What does it mean to be connected? Does it describe the complex wiring of our nervous system? Is it a show of full signal bars on your device? Or is it an obligation?
After completing my “dumb phone” challenge, I will opt for the third option. It has been 57 minutes since I’ve reactivated my phone and I’ve picked at my nails and bitten at my lip in response to the incessant pings of in-phone ACTION NEEDED notifications and its ilk. I feel a fiend in relapse, relearning my old habits of drinking from the deluge of my phone’s endless draws and to-dos.
There is something called “Nomophobia,” which is a form of separation anxiety from not using your phone. “We find ourselves needing our phones to be within an arm’s reach or risk feeling incomplete,” I said in my Trailblazer’s pitch yesterday. I had my dumb phone then, but still I felt a need to have it near, an urge to hold on to connectivity — regardless of how minimal. What if the friends with my temp number needed me, what if I needed to text so-and-so, and, God forbid, what if I needed to look like I was doing something when I really wasn’t? Sitting with friends, coworkers, and family while their faces were buried in blue light, I realized I forgot how to be bored. What does it mean to be quiet and feel awkward? That was a fun wall I hit a couple times this week. It drove me to seek out conversation, whether it be face-to-face or over a phone call. But, this urge isn’t to be confused with the anxious compulsion to check my phone — the feeling that I’m still forgetting something, that there are 100 little fires that need to be put out. The kind of thing that has me riddled with nervous ticks.
Since powering on my smartphone, I have received a variety of paraphrased messages that have questioned, “is everything okay” with the assumption that my radio silence the past 7 days was an indicator of interpersonal distance. “Yes. Everything is okay. I’m sorry.” I found myself apologizing to half of my contact list. Annoyance melted into amusement with the inevitable follow up of, “so, how was it?”
My apps have pinged me and logged me out for inactivity; my Face ID seems to no longer recognize me. (Dramatization.) My apps feel foreign and the influx of backlogged data has caused my phone to briefly overheat to tactile discomfort. My phone feels to have atrophied. It aches to be exercised.
Conversely, being on a dumb phone made me feel slow. It narrowed my horizons and made things manageable. It slowed my pace to be a little more human.
Hilariously, I found that I was annoyed without my phone because of the new bottleneck imposed upon me. I had to use my computer for emails; I had to have a book to read a book; I had to procure a black-and-white newspaper for news. Although I don’t have social media, I’d imagine not having a smartphone would logically reduce in-phone use. Even though the draw to my smartphone lies outside the ballooning cherry-red notifications of a social app, it roped me in by being an integral part of my daily life.
With My Smartphone
7:00 AM: Phone alarm wakes me up. Check notifications and determine which “need” immediate response. If none, proceed to open video-streaming app to watch Chinese-dubbed anime (as I don’t want to get too rusty).
7:30 AM: Morning ablutions with music or business news in the background playing from my phone.
8:00 AM: Make breakfast while news / music is playing.
8:15 AM: Eat while watching a video on my phone.
9:00 AM: Begin to answer emails and other messages on my phone. Check the weather, check my in-phone calendar.
When I am at work, I take my phone to the bathroom. (When I had my dumb phone, I brought a book to the toilet. TMI, sorry.)
7:45 PM: Get home. Keep my phone nearby incase I made plans, want plans, or changed plans. (Shower accordingly.)
8:00 PM: Use my phone as a “connected remote” to watch TV on a third-party television streaming portal.
10:30 PM Assuming I’m home, I nuzzle into bed, have a drink of water, turn off the lights… aaand open my phone to read a novel. (Of course I have my blue light blocking glasses on and turn my phone to “dark mode.”)
11:ish PM: Plug my phone in and power down.
Without My Smartphone
There were times that I got lost without a Maps app. My friends were annoyed, but sympathetic. I had to call them several times when I was headed for food in a neighborhood other than mine. After one friend “shared” the Maps directions, (it showed up as an error on the phone,) I ended up appealing to strangers on the street. They were kind enough not to lead me astray. Interestingly enough, no one asked why I was doing this. “Oh, yeah that makes sense,” was the most common response.
Because I could not rely on my smartphone, I retained more simple pieces information (e.g. today’s date, current time). That’s not to say that my dumb phone didn’t provide those things (it wasn’t that dumb), but I suppose because I relied less on my phone, I relied more on my own faculties. That being said, little productivity tools were sorely missed. I was unable to look up words in English / Chinese. I was forced to write them down on a piece of paper and look them up on my computer at a later date (at a later date!). The lack of instantaneousness, perhaps, fosters a better attitude in other aspects of our lives, like tolerance and patience. Or, maybe, I’m just retroactively justifying my experience with inconvenience. Other good parts of a dumb phone were how I never had to charge it (maybe 3 times during the 7 day stint). I dropped it a million times (still worked + no cracks); the flipping aspect was a fun throwback.
Without my smartphone, I wasn’t able to log my daily food intake into my Notes app. I take digital notes on things ranging from my daily diet to my stream of consciousness, all the way to an assortment of varying account information. So my piece of paper evolved into a physical notepad with a pen to boot. This stayed with me everywhere I went. Mornings comprised of a guessing game via my cracked window of what the weather was going to be. Thanks to New York weather, I was often too cold or sweaty. Without my smartphone, I gave into a sense of futility that there were certain things that I just could not do (call a ride-sharing service; contact certain people; check weather, news, email, Slack, Whatsapp, WeChat, iMessage, even Voicemail). Conveniently, my laptop would not connect to my apartment’s WiFi, buttressing my screen detox.
After surmounting the hump of smartphone withdrawal, there were times that I felt more passive than I usually would, perhaps a byproduct of capitulating to the futility of dumb phone resistance. Typically, I like to bounce around if I have multiple commitments in an evening. I would plan my route on the fly. Because this wasn’t an option, I just let myself be a passenger of my friends’ plans. Albeit less stressful, it was frustratingly out of character. Speaking of, my texts were reduced to one-to-two-word answers. I felt bad, honestly, because I didn’t want to come off as laconic or indifferent, but the friction of T9 typing just outweighed my usual push to thumb emphatic responses.
Being less emotionally invested in my phone, I was more attentive to my surroundings. Maybe this was due to my head not periodically dipping into a bowed state. Without my attention constantly being fragmented, I felt I could finally stop and smell the roses.
I just couldn’t Tweet about them.