Shallow Sam

Why I’m making two big life changes to live a deeper, more fulfilling life

Over the last few weeks, I have found myself thinking again about the impact my iPhone, notifications and social media have on my life.

Cal Newport’s book Deep Work that I started reading recently has prompted some of this. If we want to do deep work, we can’t spend our lives wallowing in the shallow lands of email, Facebook, WhatsApp, news and the like.

Related to this, I’ve made two changes this January. And, on the one hand, they’re quite small changes. But in many ways – as any fellow smartphone addicts will know – these are big life changes!

No notifications!

First, pretty much all my notifications are now set to either off completely or to ‘deliver quietly’.

The latter means they don’t buzz me, disturb me, or interrupt me – and they aren’t on my iPhone lock screen or my Apple Watch. They only appear when I make an intentional choice to look at them.

This is for both work and personal notifications. I’ve spent far too many years responding instantly – or, at the very least, being distracted – at the sight of a new Outlook or Slack notification suddenly appearing on my screen. It pulls me out of what I’m doing, reduces my focus, and makes it hard to do this deep work Cal Newport talks about.

Obviously, I check email and Slack periodically still. But I’m not letting myself be dictated to by notifications any more. I decide when I’m going to step out of what I’m doing and into whatever my colleagues are messaging me about.

No iPhone after 6.30pm

Second, I’ve made a decision to put my iPhone away at 6.30pm each evening. I allow myself one check later in the evening but other than that, the phone is well away from me. My aim, nine times out of ten, is to leave it untouched until the morning.

I am still wearing my Watch. And select contacts are able to message me there. But the Watch is otherwise solely providing me with the time and reminders. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Slack messages don’t get through to me there.

It’s all too easy to be checking my phone out of no other reason than habit. And it doesn’t feel like a healthy habit. I’ve only been doing this a short while but it’s already feeling like a great decision.

The advent of the smart phone, along with instant messaging and push notifications, has trained my brain to believe it needs to know what’s happening right now. But it doesn’t. The WhatsApp thread will still be waiting for me in the morning. That news alert about something I can do nothing about is not necessary. Those emails can be responded to intentionally, at a time of my choosing, rather than when they buzz me.

I’m determined to re-train my brain. I don’t want to be a slave to my smartphone. I don’t want to live life at the mercy of the dopamine rushes it delivers through the allusion of connection via a new message notification.

Rediscovering my enjoyment of TV

Though Newport’s book is about deep work, I’ve been noticing the impact of being too attached to my iPhone, notifications and social media in other areas too.

Take watching TV. I know, hardly the most important thing. But, that said, I’ve been noticing my enjoyment of TV shows, and especially films, has been in decline. And it’s because I’m not fully there – I’m not totally immersed in whatever show I’m watching. My Watch is buzzing with notifications. Or I’m just conscious of conversations or news stories I could be looking at on my phone. In other words, I’m distracted. And is it any wonder that I then end up enjoying shows less?

Here’s the big revelation for me: the more distracted I am when doing something, or the less fully focussed on something I am, the less I enjoy it. In other words, living life in a distracted or distractible state is a joy stealer.

Being fully present with my family and friends

If that’s the impact of being connected when watching TV, what does that mean for my relationships – primarily with my wife and kids? Honestly, I know there are far too many occasions when I’m not fully present. Even if just sub-consciously, my mind is elsewhere.

It’s interesting to me that the latest research shows that the mere presence of a smartphone is enough to pull us away from being fully present with the people we’re physically with. It’s taken me a while to recognise this. Or, more honestly, to accept that this is the case. My iPhone has been causing me to give less of myself to those who mean the most to me.

And I don’t want this any more.

I can sense my iPhone and social media pulling me into a shallower existence. And I want more for my life than that. I don’t want to be less than fully there when I’m with my family and friends. And I want to be enjoying all that life has for me – including watching TV! – completely.

Radical steps

These steps I’m taking to try and live a fuller, deeper life, may seem radical to some. Extreme even. But the more I think about it, for me at least, it feels like the only sane thing to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love my technology. I’m still an Apple fan. And there’s plenty I still appreciate about my life with a smartphone.

It just feels that it has started to exert too much control over my life. It’s that that I’m taking back.

I want to live a life of depth and meaning. I want to live a life filled with realconnection and purpose. All too often, my smartphone has been giving me the illusion of this while in actual fact pulling me away from these things.

But not any more. No more shallow Sam.