Tom Grotewohl did something that I’m sure many of us have nightmares about these days. He spent 16 months, not only without a smartphone, but without any phone at all. As my friend Steve has said “[as a society] we are better prepared for a zombie apocalypse than we are for 24 hours without the internet”.
So, why did Tom do it, and what did he learn? He answers those questions in his article “I Went 16 Months Without A Cell Phone And My Life Was So Much Better”.
You’re probably reacting to that line as if it read, “I’ve spent the last year and a half without breathing air.” Cell phones have become such a crucial part of our daily lives that most folks rely on them more than the majority of organs in their bodies. In fact, you can get your spleen removed and continue living a normal existence, but the same cannot be said of a cell phone.
For this last period of my life, I haven’t had those things because I’ve been traveling. I’ve been crossing borders too frequently to hold on to friends, and sleeping anywhere that offered a free bed or a bit of floorspace so I didn’t have to work. It’s what has allowed me to conduct this experiment.
So, there’s the why. What about the lessons learned? Well, since I don’t want to give everything away (you should actually read the article!), here are the headers:
- Being in two places at once means you aren’t anywhere.
- Instant communication has transformed us all into paranoid, over-protective moms.
- Eye contact is the 21st century dodo [bird]
- We’ve mistaken being alone for loneliness
I think he makes some good and interesting points, though I would say not everyone is as addicted to and reliant upon such technology. Personally, having GPS on my phone was a lifesaver as I was always bad with directions and getting “lost” made me extremely anxious and stressed. Even with GPS, I still get anxious sometimes.
One thing I have done, to try to manage the chaos, I’ve turned my phone ringer off completely, and turn off all notifications except email (that’s my weakness). Whether at work, at home, or out with friends, unless I’m waiting for/expecting a call or text, I do my thing and my phone just sits there quietly and doesn’t bother me. This allows me to concentrate better, and not be constantly checking my phone like a junkie looking for another fix.
In fact, when I am at work, if I’m checking my phone or my email, it’s either because I’m bored/understimulated, or because I have had an idea that I need to send to myself for later. I truly enjoy being engaged enough in an activity that I don’t feel the need to check messages. So I’m trying to be better at keeping myself productively engaged. When I started tracking my activities and time allocation with an app recently, it made me realize, on the positive, that most of the time I spend on sites like YouTube or Reddit are actually not “distracted” time, but I’m usually researching, learning, or otherwise informing myself. Not always, but more often than not. I don’t really play “games” very much, because in part, I feel like there are far more enriching things I could be using that time/technology for.
Lastly, with my plans for international travel in the not too distant future, I may have to go without a phone myself, since I do not have a plan with a larger carrier, the carrier I’m with won’t be able to give me any service where I go, so I’ll either be paying out the nose for service, or I’ll be doing what Tom did. Of course I think it would be a different thing being “home” without a phone, vs away, where you’re supposed to be exploring anyway, not tweeting or facebooking. I like to connect with people, and after a long time of doing that mostly electronically, I’ve been feeling good about connecting with people more in the flesh.
At the end of the day, it’s important and healthy to not be too dependent on anything. Technology certainly makes life more convenient, but I don’t think very many people make an effort to regulate themselves, so convenience can and does develop into an unhealthy habit that can persist for a long time and be hard to break out of.