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I ditched my smartphone for 12 months but it was a bad decision

William Haigen   

I ditched my smartphone for 12 months but it was a bad decision
  • My iPhone stopped working a year ago and it gave me relief.
  • I started using a $30 Nokia phone instead, with no social media.

When my iPhone suddenly stopped working 12 months ago, my immediate reaction surprised me. There I was, out of the loop on social media, nearly impossible to contact, but instead of feeling nervous or overcome with FOMO, total and utter relief flooded my veins.

Like, according to PC Mag 67% of millennials, I’ve tried and failed to spend less time on my phone. I’ve downloaded all of the productivity apps, tried making rules and systems, and read books about breaking bad habits — to no avail. No matter what I did, I was still averaging three hours and at least 80 pick-ups per day.

Thinking back to Steve Jobs’ famous unveiling of the iPhone, his visionary enthusiasm seemed in stark contrast to my resentment of this strange device in my pocket that I couldn’t seem to put down. And so when it died, instead of rushing to get it fixed, I decided I wouldn’t ignore this feeling. I put my broken phone in the drawer and bought a $30 Nokia.

At first, I felt great

Within a couple of weeks of life without a smartphone, the damage it had done became abundantly clear. The fog of overstimulation began to lift, and I started taking pleasure in the little things again.

I realized that it was possible to go on long walks with just my thoughts to accompany me. That I didn’t need to be constantly in the loop on social media, and that FOMO is not a rational fear. The most obvious observation was that it is OK, even healthy, to be bored.

In fact, research has shown that boredom is a necessary ingredient to healthy brain functioning and creativity. A 2014 study showed that, when comparing two groups of participants on a standard measure of creativity, those who were asked to copy numbers out of a telephone book for 15 minutes significantly outperformed the group who began the test immediately. Indeed, more studies have demonstrated the link between smartphone use and decreases in creativity.

I was feeling more focused, productive, creative, and healthier all around. I’ve been able to read a lot more for pleasure. When I do read, I’m not tempted to quickly check my email or messages — I’m able to get lost in books in a way that I haven’t since I was a teenager, long before the smartphone existed.

But if all of this sounds too good to be true, unfortunately, it is. Here’s why I’m going back.

Living a life where everyone has a smartphone is hard

While my mental health and productivity had improved, practically speaking, living in a world where everybody else has a smartphone is a nightmare.

First of all, navigation is very hard. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been late for or missed an appointment entirely because I couldn’t make sense of the map I drew for myself before leaving the house. I also learned that people get very confused when you ask them for directions over the phone.

And, while FOMO can be an irrational fear, sometimes, missing out does really suck. I’m completely out of the loop on what my friends and family are doing. WhatsApp only works if you have a smartphone, so friends and family who don’t use Facebook Messenger are nearly uncontactable.

There are also many, many small inconveniences that add up over time. I can’t listen to my own music at the gym, do online banking unless I’m at home, or let friends know that I’m going to be late if I’m stuck in traffic. If I want to listen to a podcast while spring cleaning my apartment, I have to place my laptop in just the right spot to keep my headphones within range.

I learned I can live without my smartphone

Luckily, there is one thing I learned on my one-year sabbatical from smartphone use: I can live without my phone being on all the time.

I’ve become quite accustomed to not even having my phone on or taking it with me everywhere I go. I have the privilege of having a job that doesn’t require me to respond to anything immediately, and I don’t have kids, so in my case, having my phone on me at all times just isn’t necessary.

So when I get my phone fixed, It will be off, or at least on Airplane mode, most of the time. Hyperconnectivity has its advantages, but being hyperconnected all of the time is taking its toll on our mental health, and at least for me, it isn’t necessary to make that trade-off.

I look forward to using my phone for what it was designed to be again, a tool, instead of a source of anxiety and overstimulation.


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