Using Technology with Intent

I recently spoke at a conference geared toward families, productive time and eternal values. Part of my message was that technology can be a very useful tool when used properly, but can quickly become idle time.

As a tool, I’ve heard of a cell phone being likened to a shovel. When we need a shovel: we get it,  we use it, we put it down. Then we go back to life.

We don’t take the shovel and hold it in one hand while we’re watching tv and eating dinner. We don’t bring it on every walk, run and outing “just in case we need it.” We don’t take it to bed and set it on the pillow next to us all night or hold it up in the air until we fall asleep and drop it on our head.

Phones and social media are very useful tools. Like many of you, I use  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook  to keep up with family, do business, and other things.  However, we should use our phones as intended then set them down and get back to life. Instead we let every ping and pong pull our attention away from real life and back to the screen. Social media, games and other websites are designed to gain and keep your attention as long as possible.

It’s not just the risk of making a bad decision online. The much more common issue is that it leads us to make no decisions at all. All idle, no progress.

A few years ago, Youtube was still relying on recommendations on social media, links sent in emails and a home page of “popular” videos to get people to keep watching videos. They realized that it could be much more specific and created something called “Brain” that would use algorithms to recommend videos specific to used.

“Integrating Brain has had an immense impact: more than 70 percent of the time people spend watching videos on the site is now driven by YouTube’s algorithmic recommendations. Each day, YouTube recommends 200 million different videos to users, in 76 languages. And the aggregate time people spend watching videos on YouTube’s home page has grown 20 times larger than what it was three years ago.”

In many ways, we think we are in control when in fact ads, likes, and alerts “cheateth” our time “and leadeth (us) carefully down” the attention tube.

As a followup to my message, here are a few things that can be done with a phone to decrease the likeliness of idle use. While the bigger change comes from a commitment to finding and developing talents and principles, these small steps can be a start.

Manage your Notifications

Take some time to manage which notifications you get on your phone. When in doubt: disable.

On an iPhone these options can be found in Settings -> Notifications. Here are a few recommendations:

  • At a minimum, disable all games and news apps. Your day will go fine without a notification that tells you the traffic level at the Japan fish market.
  • Turn off all notifications for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter except direct messages as those are usually more personal. Also disable the little red notification circles. (As an extra step, take all those social apps and stick them in a folder so they’re not a default tap when you turn on your phone.)
  • Email can be important…sometimes. Turn off the sound notifications for email. I’ve been in conversation with a family member when we hear a ding and like Pavlov’s dog, the phone comes out and now we all know about a 10% coupon to Pottery Barn.

Enable Do Not Disturb

On an iPhone, you can schedule “Do Not Disturb” to turn on every night. Do it. When this is enabled, everything still happens on the phone but you don’t actively see or hear it. For some people, this can be a big step. They’re afraid of emergencies happenings in the middle of the night.

Emergencies may happen but on the other 364 days of the year you’re just hearing random sounds and alerts. Also, you can setup for “Favorite” contacts to ring through and also anyone that calls twice in a 3 minute span. This should cover most emergencies. In the mean time, you get a much better chance at sleeping through the night.

(On a related note: There is almost no good reason that kids or teenagers should need a phone in their room overnight. Buy an alarm clock if you need to. Put all chargers in the parents room where phones can be checked in. It’s not just bad choices this can avoid, but also much better sleep and a safety from the world always being able to connect to them.)

Find a good ad blocker

Phones will allow you to block ads on all websites. You just need to download an app and then enable it in settings. (On an iPhone it’s Settings -> Safari -> Content Blockers.)

I use Wipr app though there are a number of good options out there. Firefox offers a free browser that includes a content blocker that can be enabled for the built-in Safari app. In addition to keeping your online time more focused, this will also save on your battery life. Two birds, one blocker.

Filter incoming calls

There are some great tools for filtering out telemarketer and other fraud phone calls. A popular one is Nomorobo which has a low monthly cost. However, if you are an AT&T customer, you have a free option with “Call Protect.” Once installed, these apps will flag potential fraud calls and send them straight to leave a message.

Remember, it’s not just about avoiding the phone call. It also helps you to avoid pulling out the phone at all. So often we’ll see a number we don’t recognize, not answer, but still check all the messages and notifications that we would have otherwise ignored.


These are four very basic and easy steps that you can do on your phone in about 15 minutes. (And these are not just for kids. I highly recommend these four steps for parents too.)

Even though it’s quick to implement, it could save quite a bit of idle time in the future. As usual, I’m happy to give you some pointers if needed. Just send me a message and I’ll get back to you…in time.

Update: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints recently rolled out smartphones to a number of their missionaries around the world. Along with the new phones, they provided a booklet titled, “Safeguards for using technology.” It’s a very useful reference for parents as well.