I’m Alive, I Promise!

Hello wonderful people! The past few weeks have gone by in a blur, with hardly any time to send you updates about my Not-So-
Smartphone challenge. I didn’t mean to abandon you!

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For almost all of July, I have been teaching a condensed summer course. The class met for 5 hours per day, 5 days per week, for 3 weeks. During the day, I would spend all my time teaching and getting ready to teach. When I finished teaching at 4, I would go home, eat dinner, then get right back to work planning the next day’s lecture and teaching material. I’d fall into bed around 1:00 in the morning, wake up at 6:00, and do it all over again. After the first week, I was exhausted. And the thought of having to do it for another 2 weeks?!?! Well, I was not a happy camper.

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But, luckily, the 3 weeks passed quickly. How could they not when you’re working 15 hour days? The weekends were also busy. Between an out-of-town family wedding and a multi-day volunteering event, even my Saturdays and Sundays were full. July 27 was my first ‘free day’ this month, and I pretty much slept all day.

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Yea yea yea, quit your blabbering and tell us about the challenge, already!!

Okay okay! Keep your pants on! As you know, this month’s challenge was to go without my smartphone, which gave me constant and immediate access to a whole host of addictive and distracting information. The challenge was given to me by my friend Chelsea, who wanted me to look at my habit of being constantly “connected” through my phone. I put “connected” in quotes because the connections I practiced were virtual, not actual. My phone was always within reaching distance, so that I could Google, Facebook, text, Shazam, Tumblr, and surf at any given moment. For July, I had to give all that up. I turned off my iPhone’s cellular data, disabled the wifi, and disabled text messages. Like the other challenges, the first few days were easy. Things didn’t start getting difficult until about 2 weeks in, when I desperately wanted to text instead of call and ran into a few situations where it would have been supremely easier to Google on the fly. Unfortunately, I ended up cheating twice, and both times were when I did not have access to a computer and I needed to call people who’s phone numbers were emailed to me. And as much as these cheats may be justifiable, I still felt guilty about it.

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So here it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly from July’s Not-So-Smartphone challenge. 

THE GOOD

By far, the positive lessons and habits from this challenge outweigh the negative ones. One of the most liberating parts of the challenge is stopping the “zombie phone.” By this I am referring to the mindless phone usage that occurs before I go to bed and again after I wake up. This kind of screen time was ridiculous. I would stay awake for an extra 40 minutes at night before putting my phone down to go to sleep. Then I’d spend another 40 minutes lying in bed the following morning after I woke up. I rarely did anything useful, most of the time I was just zoning out. Since starting the challenge, I have loved giving up the “zombie phone.” Before bed, I’ll read a book for a few minutes before turning out the light. And a few minutes is all I can manage because I get sleepy more quickly. Browsing your phone doesn’t have this same drowsy-ing effect because the blue light from the screen simulates daytime! You’re actually keeping yourself AWAKE by browsing before bed. So since the challenge started, I am delighted that I am falling asleep more quickly and ALSO waking up more quickly. I sleep better during the night and feel more rested in the morning, even when I only get 5-6 hours of sleep. I also take less time in the morning to get ready because I’m not wasting precious minutes on mindless screen time. Having more time to sleep was also a perk of the No Make-up Challenge. So, apparently…

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Another positive side-effect is that I interact differently with my environment without a phone. While standing in line, waiting for a coffee order, or eating alone in public, I would normally be on my phone, filling every single second with some kind of activity. But for July, I’ve been content to just ‘be’ in that space without using my phone as a buffer. At first I was uncomfortable with this. I wanted to be distracted. I didn’t want to be bored. I didn’t want to look weird. But eventually I accepted that I didn’t have to be bored in these moments – I could immerse myself in thought or spend the time observing my environment. This invariably led to scrupulous people watching, through which I noticed that I was  usually the only person who wasn’t looking at their phone. These days, everyone is so immersed in their devices, even when they’re together. This month, I have enjoyed the time I spent just existing somewhere, without the compulsion to reach for my phone for comfort and distraction from the “real world.” Why do we want to be distracted from the real world anyway?? When you really take in all the details of your surroundings – from the colors to the textures, from the sounds to the sights, from the pace of the people to the rhythm of your own breath – you realize there’s plenty to keep you happy, occupied, and phone-free.

Finally, just as Chelsea intended, I tempered my constant need for immediate information. After about a week, I lost the urge to compulsively depend on information. Instead of Googling anything that crossed my mind, I just thought about it or asked other people. I always got answers for what I really wanted to know, eventually. Instead of looking things up on my Maps app at the slightest inkling that there would be traffic or that I might be a little lost, I just went with it. I always got where I needed to go, eventually. Instead of wondering what people were up to and instantly checking Facebook, I just called people or waited until I was at a computer to check Facebook. I always connected to the people I wanted to connect with, eventually. What I’ve learned is that, in terms of information, I will get what I need eventually. And in the mean time, I have become much more patient about that process.

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THE BAD

I miss texting!! I don’t miss texting instead of calling, especially if I have more than just a quick message. I definitely don’t miss text conversations. These days, I’d rather have a spoken conversation than a text conversation. I miss texting the most basic, mundane things to people. To tell them I’m on my way or ask if they found a parking spot. I miss exchanging little bits of information through text. The problem with exchanging these little bits of information is that they can easily become whole conversations if you’re not paying attention. But for a quick, “Be there in 5,” texting is so much easier! After July, I do think I’ll text less. If I find myself having a text-based conversation, I will just call the person. However, I am looking forward to being able to text basic bits of information when appropriate.

I also miss accessing music. During July, I’ve been using my old iPod for music rather than streaming Spotify on my phone. The cool part is that I’ve reconnected with old songs and artists that I’d all but forgotten about. But one of my hobbies is discovering new bands and artists that I’ve never heard before. Without my phone to stream music, I haven’t been able to practice that hobby as much. I never knew how much I took that access to music for granted, but now that I’ve gone without it I definitely appreciate it more.

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I have also had a bitter-sweet connection to Facebook during this month. On one hand, I am happy to have put some distance between my normal life and ‘the Book’. Sometimes I find Facebook to be so pointless and tiresome, so I was happy to have limited access to it for a while. On the other hand, I also thoroughly enjoy finding interesting articles that my friends post. Also, many of my friends and family communicate with me through Facebook, either by writing on my timeline or sending me messages. Feeling like I was disconnected from or had delayed access to that communication was a bummer. All in all, I think I’m walking away from the Not-So-Smartphone challenge with a resolution to use Facebook purely as a way to communicate and share with people I care about, and stop using it as a way to kill time or seek ‘likes’ (which is really just a 21st century form of narcissism).

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THE UGLY

I have had to accept the fact that I just suck at voicemail. I sucked at voicemail before smartphones were even invented, and I still suck at it. Here’s a guarantee: if you leave me a voicemail, it will take me at least 2 days to check it and another 4 days to call you back. I don’t know why I am so bad at voicemail! I think its probably a combination of laziness and flawed cognitive reasoning. It’s as if I think that anything super important will translate into multiple phone calls, so why check a silly voicemail? Remember, I said flawed cognitive reasoningI know it irks my friends and family, especially when they tried to contact me by phone during July. I did try to be better at voicemail this month, but it was a pathetic attempt.

Finally, I didn’t realize how much I use my phone when I’m…um…in the bathroom. My phone was my companion for those minutes spent doing my business, and without it I found myself reading shampoo bottles, tampon boxes, just about anything to pass the time. Suddenly those pre-smartphone toilet-side books made a lot more sense to me. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this new-found information, but at least I acknowledge that I need some form of distraction during those “special moments.”

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So, after almost a month without a smartphone, here are the changes I’d like to make to my phone use habits:

  • Don’t start back up with the zombie phone. Let my phone charge away from my bed so that I’m not tempted to browse, but close enough to use it as an alarm to wake up in the morning. Don’t zombie phone in the morning, either. Instead, fall asleep and wake up with a book.
  • Avoid using my phone as an escape or distraction. Instead, consciously try to exist without a phone. Use it when necessary, but not as a buffer between myself and the world around me.
  • Be patient when it comes to accessing information. Don’t reach for the phone whenever it’s convenient. Sit with the desire for information for a little while before resorting to my phone for gratification.
  • Text when it is most convenient, but not as a way of replacing spoken conversations
  •  Access music and Facebook consciously and with purpose
  • Try keeping my phone in my purse or in another room while at home. I don’t need to have it out all the time.

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Thank you so much for reading through this (admittedly long) post! I promise never to abandon you like that again! This month’s challenge has been so great, and I’m sorry I didn’t share it with you until now.

But stay tuned, because August’s challenge is coming up, and you won’t want to miss it.

Next month, we’ll all be feeling a little out of control!

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