Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 50s.
My latest experiment to switch from a smartphone to a flip phone for a month has made me think a lot about the time I spend in the digital world.
In my newest book, I break down the vastly different ways in which analog and digital worlds affect our productivity and state of mind. While the digital world is full of distraction, it’s also full of utility. To make the most of it, I have a simple heuristic that I’ve internalized: the digital world is valuable only so far as it supports us in what we intend to accomplish. There is nothing inherently wrong with spending time in the digital world—but digital distractions can lead to the loss of much meaning and productivity if we’re not careful.
There are three ways the digital world can support us to accomplish what we set out to do:
- When it saves us time. For example, when we get directions, message someone we’re about to meet, or book travel plans.
- When it adds features to our analog lives. For example, when we call an Uber (or order Uber Eats) or learn about our cardiovascular health through a fitness wearable.
- When it connects us with others. For example, dating and meetup websites.
My flip phone experiment has had a weird influence on these three factors. I experience fewer drawbacks associated with the digital world—a shortened attention span and greater distraction, for example—but also have fewer features in my analog life (the lack of Uber is an especially large annoyance). I also feel less connected to others throughout the day (especially with no iMessage group chats). Overall, it has been interesting to dissect all the ways not having a smartphone has added and removed value from my life.
I’m still thinking through the experiment, but there’s no doubt about it: the digital world is full of a ridiculous amount of utility.
But when it comes to extracting the most out of the digital and analog worlds we occupy, the greatest value tends to come from the three ways above.
In the best case scenario, the digital world serves to make our lives more efficient, while the analog world makes our lives more meaningful.