Cutting The Smartphone Down To Size


Do it...do it.



When I was a guest on Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason podcast, near the end of the interview I mentioned that I “lock down” my phone, eliminating internet access, as well as access to “time suck” apps (social media, games, etc). I don’t have the ability to download apps, and getting around the controls is quite difficult. Essentially, my phone only has the basics: text, call, notes and calendar, weather, and a select few pre-approved other apps.


I’ve done this for a few reasons: for one, to be a good example to my own kids. The tools in our hands are way, way more powerful than our willpower, and I know that I don’t have the strength to consistently stay off them. It’s like a shiny, rectangular, heroin needle in my pocket. In our home, we talk about the need to unplug all the time, and our house is a relatively low tech household (books like Techwise Family have some good tips on how to do this, but I don’t think they go far enough. Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism casts a more drastic, but better, vision, and he has good practical advice on how to accomplish that vision). The nut of it is, though, if I’m talking to my kids all the time about staying off technology and engaging in the real embodied world, but then they see me taking little Facebook snacks throughout the day on my phone, the message will fall flat. My actions will speak louder than my words. My mindless scrolling will preach a sermon all its own. This is important! It is important that my kids see my life backing up what I say about screen technology. Screens are disciplers and catechizers, far more than many parents know. And I’m not just talking about the most common talked about dangers, like pornography and such. Just the nature of the tool itself teaches young minds lies about themselves and the world. My kids need to see that and get it, which depends in part on how I, their dad, live in front of them. Second, its simply much easier to live the engaged life if I’m not constantly using willpower--of which we have a limited amount--to resist screen tech’s pull. This is smarter: rather than white knuckling it, tweak the environment. That way, I have more willpower to use in other areas. I know me: if its within my reach and as easy to access as it tends to be, I’ll be scrolling far, far more than I need. I’m not that strong. So I got to the point where I just didn’t want to be programmed, and decided to change my environment in order to wrestle back my attention. There are better things to focus on than the latest Facebook pile on. Columbia U professor Tim Wu puts it like this:

…our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default. We are at risk, without quite fully realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine...Your goals are things like ‘spend more time with the kids,’ ‘learn to play the zither,’ ‘lose twenty pounds by summer,’ ‘finish my degree,’ etc. Your time is scarce, and you know it. Your technologies, on the other hand, are trying to maximize goals like ‘time on site,’ ‘number of video views,’ ‘number of pageviews,’ and so on. Hence clickbait, hence auto-playing videos, hence avalanches of notifications. Your time is scarce, and your technologies know it...Whatever our personal goals, the things we’d like to achieve, the goals of the attention merchants are generally at odds with ours. How often have you sat down with a plan, say, to write an email or buy one thing online, only to find yourself, hours later, wondering what happened? And what are the costs to a society of an entire population conditioned to spend so much of their waking lives not in concentration and focus but rather in fragmentary awareness and subject to constant interruption?

I was losing that battle. If you do any looking into the situation, you’ll see that the tech companies that sell you these screens and apps are not your friend. You are not their customer; you are their product. That realization disgusted me, yet I saw that the tech oligarchs are really, really good at what they do...they had me. Trying to fight it the usual way would be akin to fighting tanks with a butter knife. Maybe Macguyver could do it, but not me. As an aside: I’m not alone in that, you know. This describes a looooot of people. Probably describes you, too. Search your feelings; you know it to be true. So I took what many think are drastic measures. Yes, this makes me weird. People--including church friends--give me weird looks when I tell them I don’t have internet access. Oh well. Being weird is ok.


Here’s the thing, though: more and more people are “getting it.” They are taking stock of their lives and they see how screen tech has taken over their lives and colonized their time and attention. They, too, don’t want to be programmed. They, too, see that the tools in our hands have taken on a life of their own. They, too, see that goals of the tech companies are at odds with their own, yet their success at fighting the good fight with willpower is not working, so a few have asked me how to lock down their own phones. So here’s how to do it. This is not 100% airtight, but it gets the job done: (Note: this is for an Iphone. I do not know how to do it on an Android device.) Go to Settings, then Screen time.


1. Enable screen time.


2. Set a passcode for screen time. If you are doing this for yourself, have someone else set it for you (like your spouse or someone in your church), so you do not know the passcode. Otherwise, everything else is moot, because you can just go in yourself and bypass everything by putting in the passcode.


3. Then go to "content and privacy restrictions." Turn on the restrictions at the top.


4. Next, go to "content restrictions" and click "limit adult websites."


5. Go back to the "Content and privacy restrictions" screen and now select "allowed apps." Deselect safari. This hides Safari from your screen so you can't access it. Deselect other apps you don't want access to as well (ie, email, News, etc.). 6. Next go back to the screen time screen, and now select "app limits." Turn on app limits at the top, then select "add limit." Then select "all apps and categories" at the top and click "next." Set the limit to 1 min, and select "block at end of limit." (you have to select some time; you can't select zero.).


7. Next go back to the screen time screen, and now select "always allowed." Select any apps you want access to. If I were you, I'd make sure the app store is not selected. That way, it is blocked by the limit you set. Otherwise, you can just download other browsers.


That's pretty much it! It will block all apps you don't specifically select as "allowed" all day, with the exception of the first minute each day where you use your phone.


Like I said, not 100% foolproof, but it eliminates 99% of the monkey business. If you want to make any changes, whoever has the passcode will need to enter it for you. You now have a phone that is significantly cut down to size. Let the system do the fighting for you. Nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes, walking the path of inconvenience is the easiest route.


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