3 Ways to Take Back Control Over Your Smartphone

“The difference between technology and slavery is that
slaves are fully aware that they are not free”
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

If you haven’t watched the documentary, The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet, then move it to the top of your viewing list. It is enlightening and frightening at the same time.

I think to some degree or another we all knew that social media, the internet, our phones were taking over our lives and hacking certain neural networks in our brain, to our detriment.

But I never realized the degree to which we were being manipulated. 

If you have kids, definitely watch this documentary.

If you have a smartphone, definitely watch this documentary.

In the meantime, and in the hopes of helping you manage your technology so that it doesn’t manage you, I wanted to share a few things I do to limit my technology use and bring more awareness to how these devices can manipulate us:

1. Give yourself time limits on social media. 

Social media is designed to lure us in and keep us there, at which point someone is paying for our attention. Think of all the algorithms that are collecting information from you as you like certain posts and skim past others – this isn’t a free walk in the park, you are being led somewhere.

It is wonderful to connect with friends and family through Facebook and other social media platforms, and I love that part of social media. 

But I still limit the amount of time I spend on social media.

I do this because I know that the people designing these platforms know exactly how to tap into certain neural networks in my brain, without me even realizing it’s happening. 

The only way I can control this is to limit my time there. 

I can’t tell you what the right amount is for you, that’s something for you to figure out. 

Just be clear that we can’t be so naive to think we can just wander on social media anytime we feel like it and believe it is a conscious decision.

2. Turn off ALL notifications. 

Even if you’re a heart surgeon and the hospital needs to get a hold of you, they can call. You don’t need to be notified of every text, new post you’re tagged in, or breaking news. 

This is another way we have been trained to pick up our devices every time we hear that bell. In this case, we are no different than Pavlov’s dogs. We hear the bell, we get a little drip of dopamine and then we go get the reward by looking at our phones. 

Aside from the fact that we are now trained animals to do what this little bell is telling us to do, which should be frightening enough, we don’t always get the reward. 

Far too often the news isn’t that exciting or it’s a rather mundane message or it’s spam – so instead of getting more dopamine we get less and this leaves us feeling worse than we did before the bell went off.

Keep in mind the hit of dopamine you’re getting is very fleeting anyway. It’s such a short-term, quick, little buzz. And think of the price we’re paying for that fleeting high? 

​​We are being trained just like the lab rat that keeps pressing the lever for a hit of dopamine until he eventually dies. 

Take back your power and turn off notifications.

3. Ask yourself why you’re doing it? 

Almost every single time you reach for your phone, it’s happening unconsciously. You don’t even know why you are doing it. Turn your phone into a mindfulness practice.

Take a brief pause before you reach for your phone and ask yourself, why are you doing this?

Is it because the bell went off and you’ve been trained to look at your phone every time this happens?

Are you craving a short-term hit of dopamine to lift your spirits? 

Really check-in and ask yourself wha
t are you looking for? 

What feelings are you looking for? 

Or what feeling are you trying to change?

Are you bored, angry, sad, tired, stressed, anxious…? 


Practice being more mindful around your smartphone to understand what it is you think it’s giving you and to be more observant of what you are actually getting.

I hope what I’ve laid out here is not to suggest we all give up our devices. I wouldn’t be getting this information to you without the internet and social media. 

It’s about recognizing that if we don’t set boundaries around our devices then we are leaving ourselves open to easily being manipulated by someone else. That’s how clever these devices are, we don’t even realize it’s happening.

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