I’m happier without a smartphone

It’s now just over a month since I gave up my smartphone and began an experiment with a Nokia 3310.

Much has already been written about smartphone sanity. Books, blog posts, tweets – just Google it to see other people doing the same, or poke this blog or my links to see some of the stuff people are saying about health, attention, kids and phones, life balance, etc.

So, I don’t want to go into this side of things – but it has been interesting, so here are a few thoughts.

The context

Prior to giving up my smartphone I already had a bunch of worries about technology use and what it does to family life and sanity – so had already done what (frankly) any sane person should do, right now, with their phone – stuff like this:

  • remove work email
  • turn off ALL non-critical notifications (and yes, definitely email notifications)
  • remove all social apps
  • have a policy to leave it upstairs on silent at night
  • never use it in the bedroom
  • never use it at the dining room table
  • be very aware about use, particularly when the kids are around

I’m also one of the 3 people on the planet without a Facebook account. I have been this way since being a very early Facebook adopter way back and deciding back then that:

  • Facebook are basically pretty evil
  • there’s a reason I lost touch with most of those people
  • I could see even back then that it was going to eat lives

I was, however, a news junkie – with a bad “first thing in the morning” addiction to the Guardian / BBC / Hacker News. I’ve also been through patches of getting a little bit Instagram obsessed (it’s easy to post narcissitic-fuckpump pictures of how great your life is when you live in Cornwall) and managed to get around not having a Twitter app (see above) by using the mobile web version.

I was also an information junkie – mid-way through a conversation I’d need to look up that word or fact, take a note, check my calendar, etc. Actually (more below) – not just mid-way through a conversation but mid-way through articles in the paper, books, magazines…

Even given the fact that the above pretty much doesn’t position me in the loony-check-it-all-the-time smartphone user category – I increasingly didn’t feel happy with the total, unremitting reliance that I felt on this device. The fact that I’d rather leave home without my wallet, without my keys or without my children than without my smartphone was a warning siren to me. I don’t like these sorts of external pressures – and when you start looking around and seeing THE ENTIRE WORLD looking out through a 3″ screen, you have got to start thinking big questions about why we’re here, what we’ll regret when we die, how we’re being and – frankly – what it’s all about.

Giving it up

So, I gave it up. And I can say – only a month in – that it has been absolutely transformative, in ways that I was completely not expecting.

The biggest, most important and most profound thing for me has been my attention and presence. I’ve found myself massively less distracted while doing, well, pretty much everything – but most noticeable is that I can read again for stretches of time without feeling the jitter and without having to look up every other word. It is incredibly ilberating to sit and not even think about whether I should check the news or a fact but to simply not have that option. And, bizarrely, I actually feel better informed than I did before. When I watch the news or read something I actually get into it rather than dotting around endlessly snacking on shit news-snippet-morsels.

Connected to this – it is strangely amazing to not have to take a damn picture every 5 fucking minutes, but just to be able to look at the sea or my kids or whatever and not be thinking about what a great shot that’d make. For me this isn’t “..what a great shot…for my [social] account..” because I didn’t really do that stuff anyway – but just being able to be in the picture rather than thinking about taking it all the time – this is pretty wonderful.

Having bored moments was also pretty strange at first: “go for a shit, take your phone” became instead ..take a book – or – nothing, and just think. Stand in a queue – just stand. Wait for a friend – just….yeh, wait..

It is also a royal fucking pain in the arse

Being in London this week highlighted the utility that comes with a smartphone. Most obviously: maps, having a podcast player, being able to look up when the next train is… and, fuck, no damn Spotify either…

..but also: wow, sending a text without being able to do it properly is truly, mind-blowlingy, appallingy awful. Dumbphones pretty much force your grammar into a ditch where it is left bleeding to death: my capitalisation has gone to shit, I simply cannot bring myself to deal with apostrophes, and YES I may be a mere 45 years old but fucking HELL I look like an old person when I am trying to text. I lean over the screen in a way which is just incredibly lonely and old and sad – I might as well switch the fucking key tones on as well..

The upside is: it’s SO awful I have started actually “ringing” people. I know. This is when you speak into the phone and the other person replies, and you hear what they say and then…anyway, yes, that. And it turns out this is really quite nice, to hear my friends and talk to them properly.

The Not Mobile Saviour

The real learning for me here is this: put all your shit – all your email shit, all your social shit, all your podcast and music shit – even What’s App – and put it on your desktop machine or laptop.

Why? Because here, you have a huge amount more control. You can – and I do – use an app like Focus to make sure there are good chunks of time when none of this is in your face. You aren’t carrying this thing around with you all the time; you don’t pop it on the table in the cafe or bar or have it open when your kids are trying to talk to you over food: or at least – you sad fucker – you really shouldn’t.

The compromises

A few of these:

My smartphone lives on my desk where I can get to it for critical things like Google Authenticator or my banking apps. But I’ve also realised it’s ok to take it out and about sometimes without the SIM in it so I can listen to podcasts in the car or whatever.

I’ve realised I probably will want some kind of camera at some point – but actually a good one, one which is a joy to use and which I will choose to use with some distinction rather than in the scattergun smartphone way of fucking-hell-another-shot-better-take-that-and-never-look-at-it-again way.

[ I realise absolutely by the way that this would be a story of terrible irony if I ended up with a pocket full of other gadgets which merely replaced the previous really rather elegant single gadget solution – this is not the intention… I am aware… ]

Finally

Will I be doing this forever? I honestly don’t know. I feel way, way more connected to the world than I have done for a long time, which given the promise of connectivity spouted by the tech is supremely ironic – and as of right now I don’t think I’ll be going back any day soon. But who knows.

Is this for everyone? No.

Should everyone try it? Yes, I think you really should, even if it is for a day or a weekend or a week. Give it a go, see how it makes you feel. You may be very surprised.

In the way of the old Buddhist saying (“If you don’t have ten minutes to meditate, you should sit down and meditate for twenty minutes”) – if it makes you uncomfortable not having your smartphone for a day, maybe you should try not having a smartphone for a week…