Phone Detox #dryJanuary?

DryJanuary and DryPhone??

A stock photo. Instead of seeing a ladies face as she holds a smartphone in her handsd, we see a white cloud enveloping her face and features.
Phone Detox for January? Getty Images- Francesco Carta (ABC News)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My brother-in-law encouraged me to try #dryjanuary and it got me thinking. Should I counter and tell him to take a phonedetox #dry January? Yes, I like my occasional drink but he is a maniac when it comes to being on his phone. He favors it over conversation, uses it as a shield to avoid difficult topics, and spends countless hours scrolling. When it comes to phones, he is the original addict. Maybe I’ll send him this column! Carlo, San Francisco

Dear Carlo: In the Bay Area there has been nothing dry this January. It rained, then  poured, then flooded. So, spending all this extra time indoors, many of us have turned to our phones more frequently. Excess time and attention on the phone can become a bad habit, like the need for #dryjanuary. Cutting back might improve our well being, mental health, and relationships with other people, right?!

But, while a digital detox sounds like an important regime change, it is also overrated and over promoted. We can’t go cold-turkey because we need our phones to do basic things, connect with others, and stay modern. But, there is a @dearsmartphone way to use the start of a New Year to evaluate our habits, and seek better ones.

I have invented a personal acronym for this. The acronym is even more potent than alcohol! It’s O-P-M and let your mind fill in the missing letters, an ‘I and U’. Catchy isn’t it?!

The goal of the O-P-M paradigm is to help you take stock of your phone habits and analyze how your time and energy are spent. You don’t have to be addicted to your phone, or have bad phone habits to pay attention- so yes, share with your brother in law. There are three main reasons why we reach for our phones. The O-P-M acronym identifies each one and helps you understand and control your habits.

O- operations

O stands for the multitude of Operations we use phones for. More and more activities from keyless entry to our cars, digital money on phones, and boarding passes for our travel trips- are enabled through the smartphone. There are also built in phone features that require no additional software like the flashlight, the alarm clock, a note taker- you get the picture.

It’s useful when you take the O-P-M test to count the number of ‘O’ activities (Operations) you do with your phone. If you want to scale back time on the phone and control the proliferation, carefully asses whether you want a particular function to be on your phone. Ask if there is an alternative to doing this activity on your smartphone. Not to pick on people who use their phone as an alarm clock, but health concerns about blue light and Melatonin would keep me up at night.

P- Person to Person

P stands for person-to-person activities we do on our phone. Within that, there are three main categories. Phones are person-to-person through text, through phone calls, and through email. Each one of these can be corrupted by non-persons, for example, robocalls, but for the most part, they are the bastions of connectivity. Two things increased a lot during Covid- one was alcohol consumption, hence the invention of #dryjanuary, and the other was picking up the phone to P-to P chats. When you are assessing your time and energy on smartphones in this New Year, P to P is the area you want to keep strong.

M- Media

M here is for Media- namely using our phones to access infotainment and social media. The difference between P-to -P and Media is that Media is more public. On Facebook you might receive messages from a group you belong to, or from a business that wants to reach you. And you might post to the group, or add photos to your wall. The point is that these messages resemble broadcasts, they are more public, and reach people beyond your personal acquaintances. Social media has made it possible for everyone to be a broadcaster and create messages that are intended for a wider audience. It has also made it possible to receive messages that are interesting and personalized, but designed with technology to grab attention and maximize the time we spend online and the number of click-throughs.

So, I recommend that you look at your media consumption, and evaluate whether the time you spend on the M is time well-spent.Say you read a print newspaper each day. In the past that might take 15 of 20 minutes of time and that would have created a daily picture of the outside world. In 2022, say you spend 20 minutes on social media. Will that help you understand the daily picture of the outside world, and create a composite view of what is taking place? One of the most insidious problems with the ‘M” of social media is that it reproduces what we like to see, and narrows our focus into so-called “filter bubbles.”


You will recall that the missing letters in the O-P- M are the ‘I and the U’. There will be overlaps between using social media to connect with a single individual or friend. Perhaps you want to tag this special person on social media or send them an image or meme through Facebook. Social media may be the currency you share in your P to P relationship. Our conversations are changing.

January is a good time to reflect on things we imbibe- both food, drink, and media. The latter is the one most easily overlooked. My own thinking on this has been improved by Dave Clear’s book called “Atomic Habits.” Old habits are not forever, and January is a fine time to shed some of them.

Top Stories- Smartphones in 2021

A year of illumination and heat for the smartphone…

A picture of a phone, and the text on the phone says "2021 in review". This is a year-end wrapup for an advice column.

There are lots of lights during the holidays and an extra dose of illumination, i.e.  awareness, for smartphone users in 2021. Some of the darkest corners of the Internet and technology were exposed. We review some of Dear Smartphone’s top stories for smartphones in 2021.

The public became more aware of privacy issues in April, 2021 because of  a move by Apple. Technically, their no-tracking option was already in place, but iPhones 6S users and newer were advised to download iOS 14.0 as the default settings disabled IDFA tracking.  The IDFA, an Identifier for Advertisers, lifted the curtain and elevated awareness of how the Internet and email are paid for. Perhaps 2022 will bring a clamor for subscription email and more for-fee services. There is no free lunch on the Internet.

2021 also brought light and heat to concerns about teens, mental health, and their time spent on social media. This Fall,  the Wall St. Journal (WSJ) ran multi-part stories on the insidious nature of Facebook and Instagram algorithms. When you dig into the numbers, there’s more headline than data. Still, it’s promising that through  the efforts of the WSJ and the whistleblower, Frances Haugen, these issues have surfaced. As the year closes out, this light and heat spreads from Facebook to Tik-Tok and other social media platforms. 

RecorDS and StockS:

Not all 2021 illuminations were about social media. This year ushered in new expectations for the role of smartphones.  Storing vaccination records on the phone came to be seen as a social good by some, but for others, an overstepping of privacy and trust. Covid records stored to a smartphone might be as straightforward as a jpg image  or as enmeshed as a real-time data  link to public health and medical records. Meanwhile, there was a proliferation of new  pseudo-medical  apps to support fitness and well-being. 

A different mode of  health-Financial Health- was also in the spotlight this past year. Smartphones advanced prowess over Wall St. traditions for promoting markets. The power of the crowd, in this case, the ability to social network on the smartphone, ricochetted meme stocks like Reddit and GameStock from meteoric highs to valley floors.  Meanwhile, payments on Google Pay and Apple Wallet filled up, and will continue to buy, if not eat, the lunch of  paper money for everyday transactions. 

Eating it Up:

And on the subject of food, 2021 was the year that  phones and food went for the take-out. Previously, people used their phones, more often laptops, to order groceries.  But, with the continuation  of COVID and uncertainty towards restaurant dining, smartphone users turned to their phones to feast. So, an outcome has  been the rise of ghost kitchens (aka dark kitchens) where food is prepped for delivery without a  restaurant storefront. It’s hard to predict from a 2021 vantage what this impact will bring for local communities and local traffic.

Despite all these novelties taking place in 2021,  DearSmartphone would like to remind readers, especially those with young children, to continue to rely on traditional media and print journalism as their main window for news of the outside world.  Digital reading and news should not replace print because content on phones, shades of the IDFA, exists as a personalized filter bubble. Moreover, when families get most of their information on tablets or phones children are literally left behind. Parents forfeit the opportunity to help children filter the news and make sense of it. In these scary times, that need never been more important.


And finally, on a note of humility, DearSmartphone acknowledges she had a’ bad hair-bad tech day’ in December. While playing with new Siri and accessibility features on I0S 15.0, she inadvertently locked herself out of the device. It took a handful of technicians at the Apple store and a half hour of their collective time to unlock her phone. The experience was humbling- you can’t solve all your technology problems yourself.

Finally, DearSmartphone is happy to report that she begins the New Year with a larger family of devices. First, there is the ever happy, every smiling  bluetooth enabled Chatter Phone  and also,  a  great Android phone- with the sad  robotic  name,  ‘ REVVL V’.  Whatever it is called, this device is economical,  simple to use, has a long lasting battery,  and provides further connection to the needs of readers.

See you In January.

Electronic Babysitter?

No child should be left behind, when behind means a closed door in a closed room.

A picture of  an infant seat, called the Apptivity, with a built in Ipad holder. Fisher Price withdrew the product in 2013 after parents were incensed.
Fisher Price had to recall the ultimate Electronic Babysitter, called the Apptivity Seat, in 2013.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Perhaps this is a generational issue. We live in a multigen household and my seven-year old spends hours each day online. My Mom thinks this is OK because when I was her age, I watched TV all the time. That helped me learn English as a second language. Mom says kids should be kids so my daughter should have her online time. But I think she is saying this because it has become an electronic babysitter for her. Is screen time equal? Does it matter if it is spent in front of a TV or using a laptop or phone? Priya, Berkeley

Dear Priya:  Indeed, this is a generational issue and also a lifestyle one. It’s hard to imagine what parents did before TV to find a moment of respite. Hail to the electronic babysitter! But screen time is not equal. It does matter whether the electronic babysitter is a TV or a different device.  There are a couple of things that distinguish TV time back then and going online today. Talk them over with Mom and consider that you are lucky she is not a virtual grandparent!

When you grew up, you probably watched television in a set room in a set spot. In bigger homes it was called the TV room, typically on the first floor off the kitchen where Mom could keep an eye on things.  But, the key is not the room, but the dynamic of watching. An adult could drop in on the programming and listen with their third ear. On weekends, during dinner, or evenings, the entire family used this space to come together and view communally. 

Interpretive Viewing:

Using media with grown-ups around is important. Parents help children interpret the content and learn the conventions, for example, what is an ad and how does persuasion work. Or say watching a football game together and explaining the actions of the referees.  Young kids process ‘how to watch’ from observing their parents. It’s a lot like driving. Even though you don’t get your license until you are sixteen, you absorb a lot of information about managing a vehicle before you come of age. 

Think of it this way: you would not allow a salesman to knock on your front door, boldly walk in and start proselytizing to you seven-year old. More likely, your foot would be in the door jam, blocking full entry. But that is what is happening. Your seven-year old might be upstairs with their tablet or other device, connecting more intimately to people beyond the household than to those in it. 

Spending time alone with electronic devices is a far cry from the time when family members connected in a shared space to watch TV. Your Mom may not have considered this difference. 

How and When too:

But, there’s more. The other lifestyle issue is how and when media are available. Your Mom (or her Mom) might recall a time when television broadcasts signed off at midnight, or programming was limited to certain times in the evening. Significantly, cartoons and programming for children were chunked into special time slots. That made parent’s more comfortable with using the electronic babysitter. 

Today, there’s a rating system and it takes vigilance on the part of parents to manage age-appropriate material, so many parents play movies and videos instead.  Screening for the Internet is a trickier process. Content can go almost anywhere with a few clicks and when there are no temporal boundaries, scrolling has no bounds. 

House Rules:

So, yes, it does come down to generational differences, lifestyle differences, and also, a new technology. Since you live in a multigen household, encourage your Mom to watch TV with your daughter and choose suitable programs. But, if you think there is too much screen time period, suggest that they set some common goals, get outdoors, or take up a shared hobby. 

Meanwhile, a good starting place might be to convert the TV room, if you have one, into a more communal spot where you all come together to browse on your electronic devices. Or, set up this space on the kitchen table, if that is what is available. Insist for now, that you participate together and have a glance over the collective shoulder. No child should be left behind, when behind means a closed door in a closed room.