The great triumph, but also the great disadvantage, of personal computing technology is that one device can do everything.
The natural result of using one device across multiple functions is that we don’t habituate use of the device with any particular behaviour. So whenever we pick up the device without clear intentions, we tend to drift to the actions of lowest-resistance. In the case of smartphones, that might be social media apps. In the case of laptops, that might be going on YouTube or Netflix. So it is that these days many people find themselves constantly fighting against distractions while working, and the low-hanging fruit of small dopamine hits prevents us from doing highly satisfying deep work.
(In case anyone was wondering, yes I’ve been reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits.)
What steps can we take to reclaim control over our relationship with these all-purpose devices? Very simply: turn them into limited-use devices. Deliberately cripple the technology. Use site/app blockers, physically restrict devices to certain spaces, associate each device with a specific set of actions.
Of course, these are steps that not everyone can afford, and everyone’s individual inclinations and solutions will differ. However, some creative thinking might provide surprising workarounds. I used to think it was ridiculous that people could have separate laptops for work and leisure. Then I realised I had an old laptop. Yes, it has no battery life, and yes the model literally came out in 2011. It’s not a laptop that I can rely on for work. But for social media usage, for YouTube? It won’t really matter if my laptop suddenly fails on me while I’m browsing Twitter. I could use this. With this in mind, and some other solutions I’ve thought up, here’s my personal list of steps I’m planning to take to improve my relationship with electronic devices. I put this up here mainly to keep myself accountable, but perhaps other people might find some inspiration from this.
Chromium browser – Work only
Brave browser – Writing, leisure reading
Firefox browser – Social media, YouTube
Windows 10 OS – Games
Phone – Outdoors use only (which means that sleep tracking apps will unfortunately have to go)
Physical alarm clock – For alarms, instead of using a phone which prompts phone-usage in the morning
Once I move back into my apartment
Current laptop – Work, reading eBooks, writing
Old laptop – Social media, games, YouTube
Phone – Outdoors use only
Physical alarm clock – For alarms
Potential future division of spaces/devices
Raspberry Pi with a monitor – Track information like weather/calendars/reminders, to further reduce phone usage
Physical folder – Reading printed papers
Kindle – Reading eBooks
Utility phone – If I ever need to get a new phone, my old one can be retired as a utility phone. i.e. for 2FA, sleep tracking, or other tasks that might require a phone Done. All I had to do was ask around my family for someone with an old phone they weren’t using anymore.