How to (Temporarily) Turn Your Smartphone Into a Simple Telephone

...And Why You Might Want To

As I write these words, my iPhone can do nothing except make telephone calls and send texts. This is a good thing.

Photo by Focus Pocus LTD/dpc

Photo by Focus Pocus LTD/dpc


Product Review: Freedom Web Blocking Software


I’m using the newest version of an app called Freedom, and for the next 59 minutes it has cut me off from the Internet.

In my time management war, the Web is my ISIS. If I can get to Facebook, I’m going to Facebook. Then Deadspin. Then Gawker. On too many days, I’ve looked up and realized that two hours has gone by and I’ve accomplished nothing.

Lacking the intestinal fortitude to just stay away, I’ve turned to technological aids to assist with the battle.

The best of them were 80pct Solutions’ original Freedom and Anti-Social apps. They’ve been helpful, but had crucial limitations. Now, the company has come out with a new combined version that does a very good job of addressing those limitations.

The idea: sometimes you need to get off the web entirely, and sometimes you need some access but need to block out the most distracting sites.

The original Freedom blocked the internet in its entirety. Download the app onto your Windows or Mac computer, engage it, set the timer, and your desktop or laptop was an internet-free zone.

It’s an awfully blunt instrument — either you’re completly connected or completely blocked. The same company made another product called Anti-Social to block specific sites while preserving access to the sites you needed.

This approach worked reasonably well for me, but had two downsides:

1. I have different “anti-social” needs at different times. For example, when I am researching a client’s marketing, I need to have access to Facebook and YouTube. Once the research is done, I need to stay as far away from those sites as I can. This meant that I had to re-set the “block list” every time I engaged Anti-Social.

2. Neither app worked on iOS devices, which meant that I had to stash my iPad and iPhone on another floor to keep myself in check. This may say more about me than it does about the product, but I yearned for something that would block sites on my i-Devices.

The new version, which is sold on a cloud-based “freemium” subscription model, tackles both of those issues.

The company has now combined Freedom and Anti-Social into a single program. The basic free version allows you to block two sites on one device. There’s a middle version middle version ($24 per year at this writing) with more functionality, and a Premium level ($45/year) that has a mobile app and, for the first time, works on iOS and Android.

Needing all the help I can get, I went for the Premium version. (Note: My mobile devices are Apple products. I have not tested the Android version.)

Once you’ve signed up and downloaded the apps onto your devices, you create Blocklists — listing the sites that you want to block yourself from. So far, I’ve made two:

  • “Working” blocks pretty much every site I can think of that I enjoy. Facebook, YouTube, Deadspin,, — so far I’ve put 14 sites on the list.
  • My other list is called “Research”, and it allows me to get to Facebook and YouTube when I need them for work reasons.
  • There’s also a third option: “Block Everything”. Engage that option and the entire Internet goes away.

The big news here is that I can set it to block the sites on my desktop computer, laptop, and my iPhone and iPad simultaneously. When I set that option on a mobile device, my smartphone becomes a dumbphone.

There are still a few minor downsides:

1. On iOS devices, the effect is not quite immediate. It takes around 5 minutes for the block to show up.

2. For security reasons, I use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when I’m on public wifi. Freedom uses its own VPN to block sites on iOS devices, which means that my regular VPN is turned off when Freedom is on. So I have to switch to cellular data for the duration. Not a huge deal, but a pain.

3. At the time of this writing, it doesn’t work properly with iOS 8. Their tech support tells me that they’re aware of this issue and are trying to fix it. It’s fine on iOS 9.

4. The process of putting mobile apps on a blocklist is a bit cumbersome, and I have not yet figured out how to make it block the iOS Facebook app. I will update this when I hear back from their tech support.

5. At $45 a year for the full meal deal, it’s a little spendy.

If you have the self-discipline to stay off those sites (I don’t), you can save the money. As Dirty Harry Callahan put it so well, a man’s got to know his limitations.

The new Freedom helps me work with my limitations, and is a huge step forward.

Question: How to you keep yourself on track? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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