Today it is one month ago. I sold my iPhone and swapped it for an old Sony Ericsson. The decision was quick and spontaneous, but the thought had been growing on me for a while. I bet everyone have had the idea. Like quitting Facebook. I had become increasingly addicted to my phone and would fast draw every time I had 20 seconds in a void. News. Mail. Social Media. Wikipedia. And I hated it. The loss of control and the loss of time. You know how it is. From yourself or your friends.
I had tried many things to manage it. Rules, self discipline, meditation (with and without an app for that) and increasingly complicated passwords. The final password before I gave up was ‘mindful’. In just a few days my thumbs could type it in faster than I could realize that I was not being it.
Maybe even worse, when I at times did manage to limit my usage, or for a while forget about the phone all together, the little thing would jump on me instead. A message would tick in or the alarm wake me up. My thumbs and monkey brain jump from disabling the alarm to checking mail in an instant, leaving not the tiniest crack for my conscious self to intervene. Again, you know how it is.
It needed to be handled, I knew that, yet I didn’t seriously consider getting rid of my iPhone for the first four years. I enjoyed it. I needed it. It would all get better soon, we just needed to work on it. It was an abusive relationship and I didn’t know what part I played.
Then today, exactly one month after the break up, I see this (skip to 1:00):
I didn’t have a healthy relationship and I needed a heftier cure than Sundays off as suggested by Joe Kraus. I had tried with days off, but they merely served as exceptions to prove the rule.
Now vs. Then
I don’t want to try and argue in terms of social and brain science. I will instead write about my experience.
Do I notice a difference? Yes. For the first week, I noticed a difference every time I grabbed for my pocket and now, three weeks later, I notice so much more. The effect has been quite astonishing and, I have to admit, a little surprising. It’s hard to put in words without sounding like an ad for a herbal pill. But let me try.
First there are the moments where I previously would have been on the phone. Any semi-passive situation like waiting for the train. Now I’m often forced to just stand around. Do nothing for a few minutes while the world catches up. There are many romantic theories about why this is good for you and I don’t know about them – all I can say is that it feels good. Those moments are now the time where I connect with reality before the next “important” thing steals my attention.
Then there is the time in between the moments where I previously would have been on the phone. You know, life. I certainly feel less stressed now. My concentration is better and I am better at staying present. I could have named this post “How I grew my productivity 200 percent”. First of all, not having the option of knee-jerk mental escapes helps me focus and stay present when things gets slow or hairy. Second, and this one is simple, I don’t waste precious time surfing/reading/commenting/answering things that is not important for the current context. Third, I feel that the small “breaks” mentioned above saves up stamina for longer stretches of work. There is probably something true about the unhealthy aspects of multitasking. As Joe Kraus argues in the video, I do feel I can juggle more things now. I feel mentally less fragile.
It is also a great relief not having to manage my phone usage anymore. I was sick and tired of deliberately having to put limits on myself when I in so many other contexts was trying to grow and create. No more rules, no more telling myself to stop, no more letting myself down. Maybe it sounds a little extreme, but I realize now that there was a pattern of that. The I-want-to-loose-weight-but-I-can’t pattern. It is now gone and I’m more happy because of it. (This is not suggesting radical solutions to weight loss.)
There are times when my life gets more complicated. Complicated on the scale of western life. I have to book my train ticket before I leave home. I have to open my laptop to check my mail. And my calendar. My girlfriend can hear if I text in the morning and my todo list is now living part of its life on paper.
But I’ve come to appreciate these things as well.
See, obstacles have this inherent quality that they cannot be ignored (if they are, they become problems). They demand attention – at least for a little while – and force me to plan, reflect, choose or in some other way act. These small daily obstacles help me stay grounded and in touch with reality. It is for the same reasons that obstacles are used deliberately for brainstorming, for composing music and for improvisation theater. They spark creativity and demand action. I’ve come to love obstacles. Maybe it’s time to get a child.
One Month Later
When I look back today, I see how all my problems grew from the combination of one basic human quality, curiosity, and an amazingly well designed device. They did not originate in anything bad. There was just nothing stopping the constant search. The smartphone had no limits. Unlike any other media it was never ending, constantly connected and always there.
I haven’t been anywhere near regretting selling that device and would highly recommend it to anyone. The gains outweigh the losses by far.
If I ever get so busy again, that I really (really) have to check my email every five minutes, I will buy an iPad Mini with mobile network, put it in a nice moleskin-style cover and carry it in my bag. No more internet in the pocket for me.