One of my best friends from college has been doing this for years - well before the technology warning signals started sounding off (see Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants). By now I would say it's a well agreed upon piece of advice that users should control technology, not the other way around. Though, this is always easier said than done, the ability to not jump at the vibrating notification, to desire to drive that email inbox down to zero, or the comfort of simply filling in dead space with a scroll through Instagram.
I was recently impressed with Lane Wood's depiction of the month he went without his smartphone. Going phoneless is a fairly common undertaking for the international traveler, as recently documented by Tim Ferris. But by spending 31 days in San Francisco - in the midst of his working day to day life - Wood uncovered a few nuances in the way we handle our phones as social crutches, comfort blankets almost. I'll be looking to re-construct this experiment myself. In a season full of resolutions, I'm curious to see how different a phoneless existence fares. My hypothesis? An uptick in focus and productivity with minimal compromise in convenience.
Here is Lane Wood's full story:
Just over a month ago, I was in a precarious situation. You see, I’m new to the freelance game and through a series of novice moves, I found myself without a big client and no work lined up for July. It was a rough month.
I had already planned a mini personal retreat with some friends and decided to just go for it— and try to find some solace in the beautiful mountains surrounding Lake Shasta. Early one morning, I was in paradise as I breathed in the mountain air, looked for miles over the mountains and I snapped the photo above. Little did I know it’d be the last picture my poor iPhone would take.
Our crew decided to rent a boat, and we headed out with a tube and a wakeboard. When we were about 300 yards from the marina, the boat engine started having trouble and we thought there was a rope caught in the propeller. I decided to be a hero and dove into the water. With my iPhone 5.
Given my freelancer cash flow issues, a newly signed contract with Verizon and no insurance, I chose not to spend $700 on a new device. I powered up my iPad mini (with 4G) and spent the next month in San Francisco without a phone.
When I mention this to people, heads tilt to the side, eyes bulge and mouths are left gaping open.
“Wait, what? How… I mean… Really? No Phone?”
Now with intense curiosity, they lean in.
“What’s it like?”
They sound as if I’ve just told them I’m on ecstasy.
But I get it. Not a lot of people have had this experience. So I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
How I did it:
Texting: iMessage + Path.
Phone calls: Scheduled Google+ Hangouts and Skype calls.
Camera: Shameful and limited iPad camera usage.
MVP award for this experience goes to DODOcase. I’ve had it with me this whole time disguising the iPad mini. People assume that I’m carrying a journal around, and at a moment’s notice am ready to write down all of my profundities. I keep it tucked away in the back of my jeans and under my shirt.
Lesson #1: Mindless Phone Usage (MPU) is stealing our humanity
When one uses a tablet in public, everyone notices. It is not subtle. So if I want to text a friend, check my email or read an article, I have to answer this question: “Is this moment appropriate for me to have this big device in my hands?” Conversations will stop. Strangers will look. I will be “that guy.”
Result: I’ve stopped mindlessly checking Twitter. I’ve stopped using Facebook on mobile at all. I don’t refresh my inbox. I don’t fill awkward silences with technology. I’m mindful of the affect of my tech behavior on the people around me. I’m much more present, and I’ve grown incredibly irritated at my friends when they have their phone out for absolutely no reason.
Tinder. Twitter. Tumblr. Tinder. Twitter. Tumblr.
Refresh. Swipe right. Like. Heart.
I can’t stress how important this shift has been for me.
Lesson #2: Vibrate is the secret killer of mental clarity
Yes, it’s absurd to let our phone ring aloud in any public situation. So we put our phone on vibrate. Even still, we are interrupted by completely inane and non-urgent notifications pleading for our attention.Vibrate is the phone’s temper tantrum. And we reward it by giving our attention, rather than putting it in time out (do not disturb).
Result: Without a vibrating device in my pocket, I’m unaware of messages, notifications and the kicking and screaming that the operating system is doing all day long. I get out my iPad when I need to check in. I may not get back to your text within 30 seconds, and for 99% of situations, that’s acceptable. I’m more focused, less stressed and decidedly present.
Lesson #3: We use 5% of the photos we take and waste some of the best moments viewing real life on a screen
The best camera is the one that you have with you. Unless it’s a tablet.
I live on Alamo Square Park, and at about any point in the day, you can see tourists taking photos of the Full House houses with their tablets. Inexplicably it happens at concerts. Each time, I laugh and judge. Until recently.
Having only a tablet on hand creates a very interesting camera dilemma. I must ask myself, “Self, why do you need a photo of this? Is it worth the scorn of your friends and strangers alike?”
Result: I don’t take many photos. While at Outside Lands music festival, I took only eight pictures in three days of festival revelry. And honestly, I think that it was enough. I have proof that I saw a Beatle and I have a couple of photos of my friends, The Lone Bellow and Kopecky Family Band, playing on stage.
Instagram users have yet to organize a revolt at the absence of my content.
Lesson #4: Having separation anxiety from a device is ridiculous and serious
Imagine this scenario: You’re at a friend’s house for dinner and your phone is in the car.
How do you feel? Need a Xanax? Are you plotting your escape to rescue your lonely device?
We’ve lost the ability to be fully present. This is not news. After a month of not having a phone, I don’t notice the empty pocket. I walk out of my room regularly without a device. Walk through the park. Eat dinner. No devices. I don’t feel phantom vibrations.There is a serious psychological and emotional difference when I’m not shackled to a device that is constantly begging for my attention.
I know this unintentional yet transformative experiment has been as much of a disruption for my family, friends and clients as it has been for me. So, after 31 full days, I’m currently tracking a FedEx truck bringing to me a shiny new iToy. I wonder if I have the discipline to retain new healthier tech habits. I can already feel the faint buzzing on my right leg.
If you see me out, falling back into MPU tendencies, you have permission to call it out. In hopes that we can all work through this together, I’ve started a list of ways you can gain discipline without spending a month sans phone.