June 11, 2017

How to Disconnect in the Attention Economy: Part II

Credit: Eduardo Salles

A flash on your smartphone screen, a ‘vrrrr’ in your pocket, the universal ‘DING’. The world today is rife with distractions, some of which are by design. This is the attention economy, where tech companies are desperate to colonize your time.

This two part series explores ways to disconnect without resorting to a digital detox. Think of it as a practical guide to reclaim lost time. Because you don’t have to retreat to the woods to disconnect, but rather, you can make the technology work for you. 

Part I covers quick and easy fixes. For those desperate to kick their digital habits to the curb, here are some more drastic interventions.

Put on a digital straightjacket

One of the goals of the attention economy is for people to be connected to the Internet all the time. This is great for sharing selfies but not so good for getting shit done. You know – writing a report, studying for a test, anything that requires you to focus.

If you’re inundated with emails or sick of checking social media, there’s no shame in seeking a digital straitjacket. For example, check out Self Control (for Macs) or Cold Turkey (for Windows). These free desktop applications block access to listed websites or mail servers for a specified time.

For something more comprehensive (but expensive) check out Freedom, which blocks access to the Internet across all your devices, for specific periods of the day.

Android smartphone users, check out Off-time, which not only blocks access to the Internet, but also incoming texts and calls. Usefully, Off-time allows you to ‘whitelist’ important contacts that can bypass your block, so you won’t miss something important.

If you think there is something ironic about downloading an app to treat app addiction, then the kSafe time-safe could be right up your alley. With enough room to fit a smartphone, TV remote, and a block of chocolate, kSafe is a one-pot box to hideaway all of your day-to-day impulses.


Create quiet spaces

While a digital straitjacket allows you to block access to the Internet at certain times, another option is to block access at certain places. But unlike a trip to the countryside, you can choose where you want crappy internet reception.

To simulate your own internet dead zone, check out Ransomly, a bluetooth beacon that smothers the connective capabilities of any device within its range. Perfect for a dinner table, study or bedroom, Ransomly creates a quiet space to step inside and focus on the present, or on those around you.


Something ideal for workaholics, is Call Bliss. This iOS app enhances the Do Not Disturb feature of your phone by allowing you to choose who can contact you depending on where you are. For example, you can automatically defer a call from your boss when at home, or one from your mum when you’re at work.

If you’re like me and get irritated by the ubiquity of smartphones at live performances, then you’ll be intrigued by Yondr. It’s a smartphone case designed to create phone free spaces at live performances and schools. Funded by comedian Dave Chappelle, Yondr aims to create more engaging experiences between performers and audiences, or teachers and students.


Get a dumb phone

Short of disappearing off the grid entirely, the most drastic way to disconnect is to swap your smartphone for something much…dumber. Yes, dumb phones are on the market and are a viable option for those in countries which still have 2G networks.

If this includes you, check out the revamped Nokia 3310. Aimed squarely at the nostalgia crowd, the beloved brick-phone only costs €49, and has SMS and calling capabilities, a battery that lasts for a month and the classic snake game.

If you’re aiming for more of a lifestyle statement, why not try a luxury dumb phone? Check out Punkt, retailing for 295 USD. Despite resembling a calculator, the only thing the Punkt phone computes are text messages and calls. It’s the ultimate product for the offline aficionado.

That’s it for recommendations. If you’re still stuck, the only option left is going full Captain Fantastic and heading to the woods. Just get there quick, as soon – even on the fringes of society – you may get a decent mobile connection.