Digital Minimalism on iOS (iPhone XR review)

For a good number of years now, I have walked the difficult path of digital minimalism where I haven’t quit any digital utility but I have learned to control my usage. Many digital minimalists take the step of going full dumb phone, no internet, fully analogue life. But for me, I need to have the essentials that a smartphone offers but I need to have strict rules to use it, not abuse it. If you choose to walk this path, be prepared for a very steep difficulty curve. You need to determine your absolute essentials, make rules and implement them strictly. If you succeed, you can have the best of both worlds. If you can’t, well, many people love using a dumbphone!

I switched to an iPhone XR in the past few months and realized that there are some good and bad things about iOS. But this is not your regular Android vs iOS comparison. This is how I use my iPhone as a digital minimalist and what features it provides to aid me in my usage.

As for my previous phone, the Blackberry Key One; it was also great for digital minimalism in many aspects. I wrote an article on it too, which I will link below. The physical keyboard and the small screen made it much less attractive for social media and video streaming so it was better than a regular rectangular glass slab phone in those aspects. However, iOS has some nice tricks up its sleeve which work great to curb phone usage.

First and foremost is the killer feature hard baked into iOS: greyscale mode. iOS has a full system wide display implementation that makes everything black and white. To turn it on, go to settings> accessibility> display and text size> colour filters> greyscale. That makes the phone boring to look at, it’s like a kindle. The apps are not as appealing to click on, social media and YouTube are not fun anymore. This is fabulous and I use it almost all the time except when I have to do a video call. I believe new Android updates have brought this feature as well, let me know in the comments if that has happened already. With greyscale mode, I find myself reaching for the phone only when I have to do something important i.e. call or text someone and for nothing else. Even if I habitually glance at the lock screen, even the wallpaper looks so bland that I won’t unlock it if there aren’t any notifications.

Secondly the screen time implementation is quite useful. I have set time limits for distracting websites like Reddit and YouTube (which automatically applies to their apps too) and it will let me know when the time is up. This is useful but not perfect because you can still override it with a couple of clicks and disable the notification for a full day or 15 minutes. Combine this with greyscale and that makes it much more effective. What’s even better: you can also block certain websites in screen time> content & privacy restrictions>toggle on>web content> allowed websites only.

Then there are the few small features that complement the minimalist experience. I get all calls to my iPad as well (when both are connected to WiFi), so I don’t have to carry my phone all around the house. Do not disturb is good as well, so is the physical button to switch to silent mode. I like the apple music implementation with alarms, I can set any song as my alarm tone. The iOS 14 update lets me put away lesser used apps on a different page (app library). I just keep the bare essentials in folders on home page, with a few useful widgets. The search feature is great too, especially because it searches within apps as well i.e. a specific document or link.

Most importantly, I only keep essential apps on my phone and nothing else. Pretty much anything I need to use an app for, can be done in the safari browser. Mobile websites of Reddit, YouTube and Instagram are not as enjoyable when using in a browser so I just get out quickly.

The point of digital minimalism is to use tech as a tool and not as a compulsive content consumption medium. It is also important to have other things that aren’t dependent on technology, the internet in particular. Read a book, go for walks or draw something!

Using a BlackBerry in 2019

Thanks for reading!

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