I’m writing after having made a decision: To escape the tyranny of the smartphone. Why have I decided this? Well, for a few reasons: Firstly, while the smartphone bring various conveniences (more of which in subsequent posts), it has brought with it many problems, which I have found are affecting my day to day quality of life. Let me explain:
I am truly not an obsessive person. In fact, it is clear that my wife would like to me to be more so, particularly with regards to tidiness/cleanliness/remembering things. But the one thing that I have become compulsive about is checking my smartphone constantly. Not just a few times a day, but regularly throughout the day, whether first thing in the morning, while bored e.g. standing in queues, whilst walking (yes, I am a smartphone zombie), or even when all around me is chaotic (perhaps the online world seems more ordered than real life?), which tends to be whenever the kids are anywhere near.
What do I check? Email, social media, steps (i.e. an activity monitor), work spreadsheets, financial stuff, newspaper/other news, communication (e.g. whatsapp), the time. I’ll go into quite a lot more detail about this later.
This refers to the fact that I am unable to perform many tasks without the help of smartphone. Some of which are actually incredibly helpful, for instance I have never had a sense of direction, so having a satnav is quite enabling. But having a map where you don’t even need to know which direction you are facing must make one lose the ability to even perform that task.
I would guess that many of us think that if our smartphone were lost, we would just pick up where we were before we got one, but I have found that some skills take a while to pick back up. For instance, I have started wearing a watch again, but found it difficult to quickly tell the time on an analogue watch for a while, as I have not had to do that for years.
It reminds me also of the cups that we all use for coffee, which allow us to walk whilst drinking our coffee. They have always reminded me of sippy cups, which in turn are very reminiscent of a teat…
3. So why is this important?
Well, I have found that it is:
a. Making me more jumpy and anxious, and making me sleep less.
b. At the same time as making me jumpy and anxious, the short-term “fix” is the checking. This seems to me, therefore, to be like any other common or garden addiction. Having given up smoking about 10 years ago, I feel that it has much in common with it – creating the need for the cigarette, then assuaging that empty feeling when smoking the cigarette.
c. It interferes with my ability to perform deep tasks. I’ve just read the excellent book by Cal Newport, called “Deep Work”, where he notes that “shallow work” not only interferes with performing deep tasks that require sustained cognitive effort, but also make us lose the ability to do those tasks at all. Again, I’m sure that many of us feel that we can easily pick up those abilities again at very short notice, but I wonder whether this is true or whether we are deluding ourselves.
4. The aims of this project:
a. To make it difficult for me to check internet-associated things
b. To become less jumpy, and to engage more in the feeling of downtime and being bored, with a view to having less distracted thought processes
c. To find solutions for many functions that have been taken over by the smartphone
d. To discover the best personal balance of smartphone to non-smartphone activity
e. To still perform my work and non-work things that may need the smartphone, and discover the ongoing place for the smartphone in my life.
5. The first steps:
a. I have bought a “dumbphone”, also known as a “feature phone”, and where possible I am carrying it in my pocket instead of the iphone. This has the ability to make/receive calls/texts, and has an alarm, but does not have any internet capability so therefore I cannot look at email/social media/whatsapp etc.
For the moment, I am keeping the iphone in my bag or coat, so that it is there if needed. It does not have a sim card in it, but can be used on wifi.
b. I have bought a standalone sat nav for the car, due to come today. I’ve also bought an A to Z for the car, just in case.
c. I am looking into whether I need a new sim card, or will just transfer the sim card between the two phones.
d. I am looking for solutions for all the things that I currently do on the iphone, for instance, passwords, notes, camera etc. etc. I’ll cover these in their own separate posts.
6. A disclaimer:
I have no idea whether this will be of interest to anyone, and am really writing it to get my thoughts down on paper, as there is a lot to coordinate for this project. If you don’t find it interesting then you don’t need to tell me – you are allowed to stop reading (if you haven’t already, although I guess if that’s the case, you wouldn’t be reading this).
By the way, thinking about it as a project makes it feel exciting rather than regressive and neo-Luddite (who knows what you think?!). I have also looked around the internet a bit, and have not really found anything to help with the practicalities of finding a new balance with the smartphone, so clearly there is a gap in knowledge out there…