Hi, my name is Elise, and you could say I am a woman of many vices. That is to say, a wide range of innocuous and illicit methods help me cope with life when it gets stressful. In the past few years, binge drinking, winter swims and reading in the bath have all been replaced by a far more obtrusive habit: scrolling on my phone.
Sometimes it feels like the internet snuck up on me. When I was first introduced to the world wide web on our home PC, it was only so I could look up Gwen Stefani lyrics, and only if no one wanted to use the landline. By the time I graduated with my first diploma, the Internet was in my hand every waking hour. I'd scroll social media first thing in the morning, send texts during lectures and check emails while crossing the street (despite my mother's best efforts to make me a safety-conscious pedestrian). I spent almost every night tumbling down a YouTube click-hole while hating myself for not being asleep. What was going on?
I'm not here to criticize folks for whom the Internet has provided the opportunity to thrive and grow. I also know several users who have healthy relationships with the Internet and with their smartphones, and I admire that. All I know is that it was starting to get out of control for me.
Smartphones make life easier in so many ways. You can look up a pizza place and order pizza. You can look up directions (no offense to Tolkien, but there are people who wander primarily because they are lost). You can watch a gamut of documentaries about children born with terrible diseases and how they overcome their struggles. Since I'm in a long-distance relationship, my phone also gives me the chance to whisper sweet nothings to a hunk of metal every night before I go to bed. At least the phone doesn't complain when I steal all the blankets.
Smartphones also make life harder. The downsides of having a smartphone are more subtle: you don't really notice until you realize you haven't read a book in months, you can't sit still and relax without feeling the urge to scroll and you start feeling that infamous ghost buzz in your pocket when your phone isn't even in your pocket. Worst of all is trying to study when you're getting emails or Snapchat notifications; by the time midterms roll around, my attention span is dwindling by the day. I see it as equivalent to having a homemade chocolate brownie sitting in front of you when you're trying your best to eat well. I mean sure, it's possible to resist, but why put yourself through that?
Balancing these benefits and blockages, I finally decided to take the leap and bought a flip or "feature" phone (affectionately known as my "dumb" phone). It has no apps, no email function and has a telephone keypad. I can send texts and make phone calls. I can use my laptop to get on the Internet, but stowing it away feels far more definitive than pressing the sleep button on my smartphone. Also, it's mighty awkward to use a laptop on a bus or in the bar with my friends.
For the first week after activating my dumb phone, I sat with a lot of uncomfortable urges to check my email or Messenger. I'd sit in a boring lecture and feel a compulsive need to check my phone, only to realize that I hadn't received any texts or calls. My smartphone led me to believe my social life was far more active than it actually was: in reality, no one apart from my girlfriend and mother really go out of their way to try to get in touch with me, so tapping into my virtual social life could wait until I got home.
More results of divorcing my smartphone: I read some books this month. I did more journaling than I usually do. I sat on the city bus every morning and stared out the window instead of into a screen. When I was the first of a group to arrive somewhere, I just sat and waited. Studying was as simple as putting my laptop away and sitting with my notes and my jug-sized mug of coffee (a vice I will never divorce). Cramming for finals and writing papers was infinitely easier without the lure of YouTube documentaries. I had presumed it would help a little, but the actual increase in hours I spent studying without interruption was remarkable.
The other day, I asked my girlfriend if she thought our relationship was hindered by my lack of smartphone. She said it didn't, other than the fact that it felt as if she was dating a 60-year-old granny. That's what I call a successful operation!
Overall, divorcing my smartphone improved the general quality of my time spent alone and with my friends; it also hasn't made me feel like I'm missing out. When I'm away for a day or two, the thought of going on the Internet doesn't really cross my mind. When I leave my phone at home, I don't get the same separation anxiety I used to get with my smartphone. I feel more free. I feel like a strong, independent woman who don't need no phone. Except that, like most humans in the 21st century, I occasionally need pizza, cabs and motivational texts from my mom. I think having a dumb phone is a very functional compromise for me.
Ditching your smartphone may not be the right choice for you. There are countless reasons why business owners, parents and people who need to regularly FaceTime their dogs may need to hold on to their smart device. Parting ways with my phone felt conducive to my goals, since my main goal was to spend more time reading, writing, and studying without distractions. I'm sure that, for many, smartphones are conducive to having easier access to support, the news and helpful apps. All the same, I think these are questions worth asking: is your smartphone holding you back? Could making changes in the new year make the life you want to lead more accessible?
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