My Week Without a Phone
Transitioning to my new job, I was left without a phone for a week. I know I was addicted to my phone, but I quickly realized it was worst than I thought!
A Deloitte’s study recently found that the average person looks at her phone 46 times every day, meaning that Americans collectively check their smartphones 8 billion times per day!
I use my phone a lot to be productive and keep up with the outside world (news, friends, continuous learning), so I thought it was for the best.
I now recognize a lot of downsides come with being constantly connected and “available”.
Here’s what I’ve learned during my week without a phone.
Finally getting back to single tasking
Multi-tasking is a very attractive concept: get more done in less time by working on multiple projects at a time.
A survey by TiVo found out 99% of us multitask when watching TV, and another survey by Common Sense Media found that Millennial teens believe they are the masters of multitasking.
Half of the teens surveyed reported watching TV, sending text messages, or consuming other forms of media while doing homework. Most teens listen to music while doing their work, but many also watch TV (51%), use social media (50%) and text (60%). Nearly two-thirds of them reported they don’t think watching TV or texting while doing homework makes any difference to their ability to study and learn.
But other researches have proven multitasking does have a negative impact on performance, and can increase study time while lowering grades. A study at the University Of London showed that subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive assignments experienced significant IQ drops.
People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves.
-Earl Miller, neuroscientist
Here are two great examples illustrating how not having a phone helped me with single tasking:
Watching a movie
With a phone: If the movie gets slow, I instantly go through my phone to fill the void. I end up checking stuff with no added value… My FOMO is that bad.
Without a phone: I watched one movie a day and still managed to sleep early because I wasn’t distracted by notifications or texts.
With a phone: I read on my phone, which gives me more opportunities to read, when I’m on my bed, using the restroom or in the sauna. The downside is that it’s harder to read for a big chunk of time because I get interrupted by notifications. I do turn on the airplane mode when I really want to focus on reading.
Without a phone: I read less frequently throughout the day, but I spent more time reading at night or early in the morning before working on my day job. Using my laptop instead, I managed to read more pages in less time because I wasn’t interrupted.
Isolation and loneliness
One of the biggest fears that comes with not having a phone is isolation.
Most of us keep in touch with family and friends using our phones, could it be via text, phone calls, or using apps like Skype, Facebook, or WhatsApp.
Thanks to those applications, the world is becoming smaller, and living away from our loved ones has become more manageable.
The downside is that we spend less time face to face. We don’t even feel the need to talk to our friends because it’s easy to “keep up” with them by scrolling through our Facebook feed. We’ve all experienced running into an old acquaintance from high school only to realize they know all about your life! Isn’t it scary?
You depend so much on technology that when you don’t have access to it, you feel like a void just formed around you.
People live their life without you, without trying to reach out, because you’re not online.
Fortunately for me, I had access to internet at work and managed to keep in touch with the people I needed to.
I talked to my girlfriend every day that way. I even talked to my family who’s on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. But if I didn’t have access to internet for seven days? Would my family have worried? Would I have been isolated for my social life? Probably. I don’t think a lot of people would have tried harder than sending a Facebook message.
It’s harder to make plans
On top of feeling isolated, it made it harder to make plans.
As kids, I remember my friends could come by my house without warnings, ring the bell, ask my parents if I was there. We would go out to play soccer or ride our bikes for hours during the weekends and school holidays. The closest thing to “making plans” came down to saying “I’ll by your house at 2pm tomorrow” or “let’s all meet by the square at 1pm to play soccer!”. That was it.
What do kids do these days? Plan “dates”? Text each other, or send each other DMs on Instagram? I’ve seen 11-year old girls with Instagram accounts, and sorry for playing it old school on this one, but it scares me when I see all those sexual related content they could stumble upon.
Technology has also changed adults when it comes to making plans. We tend to be last minute, and wait to see if something better comes up to decide if we’re going somewhere or not.
Raise your hand behind your screen if you wait until a significant amount of people replied to a Facebook Event invite to decide if you are “Going” or not. Yes, you end up picking “Maybe” 87% of the time.
Last October, I created a Facebook Event for my birthday. Barely anyone replied “Going”, a few replied “Maybe”. It looked like only ten of my friends will show up. Five of them where at my place on time, but two hours later I had thirty people at my place! It turned out to be a great night, but that tells you how technology, and choices, and our FOMO has changed us.
Without a phone, I had to make plans in advance and stick to it. I had to tell my girlfriend where I would be, and when, hours in advance. This was a big change as I usually let her know when I’ll be somewhere down to the second by sharing my ETA using Waze.
So how do you do without a phone? You have to keep simple. You have to actually be there on time. You have to trust the other person. You have to be tolerant and go with the flow. Eventually, you realize it’s not that hard when you’re surrounded by true friends you can rely on.
Stop relying on your GPS and other technologies!
Atlanta ‘s road system is one of the worst in the country for so many reasons:
- Notorious traffic
- Poor public transportation
- Confusing highways
Not using my phone as a GPS was the hardest thing to deal with during that week!
My girlfriend who’s Atlanta native was making fun of me. She’s so used to these roads she can go almost anywhere in the Greater Atlanta Area by heart.
To go to work for the first day at my new job, I had to “Google Map” it from my computer the day before. This wasn’t the biggest challenge because I know the area a bit.
On the other hand, when my girlfriend asked me to come over the day after, I completely freaked out!
I was at work, trying to go there straight from the office. I looked at the directions from my computer but it was still confusing to me because I don’t know that area very well. My dependence on technology led me to upset my loved one for a bit…
Since then, I’ve been paying more attention to my surroundings. I’ve done a better job going places without relying on my phone.
There’s no doubt technology can become toxic. Anything used in excess can have negative repercussions.
I was recently listening to David Kadavy’s podcast with Hooked author Nir Eyal, two experts on technology and addiction.
At some point, one of them made the analogy between technology and smoking. First, people didn’t know about the side effects, it was cool being a smoker. Nowadays, everybody knows smoking can lead to cancer and other awful diseases. The number of smokers has massively decreased, but there’s still a lot of them out there.
When it comes to technology, we are only in the early stages of discovering the negative impact of technology. Some of us are trying to manage that addiction as best as we can by using a news feed blocker or other tools limiting our access to popular websites or social networks.
A few of us go further by investing in devices like Pavlok that can send mild electroshocks to break bad habits like compulsive online browsing.
Wherever you are on the spectrum of technology addiction, it’s time to learn where you stand. Focus on doing something meaningful everyday.
How do you go from being passive to being proactive? How do you move towards your life goal by moving the needle a little bit everyday?
Part of my answer is to try to avoid browsing certain site/apps, and limit technology early in the morning and late at night.
It’s easy to get lost in the infinite amount of web content.
PS: I checked my phone at least 50 times during the writing of this article. Old habits die hard.