A few months ago my iPhone 5s literally disappeared. Somewhere on the flight from Hongkong to Zurich. I almost fell apart. I was shocked. I was desperate. I terrorized the whole airport to bring me back my phone. All in vain. It was gone. Thats it. I felt like I have lost something very precious, private, important. A part of mine. I felt insulted that someone might now have access to all my data, pictures, everything. But wait: the interested one had access before anyway, all data being in some clouds, apps, online. Never mind.
OK, a new phone. iPhone 6, the smaller version, most likely. Then something happened: I suddenly realized how weird my reaction was, how absurd my feelings on the loss of a THING. It is just a phone! And I feel like my life kind of depends on having that THING at hand. Like I am connected only when online. Like I am missing life when not available always and everywhere. It suddenly came to my mind that I might miss life, WHEN available always and everywhere. I decided for an experiment and bought a good old Nokia phone – very very poor Internet, no e-mail, no touch-screen – for 60€ (highly overpriced) and that is what happened:
– Texting: I relearned how to text messages in need to press a button 4 times to type an „s“. Since my text messages are rather short.. like: „Yes“ „No“ „Ok“ „Later“… but actually good enough. I might appear somewhat unfriendly, but no loss of friends so far.
– E-mails: I am now checking my e-mails at my Notebook!! I am sitting focused in front of a big screen and actually don’t only read them on an iPhone, to forget about them and never answer to some, but work through them. I write proper answers with hardly any spelling mistakes. Sometimes it takes a couple of hours or even half a day until I read and answer my e-Mails. People know that they need to text or call me in case of emergency, as I do not answer on mails instantly.
– Discipline: I don’t need to discipline myself anymore not to check on my phone while being with people, clients, in the car, on the street or just strolling around. Phone calls are rare in comparison with other communication channels. There is just a black, rather unattractive device, nothing happening there, no need to look at it.
– Reactions: At sight of my phone people are a little irritated: Being a consultant, being on the road most of my time, the prototype of a modern vagabound with that black brick? The most usual reaction, when I explain to them how it works and how I enjoy the benefits and how free I feel: „well, great for you, I could not afford not to have a Smartphone..“ Sometimes I think: Maybe I cannot afford to have a smartphone, as my job depends on being in the present, feeling what happens around me and really being with my clients without any distractions.
– Taking pictures: With my iPhone my camera disappeared. I spent 4 weeks in Italy and felt that compulsion to take a photo at every corner. It took some time to get rid of that feeling and suddenly I enjoyed the beauty of the landscape without the fear of missing something, because I could not freeze it on a picture on my iPhone. (I still took some pictures with my husbands phone tough).
– Calendar: have my calendar and appointments in my head more or less. When someone asks, whether we can meet Monday in two weeks I am able to say: yes, it is the 29th, isn’t it, I am available until 12:00. Otherwise I friendly ask them to send me an e-mail with their availabilities and I will get back to them. People accept without hesitation.
– Facebook: no need to check FB all the time. You don’t miss anything. The river never stops floating.
– Mobile internet: This is the tough thing. I have to plan things a little ahead, to find the way, an address. And great: I don’t feel like I constantly have to look up things in the internet or read newspaper. When I ride the tramway I again look around myself and realize what is happening around my. Obviously I am the only one, as most people are staring at some small shining device. When it is dark you see a lot of green and blue faces.
– Lists: I write shopping lists on PAPER!! Or I just practice to remember up to 7 items by heart. I anyway don’t like lists.
– Apps: of course no app. I don’t have my daily number of steps counted, I am excluded from renting carsharing, as they start to abolish member cards and replace it with an app: no smartphone – no car. No whatsapp, no twitter, no nothing. Full silence on that phone. Nothing to expect from there.
– Charging: While iPhones are real energy suckers in need of power every 10-12 hours, I charge my phone once a week now. What a relief. I don’t feel like I am carrying a Tamagotchi around any more.
I could go on for hours. It is incredible in how many ways smartphones have been allowed to intrude, impact and influence my life, the way I communicate, the way how and what amounts and kind of information I consume and produce. I now realize what happens around me and I am bewildered by what I observe, just because I can not distract and entertain myself by looking at the phone at every possible moment. Everywhere people staring a these phones, this is scary.
Maybe one day I will have a smartphone again, but it is a really great experience to live without and to see how much you depend on it without depending on it at all: I have still my friends, my clients, never forgot a meeting, have not starved, nothing. I exchanged a little comfort for a great amount of autonomy, awareness and independence. Seems like I got back a share of life and feel more connected to the world than ever.