Here’s a secret. I’m an online illustrator / designer and work with clients from around the planet. American, Canadian, German, British, Australian, French, Jamaican, South Africa, and more. Sometimes I feel like I’m the creative embodiment of the United Nations.
I built my career online by relentlessly networking and improving my craft. I love technology almost as much as I love my mother, and that means a lot. I use my graphic tablet, my Macbook, my iMac. I’ve got more tech than the Terminator. Except for one thing:
I don’t own a smartphone, and it rocks my world.
I’m writing this post on my glorious iMac. It’s perma-connected to the web, which means every twenty minutes or so, I switch to the twenty other tabs in my browser and check my Facebook / Google Plus / Twitter / Gmail accounts. I get a lot of work done, but I’m also just as useful outside of work. Without a smartphone, I’m present and engaged in the moment.
I don’t own a smartphone because I want to optimize my time. I want to be productive and present, and although the move to ditch the phone seems drastic to some, there are ways for you achieve the same– even with your smartphone.
1. Be deliberate about your sharing.
I read a brilliant novel called The Circle (by Dave Eggers), in which a Google / Facebook-like company becomes more powerful than the state.
Every employee is expected to share everything all the time, because privacy is considered theft. Which means you have to share five thousand times if you’re lazy and ten to twenty-thousand times if you care about your company. The employees are passionate but burned out because they have no more time for the essential work. They share their life away.
This happens in reality. Just look around you. A million people around can tweet their faces off, and it has nothing to do with you. Most of the shares are noises that take away from the moment or the task at hand. You don’t share because it’s valuable, but because it has become a habit. Replace that with a new one.
Ask yourself — will this tweet / share improve this moment or help you create better work ? Nine out of ten times the answer will be no.
So when you do want to share, make sure it has merit. Make you sure you’re doing it for a reason other than killing time. Don’t become an auto-sharing zombie.
2. Create more than you consume.
I know some “wannabe” creatives who talk about changing the world with their work. One of them, for example, is hooked on TED talks. He once said that watching a TED talk a day keeps stupidity at bay. Unfortunately, it also keeps his productivity at bay.
Whenever I see him at events, he’s busy consuming TED talks or other media. He also carries a charger around 24/7 because he’s using his phone so often he needs to recharge it two to three times in a single day. When I asked him if he’s ever created anything with it, he said he once made a to-do list, but I said that didn’t count. It’s being busy for the sake of busy-ness.
A smartphone rarely helps you create, but creation is essential. I once said that the poor of tomorrow are the consumers of today, while the rich of tomorrow are the creators of today. So if you must use your phone, find a way to create with it. Write outlines, notes, blog posts or do other stuff that’s related to your work.
Make sure you always create more than you consume.
3. Divide your time in shareable and non-shareable moments for maximum value.
Many months ago, I went to a Berlin startup party. Free drinks, indie music blasting from the speakers, and a kick-ass interview session with tech entrepreneurs on stage. The room was full, but less than half of them paid attention to the show. Most people were staring at their smartphones. One guy was so focused on his screen he even walked into the studio wall. Bam.
I learned a lot about entrepreneurship for free that evening, but most people didn’t because they weren’t mentally present.
Whenever I meet with friends, I tell them – if they want to share a picture or check their updates, they do it once, either at the beginning or at the end of our time together. I refuse to talk to people who walk around like zombies, half-present, constantly sharing and checking updates. I don’t get any value out of it, and neither do they.
So whether you’re on a date with your partner, meeting with friends, or organizing a work-related function, make it a deliberate choice to divide the time into shareable and non-shareable moments. In this way, you can address their need to share things online while ensuring they’re present and active for the remainder. Kick those out who don’t comply.
And in Conclusion.
This is not a rant against technology, I love technology. It helped me create my dream career. But when taken to the extreme, the power balance shifts, and what began as something helpful ends up enslaving you. You become a sheep consumer instead of a wolf creator.
What do you do to be useful despite your smartphone addiction? Or, is time to think another way?
Original illustration by the author.