Lessons from going one week without my smartphone

The urge to take time off from using a smartphone came quite suddenly. As is often the case, when an idea is born, if you don’t let it breathe for a while and decant it on paper, you can become intoxicated on it to the point of losing any sense of rational perspective on the matter.

I was initially tempted to commit myself to not using it for an entire year, perhaps as a show of defiance to the technologically dependent — that I’m somehow above it all. But eventually my pride subsided and allowed reason to have a say in this too, and I thought better of that particular course of action. Instead, I would try it for one week, with the potential to extend it to one month, and then — and only then — consider the possibility of a full year.

Having just come off my one-week smartphone detox, I surprisingly don’t feel the need to do it for a longer amount of time — which, again, is a far more rational, tempered conclusion to reach.

Now, I could go on and on extolling the virtues of going without a smartphone, something which has probably been done countless times on the web, but I don’t really want to preach. So instead I would rather opt for the path less traveled and argue for keeping your smartphone, despite all its flaws (of which there are plenty).

To start at the beginning: the reason I was so desperate to go offline was because I became acutely aware of my unhealthy phone habits and how pointless and energy-consuming they were. My smartphone was keeping me lazy, unresourceful, dependent, and mildly anxious. It wasn’t making me feel more connected to people, nor did it make me better at getting things done, contrary to what is usually advertised. This was the hunch that I had before (and the conclusion I eventually came to after) I consciously decided to put my phone away for a week.

Something I couldn’t help but notice in my smugness was how everyone was constantly glued to their respective devices. This zombie-like quality of people is so bizarre and unattractive when you are not ‘one of them’ (and yet so natural when you yourself are a culprit), you almost feel sorry for them. Looking back on that, it sickens me to think that I was so chuffed with myself, at times even feeling superior to others, as if I knew better than everyone else, as if they had yet to catch up to my level of maturity and self-awareness — and the hypocrisy of that very thought.

One of the big take-aways from my ‘week off’ was that it is more than possible to navigate through our modern world without 3G-enabled phones. Going without one can teach us to rely more on other people(e.g. asking for directions or recommendations for places to eat out), and indeed on ourselves and our ability to think and recall information. It can, I noticed, also teach us to embrace boredom and awkwardness — states which are traditionally perceived as negative, but which are perfectly natural and the experience of which can help us grow emotionally — instead of using our phones as a crutch.

Possible and achievable it may be, but the question I’m now asking myself is whether it’s in any way desirable. I mean, isn’t exercising self-control a much more respectable quality than extreme self-restraint? Whether we like it or not, we live in a material world where material goods have a certain practical value (think money, cars, property), and while I do believe in living a minimalist lifestyle, taking only what you need, I don’t believe in complete asceticism.

So, instead of going against the current and navigating around technology (and rubbing it in other people’s faces while we’re at it), perhaps the trick is to learn to live in harmony with it by turning our unconscious habits into conscious choices — in other words, putting us back in the driving seat and in control of when and how we use these fantastic tools which we have at our disposal. Surely this is the key to a healthier relationship with our smartphones and indeed with ourselves.