The smartphone has become an essential technology for many of us nowadays. Three years ago, I wrote an ominous article in The Tech about the worrisome dominance these devices have over their owners, and in 2015 the effect is more prominent than ever. At an outing this summer, I was caught sneakily using my phone under the dinner table and not paying full attention to the speaker, at which point I was subtly called out by a friend who remembered that opinion piece. The point was spot-on, illustrating my own downfall to the little device. The decision was made: the phone had to go.
Even transitioning from minimal use, going phoneless brought to my attention the various regimes in which my dependence had been much too high. Eliminating these dependencies has significantly improved the quality of my daily life.
Let us start with sleep. Rather than wake up frustrated and angry at the phone alarm blaring uncontrollably (which for years I placed across the room to force myself to get out of bed), I now wake up by keeping my window and blinds open. There is a certain charm to waking up naturally to a fresh morning breeze and gradually rising sun. On days when it is cloudy, I am saved by the playful chirping of two little birds that have taken my sociable open-blinds gesture to heart and established a home on my windowsill.
Long gone are the painful eyestrains and headaches that result from intensely staring and prodding at a tiny six-inch screen which, recent studies suggest, most Americans do for an outrageous five hours per day. I have won back every second of those five hours. Time working on readings, psets, or research is dedicated entirely to the activities at hand, rather than interrupted by meaningless notifications emanating from a sassy phone that cries for attention.
In lecture, it is much easier to concentrate from start to finish rather than to fall into the trap of Googling some confusing technical topic, going off on a massive Wikipedia tangent, and then completely losing track of what the instructor was talking about in the first place. Even exercising at the gym is more productive and enjoyable. Rather than artificially boosting my energy with loud, angry music screaming into my head, I can now engage in highly effective workouts by focusing solely on the metal and heart rhythms.
On another note, there is a certain solace in keeping my geographic whereabouts and other information my own business, rather than that of a hot-shot “data scientist” somewhere in Silicon Valley whose life goal is to spam smartphone users with noise and advertisements based on their data. And I have rediscovered the fun of mentally backtracking tidbits or trivia that come up in conversation but I cannot quite remember. Is thinking for a few moments a risk so great that we must be ready to consult the smartphone for an immediate answer, right now and always?
Perhaps the most worrying observation from this whole experiment has been the reaction of some people who learn of my phoneless status. Some respond with strong terms such as “insane” and “unbelievable,” saying they could “never do such a thing,” as though their phones are as critical as the air they breathe. Others interpret the gesture as an offense or a declaration of superiority to behaviors common in modern society.
I am not making any claims that smartphones are entirely useless devices, even though I learned that was the case for me. Nor am I encouraging anyone to do away with their own devices altogether. However, it might be worthwhile to think about your relationship with the pesky little phone. You may find that small changes in habit can reduce a good deal of nonsense and noise from your life.