle class for that to play out.

There is some recent evidence that the “strong challenge” would be a positive step. I don’t want to get into the political side of it, however, there are several “men improvement” speakers and writers who do challenge their audiences directly and bluntly. They do appear to have people who respond to that in a way that impacts their lives positively.

Reminds me of playing sports through childhood, high school, and college. I remember being yelled at, sworn at, pushed to my limits, etc. as a 10-year-old during practices. I don’t think that really happens today (positives & negatives to the change, of course).

Sometimes people need a hard check to shock them out of complacency. If you’re already in the evaluation / shocked state, then the tools that highlight the distraction may have value. Outside of that it likely doesn’t.

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I’m also a believer of taking personal responsibility. I also have to resist the urge to pick up my phone at the dinner table when other people are doing it. I try to show respect and will check my phone afterwards. At times, I do have to tell the kids to at least put the darn iPads down (sometimes works, sometimes fails) when we’re eating or having family time.

Maybe it’s a generational thing and I’m getting too old for this new way of doing things? Previously, it was the TV that was the babysitter. Now it’s our phones and tablets.

Interesting point. In the past, most folks were farmers in one form or another. So the entire day was spent in fields or with animals. That didn’t yield much time for distractions. At least, not until winter.

But with advancements in agriculture, more and more of us can stop farming and do other jobs. But those other jobs can lead to higher amounts of unaccounted time for us to use at our leisure. Thus, distractions.

Am I following your line of thinking, correctly?

I think I lost you here. Without going to a place you don’t want to go, can you expand on this or at least point me to a few of these speakers and writers?

I agree Justin completely.

@mike2 you bring up an interesting point, yelling works great for some people to motivate them but not for everyone. I think now people are more likely to use positive reinforcement.

@wilsonng I completely agree about taking personal responsibility. The challenge for me though is training myself back to not picking up my phone at certain times. Given I’m 24 I was on the cusp of dial-up internet and then now instantaneous gratification. I’d like to retrain myself and like @justindirose said maybe some of these advances provided by Apple gives the nudge I need.


One small tip Is to turn off notifications for an hour. Or turn off notifications for everything except essentials. I turned off Twitter, Facebook, and newsfeeds. I schedule myself time to read these feeds only during certain times of the day. I think there’s a way to block it in iOS 12 during certain hours (work hours). This might retrain my brain to only do these things at night. But I’ll leave social media on if my work is dependent on it (social media marketing manager, perhaps?). I have to do the advertising on Facebook for work. It’s just too tempting to visit my own personal timeline. So I try to stay only on the Facebook Page Manager. I use the work iPad for that.

I keep my calendar appointment alarms and VIP e-mails on. I’ll be interested in iOS 12 where I can put “Do Not Disturb” on for the next hour when I’m eating with friends, watching a movie, or trying to get some deep focus work done.

The hard part is dropping your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I hear a ding on the phone and rush to quickly open it. I get that dopamine rush when I left the phone to my face. Oh great, someone just sent me a cat video. I can’t believe I wasted energy just to see what the mad rush was about. It wasn’t an emergency so I don’t care.

Even reading a book or studying is a challenge when the phone dings at me. Do Not Disturb goes into effect.

Thankfully, iOS 12 will help provide the tools to reduce screen time.


I like these ideas, I should give them a try and report back in a few days/weeks.

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