The digital age has made life easier in many ways, but being constantly wired to our tech devices can sometimes cause us to feel overwhelmed and at the mercy of information delivery systems, rather than in control of them. As Julia Hobsbawm writes in her book Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload: “You graze constantly online, on your phone, tablet, on news feeds, Twitter feeds, internal feeds and interminable emails … Choice becomes a stalker, making you overactive, when, really, some passivity every now and then might be welcome.”
Hobsbawm, the world’s first professor of networking, having been made honorary visiting professor by London’s Cass Business School, believes that we need to do more offline in this new “age of overload”.
Sometimes you may think you want to go back in time, back to when your access was more tempered, your connections fewer. The response to the rereleased Nokia 3310 in March, selling out within a week of its launch, is an example of that sort of thinking. But when it came down to it, going retro reintroduced some design flaws few of us would look back on with any nostalgia.
We’re all used to texting at length, but these cool-coloured Nokia handsets have T9 keyboards, which were deemed frustrating by the reviewer for Wired magazine: “You have to rewire your brain to ‘ultimate brevity’ mode, recalling all the abbreviations, quirks and shortcuts one used years ago, not because you had limited character counts, but because it wasn’t any fun to type much more than monosyllabic replies.”
But the idea to introduce a simpler handset back into the market was a good one. Do we actually need everything that we’re served up on the very latest device? Shouldn’t the drive for simplicity also mean a more natural striving for less clutter rather than more?
Anastasia Dedyukhina founded Consciously Digital two years ago with the aim of helping clients remain productive in the age of digital distraction. “ I used to be connected 24/7,” says Dedyukhina. “In my last corporate position, serving as a client director for an internet company, I slept with my phone in my hand even if I switched it off at night. At one point, I started feeling the phone vibrating in my pocket while having no pockets. This was when I realised I needed to change my lifestyle if I wanted to remain sane.”
Mandi Simons, a cognitive behavioural therapist in north London, wrote on the welldoing.org site about the psychological elements that come into play when we use our phones, noting the pleasurable dopamine hit we get from finding a “good news” message or hundreds of likes on our Instagram feed, and the irritation we feel when the opposite is true. Simons also pointed to the rise of digital detox-style holiday retreats as evidence that many of us are looking for a break, ideally in a space where it is possible to “disconnect” from tech and “reconnect with those you love”.
But in ordinary life, when you use your phone for everything from checking work emails to paying for a coffee, going fully offline is not realistic. So how to find simplicity without losing access to all the things we believe we can’t do without?
Uninstall the apps you no longer use – and turn off notifications for those you keep. Photograph: imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo
Seven ways to streamline your tech life
Endless apps, constant updates, relentless emails – here’s how to free up and switch off …
1 Unsubscribe from emails you never read
An overstuffed inbox can raise your blood pressure just as effectively as a bursting in-tray, but it’s not the same thing. Many of the emails we receive every day are spammy, badly targeted, or relating to a one-off birthday present you purchased in 2010. They’re not worth wasting space on. Make a pact with yourself to unsubscribe from every superfluous email for a week. It will soon become a habit.
2 Get a smarter smartphone
Maybe it’s time to get a handset better suited to chilling out every once in a while. The new OnePlus 5 is tailor-made for a stress-free life. Take, for example, its “Dash Charge” feature: a quick half-hour charge is all you need to keep the 3,300 mAh battery powered for the day, because there’s nothing more stressful than running out of phone battery.
3 Uninstall unnecessary apps
We all have apps we don’t use. Whether they came with your phone or you don’t use them anymore, take a second – it really is only a second – and uninstall them. Not only will it free up space, it’ll be one less thing you have to update. The OnePlus 5 learns which apps you use the most and gets them ready to go as soon as you turn on your phone. Additionally, it de-prioritises apps you rarely use, which keeps them from harming performance or draining your battery.
4 Turn off notifications
You really don’t need your phone to buzz every time you get an email. You also don’t need little boxes popping up every time someone likes your photo, or you get a WhatsApp message, or there’s a news story you may like. There’s always something.
Push notifications, as they’re called, are designed to encourage you to open the app by making you think there’s something urgent needing your attention. There isn’t. You can read your aunty’s Facebook update later.
Go into your phone’s app settings and turn off notifications. If you see an option to turn off the “icon badge” – those little numbers that sit on top of the logo on your homescreen – then turn that off too.
The do not disturb function on the OnePlus 5 goes one step further, allowing you to play your favourite games without being bothered by unnecessary notifications or by accidentally pressing the hardware keys. Set it to automatically activate on specific apps or manually control through the notification menu. You’re now in control of when you open an app, not your phone.
5 Do a fresh install
Whether it’s a phone or a PC, refreshing and resetting your tech can make a real difference to how it runs. Make sure everything’s backed up, then reset (Settings>Backup & reset on an Android phone, for instance). When the process has finished, install just the apps or programs you actually need and use. It’s like having a brand new device again.
6 Do adjust your screen
Reading for long periods on your smartphone can strain your eyes. The OnePlus 5 offers a reading mode, which uses gray-scale mapping to filter out blue light and adjust the sharpness and brightness of the display using the information from an ambient sensor, to provide a reading experience similar to an e-reader. The reading mode function can be toggled on and off manually, or can be set to activate on preferred apps.
7 Go offlineTurn off all your tech and have an hour once a week – or every day, if you can – purely in the offline world. It’s amazingly restorative.