9 tips to keep smartphone communication from driving you (and your friends) batty

The article "Confessions of a Smartphone Douchebag" inspired me to write up my own little guide. (This post could also be titled: ways I've learned to NOT be an overwhelmed, distracted smartphone jerk.) The author of the inspiring article claims to be a douchebag (ahem) but I firmly believe that you don't have to let e-communication get the best of you. When I got my first google phone I was, of course, very enamored with my toy.

newsie with google phone

(This is me on my phone... in an otherwise period-appropriate newsie outfit. )

Over the next few years I had to figure out a few ways to avoid overwhelming myself or completely annoying my friends and family. Here are a few things I do to tone down the white noise of the internet from a scream to a whisper.

1) Don't log in to foursquare at the table

(Or in front of anybody period, if you can avoid it.)

Yes, I use foursquare. What started out as "research" has become a rather fun app I continue to use. You get to earn badges without having to worry about pesky needles and sashes. However, to keep myself in check I log in to foursquare before leaving my vehicle. (Bike or car.) Is this a foursquare no-no since I'm not TECHNICALLY in the building? Who cares. Everybody has their own foursquare code of ethics. I'd rather log in from outside than from at the table.

"Hold on, friend! I have to check-in to foursquare before talking to you."

2) Unsubscribe from as many lists as possible

With facebook, twitter, and all these other apps I rarely miss out on things I *really really* need to know. It took only about a month (one full cycle for most newsletters) for me to weed out the things I really didn't need to be subscribed to. It's cut down on the white noise considerably. In some instances I've simply switched from newsletter to RSS feed. This way I'm not missing out on anything, but I control when I get the updates.

3) Don't leave your phone literally on the table

I keep my phone in my pocket or bag. I feel like keeping it on the table says to whoever I'm with "this conversation's great - well, until somebody more important calls." At business meetings? That's almost worse, and potentially costly. Keeping it in my pocket also helps nix the urge to check.

Oh - and never at the dinner table (family table or guest table.) I've read parent's blogposts about this issue before:  "Should we let the kids text at the table?" Call me old fashioned if you want, but NO! It's all about balance, and I think family time is a great time to hit the "off" switch.

It's A Chicken!

It takes chickens a long time to peck out a text message. Don't let them text at the table either.

4) Don't allow email to alert your phone

I do not get little beeps whenever I get a new email, which is the default setting for most google phones. That got old REALLY quickly. Instead, I check in to email, rather than letting email check in to me.

5) Don't give out your cell phone number

Seriously - if you can avoid it - just don't. This is the biggest single thing I've done to keep my sanity. People are freaking out and writing articles about how smartphones are intersecting with our lives too much. Really? Don't we have more control over toys and tools than that? Because I've been a stickler about giving out my cell phone number my phone rings SO MUCH LESS than it used to before this whole "communication wave" hit. At our house we've also made a conscious decision not to have a landline. True - email may be available around the clock, but I control my access to it.

A subset of this item - When I do give out or list my cell phone number, I sometimes disguise it  by giving out my Google Voice number instead. Oh yes, I play that game. Did you know you can get a free number from Google Voice, use it to redirect to your workline, homeline or cell phone and redirect or turn it off it at certain hours of the day?

(Friends and family in case your worried: if you have a phone number with a California area code, you've got my real number. )

6) Turn it all off several times a week (if not daily)

Phone + email + alarm clock + radio + camera... it really is so much in one.  At least one day a week I try to go without it (usually Sunday, longer on vacations).


Illustration by Athena Currier

When we go camping, the phones stay in the car and we have an amazing time with our mutually "disconnected" friends. It's sometimes a little annoying for family that wants to get a hold of us, but so far they're surviving.

7) Or - just leave the phone at home

One day a little several months ago we headed out to the bar. As we left the house I realized I forgot my phone. Ohnoes! Part of me wanted turn around and get it, but my gut told me "seriously? it's really not a big deal."  So not only did I not have my phone in case of an emergency, I also didn't log into foursquare. ::gasp:: I probably missed a very important badge or something. But I didn't die! I also didn't miss anything important.

Now I leave the phone at home on purpose occasionally. "But why have a cell phone if you don't bring it with you? what if there's an emergency?" I'll take my chances. If I'm at my local bar and have some type of emergency, I'm betting somebody else there has a phone we can use. (Though I wouldn't count on finding a payphone, heh.)

8 ) Write instead

I notice sometimes people tune out when they aren't engaged in the conversation. This happens to me frequently when I'm with two loud talkers. The unengaged party immediately reverts to "smartphone mode" and often will miss cues to rejoin the conversation. If I'm bored while my friends are arguing loudly at the bar, instead of grabbing the phone I'll just draw a picture on a napkin. Of them. Eating poopburgers.

Fortunately that doesn't happen to me often, as I'm usually in pleasant company - but inspiration hits at random times. If an idea comes to mind while I'm out I'll jot it down in my journal or on a napkin rather than email it to myself. There are fewer shiny, blinky things in my journal to keep me away from the conversation at hand.

9) If you must - share the experience.

Nick hiding

Nick hiding from my camera phone.

Last but not least: If you do break out your smartphone, only do so if it actually engages the person you're with. (And the person your with wants to be engaged. ;)) Smartphones really can be a fun toy and conversation piece when you need them to be. The other night we were out with family and they hadn't yet seen baby pictures somebody emailed to the group. (Sharing baby pictures is a universally accepted practice across any platform, I think.)

Once in a while a song will come on and my older relatives will ponder about the artist, only to be blown away by the superpowers of Shazaam. And - there's always taking a picture with a phone, or getting an awesome video. Is there really anything wrong with capturing the moment? Nah. Why have these tools if we can't use them for good as well as evil?


Well, there you have it. 9 easy ways to save your sanity by moderating your smartphone use. As far as I'm concerned, the communication overload freak-out is hogwash. It's all about setting and respecting boundaries.

1) Don't log in to foursquare at the table 2) Unsubscribe from as many lists as possible 3) Don't leave your phone literally on the table 4) Don't allow email to alert your phone 5) Don't give out your cell phone number 6) Turn it all off several times a week (if not daily) 7) Or - just leave the phone at home 8 ) Write instead 9) And if you must - share the experience.

j-me on laptop

Granted I'm not perfect (next on my list is turning my laptop off more often) but I do try to follow an "all things in moderation" perspective.

Do you have any rules you follow to keep your sanity? I'd love to hear your thoughts on smartphone etiquette.