Living, with and without phones

A week or two ago, my smartphone broke. Unusable. My first reaction was anger and frustration. But as time went on, I got increasingly surprised by the upsides. So consider this my reflection on a brief period without my phone.

First off, I find it pretty bizarre that living without a smartphone for little more than a week is even something worth writing about. That this can actually have an impact on one's life. It is a strange, ultra-recent development that we westeners seem unable to live without a tiny computer with GPS and internet access in our pockets. It grows on all of us like an extra body part. Losing it hurts and feels unnatural. But even fifteen years ago this wasn't the case at all.

Second, it sucks to lose the ability to reliably stay in contact with people. I want to be reachable if people want to contact me. However, not being reachable 24/7 has paradoxically also been a relief. I now tend to check my messages a few times per day on my laptop, and there's nothing to check in the meantime. And that ties in with the biggest upside…

No more distractions! My phone has been a huge source of constant distraction in my life. Toilet? Phone. Friend to the toilet? Phone. Train ride? Phone. Online lecture? Phone. Brushing teeth? Phone. There's no more room for downtime with a phone in your posession. And the things I do are utterly pointless: I check for updates (if there weren't any updates 10 minutes ago, there's probably still none now), I open the news (I don't even want to read the news!), I open Reddit (the default Reddit front page is garbage), I open Wikipedia and close it again (the front page only updates once per day), my mind briefly goes to Facebook until I remember I deleted my account because Facebook is worthless, and then I repeat some or all of the above until I have something better to do, or until the end of time, whichever comes first.

These acts of self-distraction seem small on their own, but they add up to a vague feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness. Not always, but often. And not having the option to whip out my phone at every occasion made me realise how often I feel that urge, and also how pointless it is.

As a more general conclusion, I think that I have grown too dependent on my phone. I don't want a messenger program to be mobile-only or even mobile-first. (Signal does better than WhatsApp in this regard, because it has a desktop app that works independently of the phone app, but both services still require a verified phone number for an account.) I don't want to have to look up directions for every place I visit. I don't want to get all my emails in my pocket. And I'd love to use anything else to listen to music. I don't think I can get rid of my smartphone any time soon. Messages from friends and two-factor authentication have become necessities in my life. So instead, I'd like my phone to do as little as possible. So that it can cause the least amount of distraction.

I'm happy to see that I can live without my phone. Let's see if I can keep it up once it's repaired.

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