The “C” word

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There is a word in the English dictionary that makes people who read it look away. And it’s not because it is has unsavory connotations. On the contrary it is a considerably dignified and upbeat word, yet it is the veritable scarecrow of Roman letters:

CHANGE.

It’s one thing to contemplate the great advantages of disconnecting from our phones and reconnecting with what is real. It’s another thing to actually do it. To make the change.

I recently received a letter from a life coach who had encouraged her client to read my book. The result: The client is “making changes in his life.”

Those few words may not offer the scintillating sound and light show produced by typical marketing speak, but they contain the real dynamite of genuine achievement.

Because genuine achievement is made through change. For those people unafraid to stare at the word, the possibilities are endless.

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Rebooting Ancient Technology

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It turns out that technology that was made available back at the dawn of time provides far stronger, faster and targeted connections than anything today’s mega-techno producers can provide.

What could possibly beat the sophistication and wizardry of today’s handheld devices? How much faster and more reliable can we get than the current super silicone Smartphone stars?

Tanya Schevitz of Reboot has the answer. Reboot is urging you to connect in a far more efficient and meaningful way than you can imagine, and using ancient methodology to boot!

What is this mysterious method of uber-connection?

A day of disconnection.

And it’s a disconnection that accompanied the creation of the world, as if this kind of obsession with our phones was anticipated and encoded into the genes of the future, requiring a powerful antidote that would be available to treat it when the time arrived.

Reboot, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to reintroduce Jewish traditions and rituals, developed the Sabbath Manifesto and the National Day of Unplugging with the recognition that everyone can benefit from reclaiming a day of rest and that the need to pause and refocus is universal.

The day promotes not just one day of unplugging a year but a lifestyle change. The idea is to slow down life enough to regularly observe each of the ten principles (Avoid Technology, Connect With Loved Ones, Nurture Your Health, Get Outside, Avoid Commerce, Light Candles, Drink Wine, Eat Bread, Find Silence, Give Back). That could be on the traditional Jewish Shabbath, or any day of the week.

Does this mean that Reboot is anti-technology?

No. Reboot encourages people to embrace the wonders of technology but to also embrace the reality around them.

And if you’d like to know what kind of impact Reboot has already had, you will be impressed by the media impressions created by the past National Day of Unplugging:

804,254,715 people!
Media coverage included 536 broadcast and online stores, and a total of 240 partners participated with events for over 15,000 people!

Reboot joined forces with Dan Rollman to create the Sabbath Manifesto. “As my life became increasingly hectic and plugged in, I became more and more attracted to the idea of a weekly day of rest,” said Rollman, who lives in Brooklyn. “There’s clearly a social problem when we’re interacting more with digital interfaces than our fellow human beings. Rich, engaging conversations are harder to come by than they were a few years ago. As we voyage deeper into the digital world, our attention spans are silently evaporating. I recognized that I needed a break and I wanted a modern way to observe a weekly day of rest.”

Reconnecting by disconnecting has had led to some powerful “Aha” moments: Reboot hosted an unplugging party at SXSW 2013 during the interactive festival where nearly 200 people spent a couple hours together without their cell phones. Afterward a woman came up to Schevitz and said how powerful it was. She said, “My friends and I had conversations that we never would have had if we had our cell phones on.”

It seems ancient technology is wired better than anyone anticipated.

And Reboot isn’t merely waxing poetic about the advantages of disconnecting. You can turn theory into practice by marking your calendars for the next National Day of Unplugging: March 6-7,2015.

App-side Down!

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Imagine a casino owner launching a Gamblers Anonymous society. Or a tobacco company starting a national no-smoking campaign. To say such an incidence would be counter-intuitive is quite the understatement.

Well, imagine the consummate app developer, silicone fluid running through his veins, doing his part to transform all human life into app-guzzling humanoids, deciding to take a 180 degree turn and encourage the world to unplug from their Smartphones.

Meet Lior Frenkel.

“There I was trying to focus on my work to introduce more apps into the marketplace,” Frenkel explains, “and I simply could not concentrate on what I was doing.”

Frenkel started noticing that the incessant distraction brought about by continuous technological innovation was not limited to impacting his work environment.

“Every single social gathering nowadays features a group of people who spend the majority of their time engrossed in their little handhelds. It’s as though no one is actually present with the rest of us, and everyone’s attention is devoted to a world that’s far, far away.”

And it turns out that this far-away world is not as exhilarating as it is touted to be.

“We begin our day fully-poised, immersed in the ever-tantalizing world of whatever it was that happened while we were ‘gone’. Let’s face it, though – The majority of these notifications are inconsequential and mundane, and most of them are actually quite dull.”

These rather sobering thoughts inspired Frenkel to launch Undigitize.me, a blog that aims to inspire more phone-free activities and ventures, such as “The Digital Diet” and the project that made high-frequency waves amongst the phone-addicted public, “Phone Faced Down”.

Frenkel encouraged users to send in photos of themselves doing everyday tasks with their phone faced down.
“Well, in two weeks we had 500+ photos of people participating. That was a big success. I found that everyone has a story about how the Smartphone got him in trouble in some way.”

Obviously more and more people are recognizing that technology has the potential of turning our world upside down. And to that, Lior Frenkel is here to encourage you to make it app-side down instead.

People In Google Glass Can’t Throw Stones

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It turns out that a device that would facilitate the ultimate technological delight – being connected so intensely that your thoughts are like files on a hard drive – does not necessarily leave its users feeling so thrilled.

In fact, Wired Magazine’s Mat Honan wore this contraption for an entire year and, amongst other observations, diagnosed himself as having become a “monster”:

“Glass kind of made me hate my phone — or any phone. It made me realize how much they have captured our attention. Phones separate us from our lives in all sorts of ways. Here we are together, looking at little screens, interacting (at best) with people who aren’t here. Looking at our hands instead of each other. Documenting instead of experiencing.

Glass sold me on the concept of getting in and getting out. Glass helped me appreciate what a monster I have become, tethered to the thing in my pocket. I’m too absent. “

I guess, sometimes we see better after we remove our glasses.

An App that breaks your App-etite for Apps!

 

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Well, I said it would be fascinating to see how it works, and voila! The Creator of Breakfree has obliged us with an eye-opening interview. 

When Mrigaen Kapadia, an Android developer in India, found that he and his wife were gravitating away from personal conversations over dinner in favor of electronic consumption of questionable cuisine, such as Whatsapp, Facebook and computer games, he decided that something has to be done about it. 

Rather than opt for a methodology of avoidance such as going on a techno-diet, he chose to tackle the formidable app app-eal head-on, by pitting app against app. 

“I started probing the idea of developing an app that would lurk inside the phone in the background and monitor the usage. Once I realized that the idea was feasible, my wife and I started our research and designed the functionality of the app. I then coded the app which took about two months.” 

So how does Breakfree work exactly? 

Well, it turns out to be a lot more than your common-or-garden monitor. It actually sounds like your own behind-the-scenes life coach who evaluates you and works for you, but at the same time has little time for your excuses. 

“The first step is to make the user realize that he has an addiction. For this we display an addiction score based on the user’s phone usage. This comprises the number of unlocks, the frequency of unlocks and the time spent on the phone between unlocks. The addiction score is something we have developed after extensive online and hands-on research.  

“The second step is to help him breakaway from his phone. For this we provide a set of optional tools which include: 
1) Notifications – this tool notifies the user at certain thresholds, for example, if he uses a particular app for over 30 minutes or uses the phone for over an hour, etc. 
2) Pop-ups – A pop up appears before he unlocks the phone. This prevents unnecessary unlocks. A pop-up can also appear after continuously using the phone for 10 minutes.
3) Disabling certain functions of the phone – The user has a choice to disable notification sounds, or mute the phone entirely, or disable the internet, or reject phone calls. The app can also send an auto text to the caller.
4) Scheduling the disabling of functions – the option of disabling functions can be scheduled by the user. For example, if one wants to spend quality family time every Sunday afternoon, one schedules the app to reject all calls from 2PM – 6PM every Sunday.” 

And if you think that the idea of a lurking app-coach might sound a touch threatening to some, the numbers are clearly proving otherwise: 

“We have had over 100,000 downloads and the app has been used over 3.5 million times since our launch in late Jan 2014. We continuously receive a lot of feedback on how the app has changed people’s lives, on how their phone dependency has reduced. This is all very encouraging and encourages us to keep making the app better.”

 See more on breakfree-app.com

My Own Offering

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After a lot of research, I’m presenting a guidebook that provides over 40 strategies for tackling Smartphone addiction. I’m really into exploring actual practical methods for solving this problem, rather than merely waxing poetic about it and then falling straight back into the abyss.

I’ve tried to keep the prices low, so here it is! Turn Off Your Phone, Turn On Your Life

It’s about TIME

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You know when there’s a leak in your bathroom toilet and every day you go in there and think, “I really SHOULD do something about that”? And of course, the next day comes, and you still haven’t done anything about it and the leak has now gained some more momentum. This continues until either you have to make a Noah’s Ark in order to use the facilities, or the financial equivalent thereof, which is, your bank account goes into liquidation.

Well, that’s happening with the growing problem of Smartphone addiction, especially if you read this latest huge poll conducted by TIME magazine

One day we are going to wake up to a global flood of social dysfunction. We can choose to worry about it then, or we can do something about it now.

It’s a Secret, and everyone knows about it

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Apparently there is this new app on the rise called Secret, the principle appeal here that everyone you’re in contact with remains anonymous. One of the co-founders touts the advantage of users being able to express their feelings openly without repercussion.

At first you might think, “hey, that’s cool. I can vent.” Yes, I guess it would be akin to some kind of electronic punching bag. But a funny thing happens with living, breathing organisms: we start to get used to things. We start to get used to the idea that we can have an open, almost meaningful connection with phantom beings, and we start to get used to the fact that we don’t have to have open meaningful connections with the real people around us.

I see how people who are slouched over their phones suddenly tense up and bristle when someone real actually turns to talk to them. It’s like they’ve been invaded by reality, their “public” personas whirring into action like when you boot an old computer. Sometimes I can tell they’re itching to retreat into the safety of their la-la-land, where they have formed their core social life.

Do they think about this? Do they recognize this within themselves? Maybe deep down, but most likely not a conscious thought.

Mommy, Are You There?

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It was one of those $350-an-hour moments. In other words, that’s what someone will be paying a therapist in the future while they revisit it with pain. (Hopefully not.)

Yesterday I was at the bus stop. Waiting alongside me was a mother and her two daughters. The girls sat either side of their mother, who sat wholly absorbed in her Smartphone. I watched as one of the daughters, a preteen, snuggled closer to her mother, and tried to – of all  things – talk to her. It seemed she wanted to share something with her, and she searched her mother’s eyes as she talked. It seemed like any shift in her mother’s facial expression would have delighted her. But her mother remained faithful to the screen in front of her. There were some barely audible noises that managed to escape her lips, but beyond that, there was no response. The girl continued to search her mother’s eyes, but at some point I think the reality began to sink in that her mother’s faithfulness to the screen was iron-clad.

There was a part of me that wanted to say something. But of course, I couldn’t. It’s kind of similar to the idea of not intervening as the cheetah is about to catch the deer. These private painful moments are left to be addressed by those who inflict it and those who experience it.

Is the mother’s phone-use the guilty party here, or would this have happened even without the phone? I think it’s the former. Most mothers want to be good mothers, but our world offers a bevy of distractions, making it so easy to forget what is real.