6th Dec - 2019

Why I Quit

I used to spend upwards of 5 hours/day on my phone. Mind you, this was when I was finishing my degree. I needed the gap, the escapism, the excuse not to do work. That time? I spent it here:

Ultimately, the excuse left me incredibly unproductive and overstimulated as you’d expect. I skipped out on work to look at memes and read articles. I got my degree, and did pretty well to boot. I thought nothing of this habit.

However. This habit carried over to my graduate role. I’m a Cloud Engineer. Starting the role, I had no time during the day to waste time: Implementing the infrastructure for a startup with a recent $7bn acquisition keeps you on your toes.

Outside of work, I didn’t mind where I spent my time; There were no exams to prep for or coursework to complete. So I continued spending time reading comments on Hacker News/Lobsters and browsing /r/all.

That 5 hours/day I mnetioned? That’s overstimulation. An infinite scroll filled with dopamine where other people created and thought for me.

Overstimulation kills imagination. I couldn’t think for myself.

With no imagination, my head was clogged. I couldn’t think in meetings in a workplace where there is a culture of meetings. I couldn’t solution in a roles that requires solutions. I couldn’t even maintain a conversation without forgetting what I was on about half way through.

How I Did It

I had to stop. I couldn’t stop. Reddit was consuming my time, not to mention the threads filled with colourful discussion on Lobsters. YouTube was fine; it’s my only source of entertainment. When I moved out, I never had a cord to cut.

I’ve killed this habit before, which is why I know it works. Content is, without a doubt, an addiction.

I’ve tried weening. That didn’t work. I’ve tried using apps with worse user experiences. That didn’t work either. I tried quitting cold turkey. That worked. It was difficult. But it worked.

I decided that if I could do 3 weeks without any of this overstimulation, I could do it. I could keep unplugged. I started off by removing Apollo from my iPhone. Apollo provides an excellent UX for reddit (where the native app, and their redesign fails). Apollo provides such a good UX that it was difficult to quit and keep the app on my phone for “news”.

The first week was dreadful. I was in a cycle of unlocking my phone, swiping to where Apollo once was and locking it. I couldn’t hit comments on any of my news apps either. I’d say that those short, sweet comments lead to another burst of dopamine.

Going in to the second week, I was reading more news, reading everything that those news sources had to offer. It was at this point, my attention span began to increase. I started sleeping easier. I wake at 0600, so getting up also became a breeze.

After the third week, it became easy to just read whatever I wanted on Hacker News.

My attention span was back and in full force and I noticed this elsewhere too. I spent less time multi-tasking, focusing on just cooking, or what was on the TV, or speaking with my other half. Food got better, entertainment got more entertaining and my relationship improved.

Why I Came Back

I was fucking bored. I didn’t have a lot to do outside of my phone; over time it became my main medium for consumption. That’s why I never paid for TV after moving out. There were loads of communities that I just disappeared from. I like watches, cars, code, cooking and a lot of that sat on reddit. My investment in to that phone really took a blow on my personal life. I even found that some days, I waited for the day to end.

I had an issue. I had mental clarity, but it was at the cost of being out of date. I had no fucking idea what was going on in the world. To me, that’s not a huge issue. I was also falling out of date in modern web stuff. While Hacker News is a great place for intellectual discussion and interesting tech, they’re not too up to date with their web tech and more often than not, web is frowned upon.

Again, my reason for going offline was because I didn’t want to fall behind in my career, but this was a greater cost to it. I was also a bored. I decided that I was coming back, but wanted to keep everything at a good balance. Pay attention where attention is due, but read when there’s time.

I’m back now. the experience wasn’t a waste. I fixed my concentration and imagination in one fell swoop. It felt like I unlocked something in my mind that I didn’t realise was there.

Since I started this article, I’ve gone full overstimulation mode again. This marks the end of that. Going totally away from Reddit and discussion on HN/Lobsters just left me bored. This next iteration, or sprint, marks the self-control chapter.

My goals for this sprint are:

  • Keep Apollo on my phone, staying away from /r/all
    • Currently, I sit with an average of 7 hours of screen-time a week. I want to see this go down to 4
  • Keep up to date with current affairs
  • Keep up to date with the latest in web
  • Keep on exploring my hobbies
    • Release Blog V2
    • Release my second Express clone
    • Learn more about WebRTC; implement some distributed datastore (please don’t be another blockchain)