Dear Smartphone, I Quit
Part II: Convenience and the Point of No Return.
On Nov 4, 2016 I deactivated my iPhone. Read it here.
I floated the idea enough times in casual conversation to start telegraphing the reactions. Vetted, I practiced slipping, jabbing, feinting.
“It is supposed to be a phone. What the laptop did to the desktop, the smartphone is doing to the laptop. We are all plugged in with no where left to retreat. Can we at the very least agree that these damned things aren’t really phones? They’re computers that call and text. They’re social media machines that forced the magazine rack next to your toilet into early retirement. They’re GPS trackers that keep us warm and cozy at stop lights.”
High on resolve I marched into the store and asked for a dumb phone. Unimpressed, the clerk barely raised his head and pointed at a line of prepaid flip phones.
All of the models had internet access, and although they were plenty dumb, they didn’t quite assert the anti-tech defiance that I was looking for.
Online, I found a dumb phone that looked like a calculator and was the size of a credit card. Naturally I ordered it. Back into my provider I went, ready to deflect any line of philosophical obstruction.
There it was, “May I ask why?” In an instant, my preparations went out the window and I rattled off some nonsense about having multiple phones. Slightly bruised, but not beaten, I walked out of the store with my activated dumb phone.
After a day of trying to answer calls and perform traditional telephone functions, I pulled the micro SIM and mailed the calculator phone back.
I had officially found the obtuse side of the pendulum. A compromise was in order.
Refusing to reactivate my iPhone6, I enjoyed two days of phoneless reverie before heading back to the store to buy the prepaid flip phone. Not technically a dumb phone, as it has internet and email access, but anyone who has tried to write an email or search the web can attest, its pretty damn dumb. The two phoneless days proved a relaxing detox from my usual swan dive into the YouTube abyss.
Rested and ready, I activated my $24 flip phone.
Floating like a featherweight fighter I bounced through my first morning. I pulled a book off the top of my to-read stack and knocked out a couple chapters. I exercised and I got to work on time — a feat that is embarrassingly difficult for me. The flip phone streamlined my morning with an efficiency that I hadn’t seen in years.
I felt attentive and satisfied as I watched the people around me thumb away at a world that no longer distracted me.
T9 texting is freedom from group texts, emojis and long-winded responses. No mobile internet means no email on the go. The horrific quality of the camera removes the burden of documentation.
It is an absolutely liberating experience, but one that is more of an adaptation process than an exorcism.
If you’ve ever deactivated your Facebook then you know the feeling. That first day feels like a strange case of vertigo. The second is euphoric and brimming with possibilities. By the third day, its like it never existed in the first place.
When I was a teenager people would call my house. By college it was a text. Now, its a post on their profile directed at anyone that’s watching.
There is a societal price to pay for dehumanizing conversation.
Over the past four weeks I have witnessed the abrupt end of many conversations as one party looks up an answer on their smartphone. Pontification, like the metaphor, is quickly losing cultural relevance.
Simple conversations turn into one person watching the other do research.
The beauty of good conversation is two people sharing their perspectives on what they know, not looking up what they don’t. The limitation keeps the dialogue on course.
Access to information is a wonderful thing, but where does research end and perspective begin? Where are the answers born of new ideas? Where are the conversations that stretch thinking minds? Where are the sort of ideas that require contemplation and internal exploration? Where is the perspective?
After a month without a smartphone, I have no plan to go back. More than ever, I believe that limitations inspire. I believe that simplicity and clarity propel creativity. I believe that smartphones are an incredible tool, capable of doing a job that I’m not interested in. I love the convenience of having a phone that stays in its lane. I enjoy sitting down at the computer to seek out articles with purpose rather than passively collecting content in my pockets. I read as much as ever, its just with more intentionality now.
Exposure and access are interesting adversaries. People die of exposure and for access. Restricting information and dehumanizing a populace are the two principle weapons of all oppression. Can we humanize without restricting access to information? Can we find balance and digital harmony?
So far, ditching the smartphone and keeping my laptop is working alright for me. Interested in joining me? Learn how it all started.