How to be useful, despite your smartphone addiction

smartphone addiction

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

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.

Here’s how:

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?

Mars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at

Original illustration by the author.



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  • Nancy Scott

    “Make sure you always create more than you consume.” Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mars, for reminding us about the creative, intellectual, physical, and social price of smartphone addiction. Adult dependence is bad enough, but many in the current generation of tweens and teens have never known life without its flat-line influence. We do and will pay a price for zoning out. How *high* the cost remains unknown.

  • A few years back, I wrote a blog post about why we should stop reading and start DOING. It reminds me very much about your Ted Talk addict. If we’re just constantly consuming, but not doing anything with the knowledge, what good does that do?

    Technology and social media are incredibly valuable, but in many ways it feels like junk food – incredibly addictive and bad for our health. We have to learn to curb our appetite for junk food so we can focus on what matters.

    Thanks for this excellent reminder, Mars!

  • RLMAO! Mars, I had to read this three times just to be sure I wasn’t missing something in your message. You are so right and this is something that just had to be said. I can only wonder how many will read it, see themselves and take corrective action (or even agree they need to correct anything at all).

    It would be so cool to see responses to this from anyone “on the other side”.

  • allarminda

    I absolutely LOVE this article, Mars. Thank you for the reminder, especially that we must create more than we consume. Approaching time in units with the mindset that those units are irreplaceable is how and why I cherish my opportunities to be a responsible user of the time allotted to me 🙂

  • This post puts into words exactly what I’ve thinking about the last few days. Being connected has its benefits, but also its drawbacks. We often miss out in the moment because we’re concerned about missing the latest update. If you have a desire to think, create and maximize relationships right in front of you then putting the plan in place that you outlined is the way to go. Thanks for the great post.

  • Hey Nancy, many teens I see and know only consume – they reduced themselves to a container that just gets stuffed with garbage. I’m curious to what will change their behavior into more creative ways ? Will it be more creative apps for the mobile ? Or will that desire to create come by itself ? So many questions.

  • Yes, I’m curious to see if someone on the other camp will share their opinions. I want to find a person who’s gotten productive / creative through the use of his smartphone. So far, I haven’t met one 😉

  • Most people I know in my circles check updates for the sake of checking updates. I always wonder what long-term value that brings. And they’re so hooked on it, they don’t even question their habits anymore.

  • Nancy Scott

    You might be interested that, just today, I discovered that my 24-year-old relative “deactivated” her Facebook account. She says it “took too much time” and she’s sticking to Instagram and Twitter. So even the exchange of information and experiences (no matter how trivial) is now “too much.” Having said this, I’m expecting social exchange to become ever more terse and “news” to be further truncated. Analysis, will fade from the picture. I suspect we’ll see further and more extreme bifurcation of society, not just along economic lines, but also along cerebral/cognitive lines.

  • I do have a smartphone, but I rarely get calls [trained my people how to contact me, lol] and I route my office calls to a call center. 2 things I stopped completely is:
    – being available on skype for every remote contact who feels he needs to kill some time.
    – being available for ‘private’ Google Hangouts.

    People are starting to expect 24/7 availability across all platforms. That might work for a big brand, but for Youpreneurs it’s absurd.

    When people expect you to be ready for video calls 24/7 – gone are the days of working in your underwear. 😉

    I love the concept of being a creator instead consumer! It’s an evolution to go from Consumer => Curator => Creator!

  • Mars, I love this and I agree with your advice (and I try to follow it). But in a way, maybe I’m that “on the other side” guy referenced in the comments.

    I DO create on my phone. I’ve written around 300 articles in three years, probably 1/2 of those were drafted to a nearly-final state on my phone (including the first article I wrote for Mark) and the vast majority were mostly written on my phone. To make the point that I could, a handful were written, uploaded, tagged, formatted, and published entirely from my phone, although I prefer a keyboard and mouse when it comes to the final steps.

    To your point, your phone can keep you from being present where you are, but as someone who tries to use a phone productively, the constant buzz, beep and flash of notifications pulls you away from the phone tasks at hand as well. For others looking to be more productive on their phone, it is important to Turning off notifications or removing applications that aggressively push notifications will help all of us.

    Great post, as always, Mars!

  • i love this article, and especially the mention of the book by Dave Eggers. he’s one of my favorite writers. and the theme in his book raises such an important point.

    i feel that we, as a society, need a mass education on the importance of consuming and creating content more mindfully. when we’re more mindful about what goes into our brains, we can more efficiently (and creatively) churn out better thoughts and ideas.

    sure, TED talks are inspirational – and there’s value in that. but it’s what you do with that inspiration. do you file it away for a better time because a squirrel sprinted by? or do you let it simmer so that you can create new ideas that add value?

    there’s so much power in mindful awareness. great post, Mars!

  • Hey Ralf,
    I like your evolution, never thought about seeing it this way.
    The “Consumer => Curator => Creator” line is awesome, I actually know a handful of people who are in Curation mode and make decent money, but I wonder who big they could get if they did create more.

  • wow, you’re one of the few people who create with their phone – everyone I know only consumes, kudos. I wonder if the future will change these things – when phones becomes more like tablets, and more creative apps show up, will they help us to create more ?

  • About your phoneless world, how do you call people? I grasp you work for yourself so I assume you have a land line — but what if you’re out and about and a client needs to reach you? Is it email only that gets you; or do you accept VOIP calls too?

  • I own a simple mobile phone which can only call and send sms. Never distracts me because I can’t do anything with else.

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  • Sandra

    Love this article, very on point. I’ve been noticing a lack of concentration and productivity has been negatively impacting my well being- I’m wanting to kick the habit!

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