How A Broken Phone Has Improved My Life

Emily Kingsley
May 19, 2020 · 7 min read
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Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

If you have never cracked, shattered, soaked, smashed, or otherwise ruined a phone, I would like to meet you.

Everyone I know has a crazy story about jumping off a boat with their phone in their pocket, accidentally riding a motorcycle over their phone or leaving their phone on a tray under a frozen pizza and baking it.

But I seem to break phones in the dullest way possible. This was again proven true last Wednesday when I set my phone facedown on my desk to eat dinner with my family. When I returned, the screen was shattered with the familiar starburst pattern. I don’t know what happened, but it doesn’t work at all, which is particularly tricky since, you know, lockdown.

I am getting a new phone, but everything is slow right now, so I will be waiting ten days (gasp!) before my new phone arrives.

Yes, I have a crappy old phone I could connect and I’m sure there are other solutions, but I was curious what it would be like to be phone-less for a while. With my trusty laptop, I can still make calls and text, but it’s much different than having my phone in my pocket all the time.

The results of my little experiment have been shocking. I did not think I was much of a screen junkie, as I don’t play games or do social media on my phone. But the mental freedom I’ve experienced from abandoning my technological umbilical cord is unbelievable, which makes me think I was more addicted to my phone than I realized.

The thing is, I know phones are designed to be addictive. I’m not naive to how our brains work and how the colors and vibrations of our phones delight us and help make our lives easier and more streamlined.

But I hadn’t realized how deeply ingrained my habits have become. Taking a forced break from them has given me some space to step back and see my relationship with my phone with greater clarity and understanding.

I’m seven days in, and here are the biggest changes I’ve noticed so far.

This didn’t come as any surprise. Phones and apps are designed to pull your attention away from whatever you are doing.

“Check me, check me,” screams my news app, my online banking app, my weather app, my email and my messages. I don’t even have Facebook, Instagram or any game apps, but I’m sure they beckon just as loudly.

When I check one thing, it leads to another and next thing I know, instead of vacuuming out my car, I’ve gone from checking the weather to planning a bike ride to shopping for a new bike helmet to reading helmet reviews to reading bike reviews and shopping for a new two thousand dollar mountain bike. That leads me to check my bank account which sends me off looking for a new job.

Then I remember that now is not the time to switch jobs and my car is still dirty.

With no phone at my side, I don’t fall victim to this ‘checking cascade’ that steals time away from projects that I really want to do. If I think of something I really want to look up, I have to remember it for later when I sit down at my computer.

As a result, I have been reading a lot less wikipedia articles. On one hand, maybe I’m not learning as much. But on the other, I’d rather get a bunch of stuff done than learn that Lady Gaga played the lead role in Guys and Dolls in high school.

This week I roasted a chicken, built a bike jump from a pallet and drove to a bike shop in an unfamiliar city. Under normal circumstances, I would have started each of these tasks on my phone.

My search for recipes would lead me down a wormhole researching the origins of some obscure spice and my search for bike jump plans would cost an hour of watching gnarly mountain bike videos. I’d blindly follow the directions to the bike shop without realizing where I was going and not knowing I was there until I heard the calm voice from my speaker saying “You have arrived at your destination.”

Instead, I looked in my cupboard to see what was there and cooked up a darn fine chicken. I looked around at the tools and wood I had and made a pretty sweet bike jump for my kids to ride on in the driveway.

And when I drove to the bike shop, I thought about the street address and figured out where it was all by myself.

It’s now clear to me that I’ve been using the information on the internet as a crutch. Checking things online has been my first stop when really, taking a second to think for myself should be my first stop. I already know a lot and can figure out a lot.

It’s great to have access to all the information out there on the internet. But it’s also great to start with what you know and go online only when you realize you don’t know enough.

I’m a reader, so almost every night, I read a book before I go to sleep. But then once my eyes start to close and I’m nodding off, I’ll often grab my phone for one last look at CNN or to see what friends and family deals just got dropped in my inbox.

Then in the morning, my first reach is for my phone. I don’t have a clock in my bedroom, so I use it to check the time — and once my phone is in my hand, I might as well start the daily checking of things: news, email, etc.

I know these are bad habits, and I’ve read many times about how screens disrupt sleep routines. But man, now that I’ve had almost a week of cell phone-free sleep, I see how true it is.

Falling asleep without the news or any connection to the outside world feels so peaceful and indulgent. And sitting with a cup of coffee in the morning watching the birds instead of reading about Trump’s latest tweet storm is a pretty sweet way to start the day too.

I did not realize how much time I spend just keeping track of my phone. Since phones have gotten bigger, I can’t just slip it into my pocket, which means I leave it on the counter, on the dryer, in the bathroom, in the car. Then when I’m trying to go somewhere, I have to retrace my steps looking for it.

Now that I’m not keeping track of it, I can just head out the door without looking back and I’m never stuck trying to tuck my phone into my bra, my armpit or the back of my pants so my hands are free to carry groceries or tie my kids shoes.

I’m not living in a constant search for that white electrical tether that gets harder and harder to find as my battery goes from 20% to 10% to 5%.

We had a rainy day last week and I was outside working in the yard. I noticed how nice it was to not have a phone to worry about. I wasn’t gambling by letting it get a little bit damp, I wasn’t drying my fingers off to swipe it and I wasn’t worried that my coat pockets weren’t waterproof enough to keep it dry. It was nice to just be out in the rain without any concern for my phone.

Since we’ve been in lockdown, one task I’ve tackled is organizing my digital photos. Boy, do I take some photos of stupid shit. In looking at all of the thousands and thousands of pictures, I see that I have some habits I would now like to ditch. They are:

  1. Taking photos of random things I’ll never want to see again: Once I saw a bike that was exactly the same bike as my bike. I took a bunch of photos of it. When I came across those photos, I had no interest in them and deleted them. Why would I care about crummy photos of some stranger’s bike? No more random photos of things that are weird but not worth looking at a second time.
  2. Taking photos of things because other people are taking photos of them: This happens when you have kids. All the other parents are taking photos of a moving school bus as it pulls away, so I get peer pressured into taking some too. Then I have a dozen blurry yellow streaky photos that mean nothing to me. Never again.
  3. Taking photos because I’m bored: When I look at my digital photos, a lot of them have no purpose and make me feel nothing. Sometimes they are of fall leaves, my kids playing far away, an interesting insect. There’s nothing wrong with these photos, but it would have taken me a lot less time to go through my photos if these filler-photos weren’t in the mix.

With no phone, I can’t take any photos. And guess what — I don’t really have the urge to. I’ve realized that taking photos is more of a muscle memory act than an act inspired by creativity or emotion.

Now that I know this, I’m determined to break the habit of taking meaningless photos.

Trust me, I wish I was going to end this article by saying that I’ve decided to go phone free. I’m going to install a curly-corded wall phone connected to a landline in my house and that’s the end of it.


Living without a cell phone is just impractical. As soon as my new phone arrives, I will connect it and use it.

But I hope I have learned these lessons well and that I can keep them with me instead of sliding into old bad habits. And maybe you can learn from them too — without the hassle of actually smashing your phone.

It is a huge pain.

If you noticed all of my bicycle references and liked them, you might like this:

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Emily Kingsley

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Big fan of good books, funny looking animals, and great stories. Always ready for the next big thing.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

Emily Kingsley

Written by

Big fan of good books, funny looking animals, and great stories. Always ready for the next big thing.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

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