Dumbing down my smart phone

There once was a time I never knew where my cell phone was. I valued it but I didn’t need it.

Fast forward to 2015. I always know where my phone is. I value it. I need it.

The reason for that is simple. I, like most Americans, have a smart phone. It records my steps, can tell me where the nearest pizza place is, and can inform me what my 8th grade buddy ate for breakfast that morning. This is both good and bad.

I like Google maps. I adore Google maps. I would sing odes to Google map if it was deemed socially acceptable. My brother’s speech at my wedding involved how tragically horrid I am at directions, advising K he would be driver de jour in our marriage [and he is]. And while I’m still known to get lost, the incidence is remarkably less with Google maps guiding me. I also love having the weather at the tip of my fingers, capturing photos and videos and and texting with friends and family and I also enjoy using the phone to phone people [Indeed I am quaint].

But the smart phone has its downsides. From the buzzing e-mail notifications, the endless social media streams, the easy access to the internet to search anything that comes to mind be it how to make your own playdough to what ever happened to Punky Brewster it’s quickly becoming a situation of more is less. Less attention span. Less living in the moment. And the more you click around, the more you think you need to be online and the more you think you need to be checking in constantly because you might miss something.

The other day I was reading this article on Life Hacker called “How I Turned My Phone Into a Distraction Free Device“about a guy who did an experiment of removing his phone’s web browser, social media apps, e-mails, and seeing how it felt for seven days. I laughed. I rolled my eyes at the “click bait” article. Then I read it. And you know how every day is another day but then some days something really hits at you, like strikes a chord in a way that you suddenly view your life completely differently than you did before? Well that’s what happened with this article. Because his reasons for abstaining, they resonated. He talked about the difficulty of holding infinity in the palm of your hand:

Willpower alone didn’t cut it. Checking email, checking Twitter, checking news. Wondering if something interesting was happening anywhere in the world. Wondering if anybody was thinking about me. It started taking away my appreciation of what was going on right then, in the real world. When I got bored for just a moment I’d take the phone out. And each time I was basically saying, “Gee, anything is better than this.”

I felt like my attention span–not so great to start with – was getting worse. My head was kind of buzzing around all the time. And for what? The things I read on the phone tended to make me feel at best unsatisfied (because there’s always more information out there that I haven’t seen) and at worst unproductive and uncool.

I’ve written before about my thoughts about social media and checking intent, but this post got me thinking about taking those thoughts and taking them to the next level. So this morning after coffee, I followed the instructions. I removed my twitter. My e-mail. My safari web browser. Then, I went about my day. I braced for the withdrawal. Nothing happened.

Yes, I did find myself reaching for the phone absentmindedly while standing in line at Target. I definitely pressed the twitter-button that was no longer there to see what was up while I patted my son to sleep. But instead of this making me long to reinstall everything, it turned me off further. The realization of how much I’d come to rely on my phone to pass the time. Whatever happened to staring off? To pondering the what ifs? What happened to being along with ones thoughts? With a phone, you never have to be alone.

It reminded me of the quote from Jurassic Park that’s always stayed with me: your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Yes, I can check my e-mail while swinging my kids at the park. Yes I can reply to tweets while waiting in line at the grocery store.

But should I?

For me, the answer is no. Granted, its only been a day but it’s been striking the difference. The absence of the buzzing phone made me realize how used to I was to it buzzing. And how used to I was to checking it immediately. And usually, replying then and there. Today, not doing this, I realized how on this kind of process makes me. Always awaiting whatever may be around the corner, always ready to reply. One day away I realized  I can’t sustain that. I am not a robot. I cannot be completely plugged in without it taking away an important part of my soul, the quiet part that needs silence and separateness.

I certainly did get online today. I replied to e-mails and checked twitter. The kids danced to a Cars music video from youtube. I’m not going into an internet-less void. I’m also still using some of my smart phone features like Google Maps, Weather, my Podcasts for long road trips, and the camera which I adore. My phone is still a smart phone. Just half as smart.

And this isn’t to say I will never ever use my browser or e-mail on my phone because I’m surely going to use it when traveling and other situations that warrant it. But the day to day, like the author of the piece said, I’m going to opt to stare out into space than stare into my screen and I will be responding to e-mails and tweets like they did back in the olden days, sitting on the couch on my laptop.

2 thoughts on “Dumbing down my smart phone”

  1. This is a great post! I too, love Google Maps. I live out in the country, so it's like “Which field of cows am I supposed to turn right?” and that feeling like you really need to respond to any notification right away.

    My phone is pretty smart still, but I did take FB and messenger off my phone. And I keep the phone put away during family time now. When my nephew was about 2, I was taking photos of him with my phone and he said “No, no, let's PLAY” I'm like “Man, I just got a valuable life lesson from a 2 year old!”

    I'm glad you are enjoying the moment more, and I love the use of the Jurassic Park quote. So appropriate!


  2. This is almost exactly how I've been dealing with my phone for a while now.

    I stopped bringing it upstairs and it's amazing how much more book-reading I get done before bed (and how much less Scramble with Friends!) I often let it run out of juice – sorta-kinda deliberately. The ringer is always silenced, so I don't have to hear it buzzing at me all day. I give friends my landline number or my email address if they need to get hold of me in any kind of timely fashion. (I do, though, keep a charger in the car — because GoogleMaps & having access to all these other goodies while I'm traveling in the hinterlands–or in a doctor's waiting room–is the BEST!) Having them at my fingertips 24/7, though, is overload.

    Now if I could just find a better balance on my work computer I'd be a lot more productive (she types online as she's supposed to be working on a novel…)


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