Your smartphone can be your second brain, but it can also turn you into a person with no sense of direction, poor social skills and next to no privacy. Fixing these problems is easy, but first you need to know about them. Here are all the stupid things you're doing with your smartphone.
1. You're On Your Smartphone Too Much
A lot of people think your smartphone is making you stupid. That's not true, but you may occasionally rely on it excessively -- or at least to the detriment of self-sufficiency. Trust too much in turn-by-turn GPS and you'll never learn how to get anywhere yourself. You probably can't recall more than a few of your contacts' phone numbers, which is fine until you're phone's dead and it's an emergency. While you can't be expected to recall every little bit of data that crosses your path, you can benefit a lot by storing certain things directly in your grey matter. If you want to use your smartphone intelligently, it needs to be a supplement -- not a replacement -- for the tasks you should be able to complete on your own.
To fix this problem, it may be time to reprogram your memory. You're not used to retaining information your smartphone can provide, so you have to start taking the time to remember the information you request. When you receive driving directions, look through them a few times, repeat them aloud, and repeat them as you make your trip. You can always reference your phone again at a red light if you forget a vital turn, but making the effort to remember is the important thing. This way you'll be able to make the same trip again without the need to look up directions at all. After enough trips in the same city, you'll just know where you are without the aid of your phone.
When it comes to your to-do lists and phone numbers, don't just store them in your phone. Write them down on paper, with an actual writing implement. The act of writing can actually improve your ability to learn, so you'll get more out of the process. On top of that, look at phone numbers before you dial them and say them as you dial to help you remember them.
An easy fix is simply replacing your favourite contacts' names with their numbers. Thoroughly look at your to-do list at the top of each day so you know what you need to get done, rather than just referencing the list whenever you need a new task. Having your tasks in your memory will help make you more productive because you'll be able to plan what you want to do and when quite a bit better. There's nothing wrong with having this information in your phone, but a good chunk of it should be in your brain as well.
2. You Won't Pay $1 For A Great App
There are heaps of great, free apps for smartphones, but sometimes there's a better app for a small price -- a price many won't pay. Take Sparrow for example. You get a free mail client with your iPhone, and it's not bad. Sparrow, on the other hand, is amazing -- especially if you're a Gmail user. It's currently priced at $1.99, and that's a barrier to entry for many people.
When Apple started its app store, and Google followed with its own, we entered a world where software became very inexpensive. It's not unusual to want to avoid paying for it entirely because we know there are so many great options available for free. But look at it this way: sometimes you'll pay $20 for a meal you could make yourself for $10. You do this because the $20 meal is going to taste better and you won't have to spend time making it.
The same goes for apps: sometimes you should spend a few dollars to get something awesome that will save you time and effort -- or that's just really fun. If you're concerned about overspending, set a monthly app budget. Not only will you have a better, more functional smartphone, but you'll be supporting the developers who work hard to bring you great things. It's a win-win.
3. Your Phone Notifies You About Everything
Your phone's notification system is like a dog trainer and you are, unfortunately, the dog. When you're notified all the time, you become accustomed to constantly pulling out your phone to see what just happened. It's become so bad for some people that people feel their phone vibrating when it's not. If you've ever checked your phone because you thought it vibrated but it turned out nothing happened at all, you've probably enabled too many notifications.
I've set my phone to silent most of the time and simply check it periodically to see if there's anything new I need to know about. This works well for me. I've yet to miss anything urgent. That said, it's not a solution for everybody. Chances are you either need notifications as they happen for work, or you're simply prefer to be more up-to-date. In that case, you just need to prune your notifications so you receive the stuff you consider important and ignore the stuff you can look at later. For the most part, this means editing each app's notification settings and keeping them on if they're important, turn off vibration if they're unimportant, and turn them off if they're useless. This will minimise your daily distractions and help you avoid checking your phone every second of the day.
4. You're Distracted By Your Smartphone While Driving
Texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. You've no doubt heard that before, and you probably still send text messages from your car -- or at least check out that last notification -- while you're rolling down the road. Chances are you know this is bad, but the desire to send that text overrides your better judgment in the moment. While you'd most likely be better off not using your smartphone at all, it is possible to drive safely while using your phone -- at least in small ways. The key is to keep your eyes -- and your focus -- on the road.
Realistically, you're always going to have distractions in the car that are going to affect your focus. Keeping those distractions to a minimum will help you drive more safely. This means using voice control to change a song or send a text message while operating a moving vehicle, and both iOS and Android have comprehensive voice control features. If you're on an older iPhone without Siri, Vokul can bridge the gap. If you're an Android user who wants a personal assistant like Siri, you have plenty of options.
Voice control is a much better way to control your smartphone without taking your eyes off the road, but it still qualifies as a distraction. Your best bet, if you just have to change that song or send a text message, is to do it at a traffic light. Because you're using voice control you'll be able to keep an eye on the light to know when it changes, but you won't need your full attention because the vehicle isn't moving. If you live by those rules, you'll have a lot less to worry about.
5. You Don't Monitor Your Privacy Settings
Your smartphone retains a lot of personal data, and this creates two privacy issues. First, if your phone is stolen, the thief has easy access to your data. Second, apps on your phone may be tracking a little more information than you want. Both problems are very simple to fix.
To resolve the stolen phone problem, secure your smartphone with a password and enable remote wipe. This way no one can easily access your personal data, and you can destroy that data remotely if necessary.
To keep your phone from tracking you in unwanted ways, schedule a regular privacy audit once a month. (You should do this on the web and on your computers too, by the way.) This is easy (albeit a bit limited) on the iPhone, as you can just open the Settings app and tap Location Services to enable or disable app access. (In iOS 6, these settings will be in a new Privacy tab which will allow you to toggle various types of information an app can access.)
Managing your privacy on Android is a little more complicated, but you also have greater control. First, you'll want to make sure your phone isn't running Carrier IQ -- a program that's capable of tracking and reporting a massive amount of data without your knowledge. Second, an app called Privacy Blocker can perform that privacy audit for you. It will take a look at the apps installed on your Android and give you an overview of the data they're collecting. If an app is overreaching, delete it.
6. You Neglect Other People In Favour Of Your Smartphone
Social media may be intend to bring us together, but it's equally skilled at keeping us apart. When spending time with other people, you can't exactly interact with them when you're using your smartphone -- it's that pesky multitasking myth. Your phone's a device intended to keep you connected to people you care about. When you're with them, it's best to put the smartphone away. Solving the problem is often that simple.
If you're easily distracted, however, turn off alerts and notifications. If other people you're with are constantly checking their phones, politely ask them to save it for later. Technology is awesome, but it's often addictive. It's always with you, unlike people. So separate your smartphone and your human time. It's a better way to stay connected.
There you have it. A few simple fixes and you're back to using your phone for good. Did we miss anything big? Let's hear your take it in the comments.