There’s a pretty persistent problem in my life. ‘Freemium’ (free downloadable games with an optional paid component) mobile games are merciless. I don’t mean how hard they are, but ‘good’ mobile games tend to share one major commonality: they want your life! They are built in such a way to keep you coming back on a weekly – and frequently daily – process. If you miss out, you miss daily rewards, weekly quests, special events, etc. And when you play a while, the additional impetus to keep up with the released content and even the leaderboards can keep you glued to what, at the core, is a repetitive game.

They’re fun for a while, of course – that’s what brings us to them in the first place. But they demand a lot of our time for the wrong reasons, and are one big reason why our smartphones are so captivating when they shouldn’t be. Now, I do have an interest in video games, and I’m not extending this indictment to paid games – those usually don’t demand attention consistently and can be put off without missing anything.

In the past year or two I’ve come to the conclusion that I can only give a sufficient amount of attention to one such freemium game at a time. Any more and one of the games is destined to be uninstalled in short order as I take a step back and get an idea of how much of a time waster the thing has been. This happens sometime with only one game, too. But the void is filled as soon as I have some time to kill.

But, hopefully, no more! Recently I’ve uninstalled all my games (the free ones at least), and tried to be more intentional with how I use my phone. Instead of using it for games, I use it to, for example, learn a new language via flashcards or read an eBook that I’ve almost forgotten I’ve had. The featured image for this blog article is an Android launcher (phone theme, basically) called Before. It’s a minimalistic launcher that cuts out the extra screens (widgets, news, etc.) that many launchers have. Now, yes, those extra screens are most often able to be toggled off, but Before just brings the point home that your focus is supposed to be yours.

I also have the ability to ‘defer’ notifications from specified apps to a side screen in my phone’s home page. These notifications won’t bother me instantly like they usually do. Instead, they are stored on that side screen, and I don’t know they exist until I check them out. The only apps that can give me instant notifications are the ones that are necessary for communication – Gmail, Slack, and the like. And so, with problem games gone from my phone, and interruptions limited to only those that are actually important, I control my phone more than it controls me. I feel like next time I buy a phone, I can make do with a $100 one instead of something 10 times that amount.

As for whether this intentionality lasts, well, let’s see. Working in the profession that I do, I know that there is both technology that greatly helps and other technology that hinders. Some, like smartphones, do both. There will be new ways we will spend our time in the future. We just need to really figure out what benefits us or not.