A Mini-Primer on Avoiding Cell Phone Distraction (after being totally distracted)

It’s funny; even just 48 hours after Technology Sabbath, and 24 hours after writing a post about needing discipline against technological distraction, I definitely showcased plenty of the bad habits I’d just talked about avoiding. My sister flew out to visit me here in Portland, and while we were riding the train back home I definitely broke the chain of conversation multiple times to deal with messages and emails. Sure, she took it in stride, but she shouldn’t have had to.

Mind you, we still had a fantastic evening out: we stopped at a random empanada truck on the way home and had a delicious dinner on a crisp, clear Fall evening. We chatted about home and the future, about Rockford and Portland. We joked around like brothers and sisters joke around. It really was a fun time, and I’m looking forward to more this week. But I don’t want to continually pull myself away from the experience like I did before my phone died.

Though this isn’t the comprehensive list of distraction-related phone tips I’d planned on putting together, but in the spirit of improving my actions quickly so I can better enjoy time with my sister, here are some tips I plan to use (don’t worry, you can too) to minimize cell phone distraction:

  • Place the phone on silent/turn it off. No explanation necessary; it’s the blunt force way to minimize distraction. There are more elegant solutions out there, but they may take some work…
  • Set a priority contact list, and place your phone on Priority Notification mode. Whether you’re on iOS or Android, you can set your phone to only notify you when you receive communications from certain contacts. If the thought of putting your phone on silent all day unnerves you, setting this functionality up can make sure the important calls and texts come through while the others wait for a more convenient time.
  • Set an automated away message before meeting. Remember AIM Away Messages?(Remember AOL Instant Messenger at all?) Apps like AutoSMS for Android function like away messages for your phone; they’ll automatically respond to any text you receive with a message you create. You can also use the app to put your phone on silent while it’s running so you’re not getting bombarded with notifications when someone decides to message your away response. I left this running all day during my Tech Sabbath so people would know I wasn’t blowing them off.
  • Bow out of the conversation temporarily.  People won’t like it if they suddenly get an auto-message in the middle of your conversation, so how about just asking for some space? For some reason, it doesn’t always occur to me that I can simply type to a friend, “Hey, I just ________________; let’s catch up later?” It sounds simple, but I’m imagining (or hoping, rather) that I’m not the only person who’s not thought to do this on occasion.
  • Leave the phone face down on the table. It’s easy to make the reflexive gesture down to your pocket or purse to grab for your phone, but it feels much more blatant when you place your phone up near the person you’re talking to. If you’re sitting at dinner or having a conversation, placing your phone face down, off to the side of the area gives you the ability to focus on your conversation without idly feeling around for your phone.

Maybe I’m just fixated on trying to improve my tech etiquette because this Tech Sabbath is in my recent memory, or maybe it’s that I just don’t get to see my family much now that I live time zones away from them, but I’m determined to be more present in my interactions with family and friends than I have been in the past. Here’s to deeper conversations and great memories.

-Josh

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