"Smart Phone Dumb Phone" by Allen Carr

Review by Borodutch

I came by this book by accident, not knowing what it was about. And, oh boy, did I get roasted when listening to it. Not because I'm an Internet, gaming, or smartphone addict — entirely on the contrary — but because of the passive aggressiveness and name-calling that the author deploys against the gaming community. Thankfully, long ago, I read a couple of Nir Eyal's books, plus some more on the topic, and stopped being a slave to my phone. But I firmly believe that many people nowadays can benefit from reading "Smart Phone Dumb Phone."

Basically, the book is about how to use the "Easy Way" (from "Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking") to get rid of the Internet, gaming, or smartphone addiction. However, I would say that if you read any books on "Easy Way," you can combat virtually any addiction. The whole process is straightforward:

  1. Realize that doing things you're addicted to doesn't bring you what you desire from them (don't repeatedly put on narrow shoes to get rid of bad feeling in your feet). Instead, you desire the feeling you had before you got addicted to these things. Don't do these things, and you will get what you want. It's such a simple yet unattainable truth that you have (and you absolutely do have) to listen to it repeated over and over again over the hours this book lasts.
  2. Realize that you get nothing good from the behavior you're addicted to. Combat all the rationalizations like "it gives me X" or "it helps me with Y" with basic logic. Think a bit longer than a few seconds, and you will see how none of these rationalizations make sense. You literally get nothing from the things you're addicted to.
  3. It's not you who's at fault if you're addicted. It's the addictive behavior and the engineers behind it. Hundreds of thousands of people are working so that you consume more of the things they are selling. If something is addictive and some company can profit from selling it — indeed, they will spend enormous resources on keeping you hooked. It is you against all these PhDs trying to coerce you into addiction.
  4. Willpower does not work. You cannot willpower your way out of addiction. You have to understand the points above rationally. Unfortunately, it is elementary to dismiss them unless you listen to the whole book.
  5. After you get rid of an addiction, you will still have random urges to fall back due to various factors. Instead of giving in, remember that you get nothing from the addictive behavior and congratulate yourselves that you haven't lost this time!

I find the notions in "Hooked" work best here, too. Especially the internal and external triggers to come back to a specific app. The authors suggest turning off all external triggers (e.g., push notifications and emails) so that only the internal triggers are left. This allows you to become a happy digital user who uses devices on your terms, not on the terms of a company that makes money off you.

However, I'm still very stingy from the boomer-like name-calling. I remember clearly how the author was like, "So you're playing video games? What are you, a child?" First of all, yes, I do play video games. Secondly, I play 1-2 single-player titles a year that are pretty limited in the number of hours spent (similar to a good TV show in length). I play for the story and the experience. Thirdly, sure, I might be a child — but what's wrong with being a child? Experiencing a child-like joy when you watch a two-hour-long cut-scene directed by Kojima is nothing to be ashamed of.

On the other hand, even though I'm in total control of my phone (partially because I'm the one developing the addictive products and know how to combat it), I can see how many people are very addicted to their phones. For these, I can strongly suggest reading the book. If your life (personal or social) suffers from the Internet, video games, or doom-scrolling (hehe), read the book.

And while at it, I will spend some quality time with Alan Wake. I finally got some time a week after the release to enjoy the sequel.