Brain Detox Day 1: Red Badge of Control

In law school, one of the first things they teach you is that you need to start with the conclusion. So here it is. Initial assessment: Effects of the detox are generally positive.

As I said in my last post, I decided to go on sort of a detox program for my brain. Throttling down the constant checking of my iPhone for new emails, social media updates, news alerts, etc. that keep on distracting me from focusing on the really important stuff in life. It is much like the idea of detox cleanse diet fad that we all keep hearing about (thanks, Dr. Oz) and less like the complete fasting or starvation diet. I’m cutting out the junk food and replacing it with the good stuff to allow your body to restore and reset itself. I’ve never done one of those cleanse diets so I can’t say from experience, but people who have do tell me that it’s easier to make permanent, positive changes to your eating style as you are coming out of the cleanse period. I’m hoping that proves true as much with the brain as it is with the gut.

Can’t. Stop. Must. Click. NOW.

The junk food analogy resonated with me all the more when I uninstalled the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, AP News, and–this was the hardest–Tetris apps from my phone on last night. The common feature among these apps (besides Tetris… we’ll get to that animal in another post) is the notification badge. That little red circle is the devil. It is an evil concoction of crack cocaine and meth. It beckons me to click immediately. I want to see what new and exciting thing lies behind that button. I’ve seen some people who let their notification badge number go up ridiculously high, which makes me wonder just how they can wait that long. And by ridiculously high, I mean anything above 15. Yes, I have a problem. I am a notification badge junkie.

But I know I’m not the only one. We need only consider what is arguably the hottest and most talked about apps on iOS platform right now: Mailbox. It’s an app designed not only to clear off your notification badge but your inbox altogether. And just in case you are worried you’re going to forget that important email you’ve put on the back burner, you can make it come back later with another notification badge and an “unread” status. An app that lets you make more badges whenever you want. I’m not the only crazy one. And in case you were wondering, no, I haven’t tried Mailbox yet because it only supports Gmail. I’m waiting until it supports Exchange and IMAP.

In the olden days when we used this thing called PDAs (kids, if you don’t know what that is, ask your… who am I kidding? Google it), we accessed the information when we needed it. You would open the calendar up to see what appointments were coming up. You would open up a to-do list or a notepad application to jot down something you need to remember later. You would have to open up the address book to look up a person’s phone number to punch into your push-button cellular phone. You controlled what information flowed between you and the PDA.

Today, your phone largely controls not only when and how the information flows to you but, over time, also controls your physical and mental response. Yes, I know you can adjust the settings, but majority of the smartphone users stick to the standard settings. And if you are among the majority, you are in a terrible relationship with your smartphone. Unlike the PDAs of the old, which waited patiently until you summoned it, smartphones of today are very needy. It constantly demands your attention. Let’s examine how a smartphone is like having one of those nightmarishly demanding significant other.

Ever since lock screen notifications became standard, your phone keeps talking to you when you are not even looking at it. Ever tuned out (or tried to tune out) what your boyfriend or girlfriend was raving on about? Dings, beeps, rings, red badge of control, and vibration. It keeps on talking to you.

Before the days of smartphones, did you ever have to have four different charging cables for an electronic device? One in the car, one at the office, one in the living room, one next to your bed on your night stand. Even worse, you now buy other devices after confirming with your phone that it is okay to make the purchase (i.e., check compatibility). If your phone wants to get a makeover, you have to throw away all of your old stuff and get new stuff even though the old stuff worked just fine.

And if you aren’t convinced that your phone can physically change you, have you not heard of phantom vibration syndrome? Even when it doesn’t want to talk to you, your smartphone has put the fear of god in you to constantly check it to make sure it isn’t talking to you.

That’s no way to be in a relationship–with a human being or with a smartphone.

So I was glad when woke up in the morning after uninstalling Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, and AP News to see that the only red badges that I had to attend to immediately were on the Mail app. I’m not completely free from the despotic rule of the red badge over my life, but I am taking small steps toward freedom.