In November, I dropped my iPhone 4 while running and the screen broke. My first instinct was to go and buy the new iPhone 5, but before doing that, I decided to go without a smartphone for at least a month to find out how much I really depended on it after 5 years.
I’ve been a smartphone user for about 5 years. I started with the iPhone 3, grew to the 3GS and later to the 4. I was well on my way to get the 5, when my 4 broke. Looking back, I appreciate that it broke.
In contemporary life with smartphones and computers we’re always connected. During woken hours I was available on Facebook, Twitter, Email, iMessage, my phone, Hipchat, Skype and in person. Although I disabled push notifications early on, I was still present most places. A few spare minutes would usually result in checking my email, Twitter and Facebook. I was a little bit everywhere, all the time. But not truly anywhere. Without the temptation available from my pocket, I feel like I am more present being wherever I am. Now I was certainly no addict, but it’s led to a small freedom I encourage you to experience. I’ve realized that not being constantly plugged in, has had notable benefits. When I am not on my computer, only my immediate friends and coworkers will be able to reach me by phone. My smartphone helped fill little voids of time with mindless entertainment and shifted me away from the context of whatever I just did and was about to do, silently replacing what I see as mandatory reflection. This context switching I found to play a larger role than I thought. It’s been rewarding to indulge more into my own thoughts and reflections, in lieu of attempting to occupy every gap of time with Angry Birds, news and tweets.
I had a few concerns when I went back to my Nokia brick:
No camera. While I’ve never taken many pictures, I liked my sporadic Instagram posts. When I go traveling, I’ve always liked to have just a dozen pictures to reflect back on the trip. Perhaps it’s time I just borrow a camera when I go traveling. Or just use none at all. I will figure this out when I go traveling in the summer.
No music. Frequently when I walk, I like to have music in my ears to ease the experience. However, I decided not to haste out and buy an iPod. Since I got rid of my iPhone, I have definitely missed this, however, most of the time when I really want music, I am sitting down, able to use my computer. I found that walking to school without music wasn’t scary at all. Just like I started running without music a good year before my iPhone broke. It gets you out of your bubble and lets you experience your surroundings. Of course, sometimes it’s nice to just leave yourself out. Currently, I have no plans to buy an iPod.
No maps. I used Maps on my iPhone a lot. When visiting friends, traveling and using public transport. My sense of directions are decent, so I thought getting back into relying on myself and improve these capabilities wouldn’t be so terrible. I’ve found that having no GPS in my pocket requires more planning. Generally it has not been a problem. In foreign countries where I need this the most, I use physical maps anyhow, since data costs are still ridiculous. There’s usually nothing wrong with asking a stranger or calling whoever you are visiting anyway. I suspect my feel for directions will develop as a result of this.
3 months of using an old phone, led to some more unexpected discoveries.
I’ve started calling people more. On an iPhone, texting is extremely convenient. Since I switched to my ancient Nokia phone, I’ve found myself calling people more simply because it’s more accommodating. It’s funny how little I called people on my iPhone, and how surprised parts of my generation is when they receive a call. I have rediscovered the core functions of my phone, by indulging in pleasant conversations with people I used to just text, improved arrangements and generally had more fun communicating. I try only to call instead of texting when I am certain it will shorten the length of the interaction and/or add depth.
I don’t care for my phone anymore. I just drop it into a pocket in my bag and go. This means I carry nothing in my pockets anymore. I have nothing to distract myself, and for odd reasons, that makes me feel free. No longer do I have to check where my phone is before going to sleep. I just don’t care for it, since it’s not an expensive item anymore that shouldn’t get scratches. The fewer things I have to worry about, the better.
My concerns were mostly right, but I can live without these things. The concerns listed in the previous sections were right. I do miss having a camera, I do miss music and I do miss maps. However, I also found that I can live without these things. That appeals to me, and is a major pro for me. It’s handy to have all these things in one device, but for now, the pros outweigh the cons for me.
Not going back.. for now
Currently I do not see any convincing reason for me to go back to getting a smartphone. It was funny to observe how natural it feels to have such a powerful device always in your pocket, and how dependent I was on it. How natural it would have felt to pinch in $1000 for a new phone. In many ways, a smartphone has become a mandatory extension of the mind. But I feel it has had no major impact on my life to leave it behind. I have come to deeply enjoy being completely plugged out when I am not at my computer. I enjoy not always being up to date, and not having one more expensive item to worry about. It is a small temptation in your pocket that can make you loose focus from the people you are around. Only charging my phone every second weekend is an amazing feat too. I challenge you to ditch your smartphone for a month and write about it. I’d love to be included in your observations. You can sell your smartphone at a pretty good price, even it’s broken like mine was.