We had two weeks left to go on our near-four month trip around South East Asia. The decision was made to spend the remainder of our time lazing about one of the lesser developed Thai islands. An island where one of our good friends spent the last five winters building himself a house.
It was not a tough decision for us to make.
As our faithful, long-tailed passenger ferry dug it’s chin into the beach on the island, the ladder was flipped down to the water’s surface for us to disembark upon. Bags were being unloaded, friends were waving from the beach, shoes were being thrown from the boat, the captain was at the back revving the engine impatiently.
By the time it was finally my turn to unload, the boat had drifted out a fair bit due to the action happening all around. Down the ladder I absentmindedly went, expecting a wet pair of shins. But in I went, up to my chest.
And so would end the relatively long life of my eighteen month-old iPhone 4S that lived in my pocket.
And so would start my two week addiction rehabilitation program.
Luckily, I guess, I had brought my laptop along with me on the trip. Though it certainly would have been a pretty interesting experiment in the end had I not. In any case, I wasn’t to be completely cutoff from the world.
We were however at our friend’s house, and the only form of internet available to me at this point was teathering to his phone, instead of my own. Possibly a good thing as it kept me in check, knowing every bit of data I pushed or pulled across the network was costing him money. I tried as best I could to keep my internet usage short, and to once a day at most, unless two were necessary for some real reason.
I realize that this may not sound all that severe to some. After all, I did have some form of the internet and a laptop! It really does sound ridiculous, I know. But I also know that most people who read this would have a very tough time doing what I had to do. Go on – try to leave your phone in a drawer for even two days without looking at it. Let alone two weeks. I dare you.
Almost everything I use my phone for can also be done with my laptop. But it is all slightly different. In a way, I had to re-learn the old way of doing many things. It was like going back to the dark days of 2010.
In case you are interested, here is a roughly prioritized list of all the things I use my phone for on a regular basis. Many of them daily. Or even hourly. I’m sure there is nothing earth-shattering in there to most readers, skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t care: receiving and sending email through four different accounts, chatting regularly on Google Hangouts about a project a group of us are working on, managing our airbnb account, looking at stocks and investments, looking after this blog, taking photos and posting some on Instagram, listening to music, using WhatsApp, playing games, reading books, browsing Facebook and Twitter, googling things, and doing online banking.
At home, there is obviously texting as well, and perhaps three phone calls a week, but by this point in the trip that was a distant memory.
Again, I can do all these things on my laptop too. The one exception is posting photos to Instagram since they don’t have a web interface. At least not the last time I checked. Note that posting a photo anywhere on the internet is quite annoying when living like it was the year 2010: it involves using my old crappy camera, then transferring the image on a memory card to my laptop. But then I can’t conveniently use any of those filters on Instagram, forcing you to have to look at what it actually looked like in real life. Oh, and I guess there is the odd WhatsApp message too. I doubt there is a web interface for that, but I didn’t look.
In any case, what did I continue to use, having to go the old way? I kept an eye on my email accounts, though it took a while to figure out the web interface for one of them, I managed airbnb, I kept an eye on Google Hangouts, and I peaked at Facebook once or twice throughout rehab. I think that was about it.
Convenience Breeds Obsession
There is no doubt in my mind that it was a great exercise for me. I actually believe the universe spoke that fateful day on the ferry: my high level of phone usage is something I often ponder, and the universe forced my hand.
To be quite honest, not having a phone throughout the rehab program was never much of a huge ‘load off’, like I thought I might get out of it. It was more annoying than anything else, and continues to be even now, albeit, a lot less than initially. Things change in life, especially in this day and age, and we get really used to the results of each change that happens. It can be hard to go back to the way things were before a change, especially if that change is one that added convenience to your life.
I bet you weren’t expecting to hear that from the Noble Anarchist. And please don’t take that as me saying all change is good! That is not at all the case.
That said, just because something is convenient, does not make it okay to do it obsessively. Nor does it make it okay to do it when it is not appropriate. That I believe is the big problem with these pocket devices of today.
I recently read that we check our email nineteen times a day. Nineteen times. Zowie. But then I did the math: sixteen waking hours a day, so once per hour, plus another three for good measure… Yup. That doesn’t sound too, too crazy for many.
Except it is crazy!
How often does something come in that is so important it needs to be dealt with that very hour, in the middle of you sitting and enjoying a pint with your friends. Perhaps never? People don’t realize how disruptive emails are. Receiving one that needs dealing with at some point in the future is almost guaranteed to take you out of the enjoyable moment you might have been in the middle of.
I would often check my email at less appropriate times so I could verify what I hoped was true: that nothing new has come in for me to worry about. But then often times that wasn’t the case, ruining the moment I was in. No news is good news, as the saying goes.
I now realize the absurdity of that behavior. It is way better to learn how to be comfortable with not knowing whether or not there is email waiting for you, and then checking it at an appropriate time later on, when you can actually deal with it if need be.
The Phone as a Cloaking Device
Another bad habit I am really not a fan of, but of course am as guilty of as anyone is at times, is using my phone as a way to avoid interacting with people I don’t know.
Get into an elevator with a stranger, and immediately pull the phone out and look at the headlines so I don’t have to acknowledge their existence. Get on the bus and quickly find something to stare at so my eyes don’t meet someone else’s. Walk to work with my headphones on to ensure I don’t get asked for change by anyone.
I really don’t think these sorts of actions help our society in any way at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Keeping the Habit Curbed
Moving forward, my phone usage is going to stay curbed by a few changes. First, I now need to get a new phone. Signing a big, expensive contract for the latest iThing would strongly go against the principles of this blog. So I will have a go at using the Windows Phone I got for free that I have sitting in a drawer at home. Cross your fingers for me. It isn’t nearly as fancy as the iPhone was, so I’m hoping I won’t want to play with it so often.
Second, I am bent on keeping my phone bill well below the seventy five dollars per month I was paying before. So I recently moved to a forty dollar a month plan at a better company that restricts my data usage to only 200MBs per month. That should help out.
And lastly, I will be making an honest effort at keeping my obsessive email checking down to a minimum, and to times when I can be effective and actually respond to things. Three times a day sounds like a nice number to shoot for.
How do you think you do with your phone? Are you happy with your habits? Do you feel they are appropriate? Do you obsess over it? Do you see the typical phone habits of people adding up to a negative impact on society as a whole?