So, I came to the realization that I was in a broken relationship. One in which my attention was often demanded for petty reasons. A relationship where interacting with the other party failed to fill any deep or meaningful need despite a promise that it would be more fulfilling.
The other party was my smartphone. So it was time for a divorce.
Put in less whimsical terms I recently and increasingly realized I was spending far too much time on my device. I'd find myself reaching for it in any idle moment, as many do. And I never left such events feeling rewarded or fulfilled.
I think that part of what has cause this increased awareness is that in all my other computing I work in an almost completely text centric environment. Bowing to the need for the occasional use of a GUI based browser is about the only non-text interactions I have. But even with browsing most of what I do is done with a text only browser.
Also all my other computing devices are not always on/always connected devices.
This disparity between my normal computing devices and my smartphone I think really highlighted the differences. A growing frustration with the direction that Android is going is also in the mix. As many may know I De-Googled my life a while back and have been very happy for it. So my smartphone runs a Google free version of AOSP. With only apps from F-droid on it. So I'm heading in a more free (as in freedom) direction and every new version of Android that comes out does more and more to lock Android and to lock it to Google.
One of the first thing I noticed is that when working in a non-GUI environment I was more focused, more productive, and more task oriented. Where as on the phone everything felt muddled, unfocused and often meaningless.
I also do not like the treacherous nature of smartphones. As anyone who reads my blog will know privacy is a huge issue for me and smartphones simply leak far too much personal information.. So I had already been mulling what I would do when it was time to replace my current device. I did not want to get another smartphone.
So with all this going on and me recently building myself a small mobile computing device.. Much more of a MID then a smartphone and Linux based not Android based. I decided it was time to start saying good-bye to my smartphone.
Now there were some minor considerations that might have mean that I would have to keep the phone. At least for a while. But I wanted to minimize my use of it.
The first thing I did was transfer as much of the non-communication things I did on it over to my new MID (BTW also text centric), and even a few of the communication functions like Instant messaging.
That went well and I felt no real pain in doing so. Mostly what it did is give that overly attached part of me a mental safety net. "OK, phew, I still have all that, just on the other device"
The next step was turning off all non-critical notifications. If it wasn't something that absolutely required my immediate attention off went the notification. This step was amazingly successful. I quickly stopped looking at my phone all the time. Even the amount of checking it in the idle times dropped. I even started to lose the desire to keep it with me all the time.
After that came A big one. Pull every attention sucking, non-critical communication thing off the phone. All social media things gone from the phone. All games, gone. All those random interesting but ultimately time wasting apps, gone. Calendar, gone (have it on my MID now). Even the browser, Youtube player, etc.. gone.
This sounds rather radical but it was necessary if I was to say good-bye to my phone.. All that was left were things that deal directly with real time communications, and privacy enhancements. So basically phone, SMS (encrypted), GPS navigation, and contacts. Plus a few enhancements like firewall, ConnectBot and F-driod.
And. I didn't go nuts.. In fact my routines changed in pleasant ways. I no longer reached for the phone as soon as I woke up. No reason to. It often lay forgotten until I was about to head out for the day. I still check my social media but it is a much more intentional type of interaction which happens on my laptop while having my morning coffee, and ends once I'm caught up. Same with e-mail.
After another purge further stripping the phone down to nothing but basic phone features, and turning off WiFi, which went far better then I thought it would. I was ready to take the plunge. I ordered a $70 feature phone to replace my smart phone.
The phone arrived quickly and despite myself and others being concerned that I would end up ultimately being unhappy with the phone, quite the opposite has happened. Other then some initial pain learning how to TXT with T9 style input again, life is fine.
Although I can no longer easily do encrypted SMS only a few people ever got on board with that and most of what I send via SMS isn't anything that needs encryption. I don't really care if the powers the be see me asking my wife if we need bananas. For anything that requires encryption I can use the Instant Messanger on my MID.
I am actually loving the flip phone. It is smaller, lighter, better on battery, has a replaceable battery, feels and acts more phone like, and still is able to play my music and podcasts through my Bluetooth headphones. I do not need more. And best of all I got my life back. I'm no longer tied to a hugely expensive, privacy sucking, attention sucking, thing that is doomed to the landfill because the battery can not be replaced.
I even now turn the hone off when not in use. Imagine that. A life where I only get bugged by the outside world when I chose to. A world where I control how and when I talk to people or people talk to me. A world where I watch all the way through a TV show (or several) without ever two screening. A world in which when I'm with fiend I'm with them not split between them and my annoying smart thing.
I'd strongly suggest that other should try to follow in my path. Even if you only got as far as pairing back what is on the phone and limiting notifications to only the important ones I suspect you'd notice a large difference in your life. I certainly did.
Who stole my freedom and why
Have you ever wondered why you can e-mail anyone with any e-mail account but you can only chat to people on the same service as you? It's a really good question and the answer will surprise you.
The fact is you, I, Anyone CAN chat (IM) to anyone anywhere. The technology exists and is in use all over the place today. The reason most people don't is because of two things.
A) The big companies don't want you to
B) The big companies don't want you to
I know, I know, A and B look a lot the same but really they are two sides of the same coin. Lets start with A.
The Big Companies Don't want you to (A)
The Internet's big boy Google,Yahoo, Facebook, Msn, etc Want to make money off of you and since the first days of Instant Messaging companies realized it was a "killer feature" everyone raced to have the best chat (IM) application. And they made sure that their chat wouldn't chat to the other guys. Why? Because they want to make money off of you... not just you... you, your friends, their friends, your kids, your kids friends, etc. They want to monetize as many users as they can... and they understand that if all your friends are on "Super X chat" then chances are good that you'll cave to presure and use "Super X chat". Partly because all your friends are on it... partly because all those people being on it creates a lot of "buzz" so you hear about it a lot more. Partly because of branding. It is a potent mix. The big companies understand this and intentionally screw you out of your freedom (to chat to anyone) in a bid to pressure your friends and family to also join. Big companies see IM as the crack that will get not just you but all your friends hooked on them. So they never tell you there is another option. In fact they lie and say it cant be done because of X, Y, and/or Z
Having a lot of people using one Instant messenger creates a LOT of pressure for others to use it. Big companies understand this. It even has a name "The Network effect". The more people there are using a particular instant messenger (or any other social thing) the more people will gravitate to it and the harder it is to leave. Think of it like a social black hole. The bigger it gets the more and faster it pulls people in and the harder it is to escape. For the big companies this means lots and lots of customers and lots and lots of money. For you and your friends this means getting screwed out of your freedom to talk to anyone... because now you can only talk to people on "Super X chat" and the only way to talk to a person not on it... is to get them hooked too.
The big companies don't want you too (B)
The free and open protocol I mentioned before (XMPP) is just that, free and open. None of the big companies control it, much like the protocol that runs E-mail, in fact your username on XMPP looks just like an E-mail address and if you are lucky it can be the same as you E-mail address, Mine is.
Just a quick note here for the everyday users. All Instant Messenger systems are comprised of two parts. The protocol. a definition of how software using the system will talk to one another and the sotware. Now it is understandable that most people don't know this distinction because Skype software speaks the Skype protocol and since Microsoft controls the protocol and wont tell or let others figure out how it works ONLY the Skype software speaks it. Thus the average user never sees the distinction between protocol and software with instant messaging. You do with E-mail because the protocol is open and not controlled by any one company so there are hunderds of different E-mail programs that can all talk to one another.
So if companies were to properly implement XMPP they would lose control, you wouldn't have to be on their network, you wouldn't even have to use their software. They couldn't force ads on you. It would be much harder to track and profile you. They'd lose control of you and the leverage they had over your friends. They also would loose the ability to add and remove features willy nilly. They'd have to try to be as standard as possible so that you didn't suddenly find yourself unable to talk to friends or you'd just leave and go get another account. Imagine if gmail suddenly stopped being able to send mail to Yahoo because of some "feature", no one would put up with that. So instead of being the crack that gets you hooked on the big companies they'd see it as a burden "have to provide to compete" type service and they really don't like those.
With all that it is no wonder that so few people have heard of XMPP. If people knew they'd leave the big boys in droves and never come back.
So How do I do this XMPP thing?
Pretty easily actually:
- You download one of the XMPP clients that you like.
- You set up an account on ANY proper XMPP server. (That's just a small list to get you started)
- You share your favouritename@XMPPserver address with your friends.
But here is the hard part...
You refuse to let Big Companies screw you out of you freedom by using a "popular" Instant messenger. As soon as you do that no one on that service will switch. You loose. They loose. Big company wins and continues to screw people out of their freedom.
It is that last bit, the "Network Effect" that is hindering XMPP as much as the big guys not talking about or using it. People that do know and make the move over to XMPP are often faced with loosing contact with friends. The thing to remember is, if enough people switch then the "Network Effect" will be on our side. The more people there are using XMPP the more people will want to use XMPP. And suddenly it wont matter what IM software you like or what server you are on, you'll be able to talk to anyone anywhere. Just like E-mail.