What I learned from being phone-less for 72 hours
I had the (mis)fortune of losing my phone last Friday night. It involved a birthday party at 1 OAK, a slice of Artichoke pizza, a 4am cab ride, and crying on a wet Union Square sidewalk.
For the next several hours, I was a mess of delusion, suffering, and withdrawal. If you ask anyone who interacted with me on Saturday — I was a bonafide crazy person. Things got particularly dark around Hour 14.
I felt actual muscle twitches throughout the weekend; in the 10 blocks between Union Square and Washington Square Park, I subconsciously reached for my pockets three times, checking for a phantom I knew wasn’t there. Those little ticks reminded me of my phone’s absence — glancing over to my left nightstand charger when I first woke up, rummaging through my purse during dinner, etc.
It’s creepy how a small 4.8 inch device has such control over me.
I spent the weekend dipping in between the blissful ignorance of not answering any texts to the frantic panic of running home to check my inbox. As much as I pride myself on my “IRL,” those 72 hours made me realize digital Kim is deeply entrenched in that.
This is what I learned from those short, but strangely impactful hours.
Disclaimer: I understand that this is a problem that probably only affects ~10% of the population. I just wanted to jot down my learnings, and was encouraged by others in similar mindsets to share — even if in a snarky way 😉
Fear of delayed gratification is the new FOMO.
The feel of the instant and the immediate is addicting. I wasn’t so much fearful of missing out on what my friends were up to, but that I wasn’t interacting and keeping up with them fast enough.
The anxiety from delays in text messages, emails, and Foursquare check-ins actually felt real. (UghhowGenYofme.)
Interestingly enough, when I did have the chance to hop on my laptop or iPad after < 2 hours of “offline time,” the notices were fewer in number than expected — 5 Facebook notifications, 8 emails (3 of which were promotional, 2 of which were low priority), 2 Facebook messages, and 2 Snapchats.
Hardly anything that couldn’t wait a couple hours.
My cell phone is the root of some of my worst social behavior.
This combination of digital narcissism and neediness fostered some pretty bad social behavior. Small habits snaked their way into my life; my cell phone their enabler.
I noticed this past weekend (mostly through my own itchings to do so) that the cell phone is the cause of a lot of awful treatment to other human beings — half-listening during conversations with close friends, feeling the incessant impulse to check into every venue entered, turning up earbuds’ volume when a nearby homeless man’s pleas get too uncomfortable, interrupting dinnertime with obnoxious notification vibrates, and the cursed ‘gramming of every dish brought to the table.
For 72 hours, every single one of those bad habits halted. It forced me to be more present than ever — which initially felt like a burden to bear.
Which leads me to my next point…
To be present is to be selfless.
I was no longer distracted by the many things that my phone had become for me — a portable inbox, a communication platform, a media player, a camera, a subway time-waster.
Those first several walks around the city were jarring, without earbuds in my ears or emails scrolling through my eyes. I was much more aware (and dare I say, considerate) of what was going on around me — from the patter of dog paws to the rush of speeding bicyclists down 5th Ave to the sight of little children playing in the snowfall. For once, I couldn’t pull out my phone to document these moments — which meant I could genuinely just experience them in their entirety.
The absence of a phone also forced me to adopt some less selfish behaviors. I was always on time, if not early, to meetings — I could no longer use the crutch that is the “super sorry, running 5 minutes behind!” email. I was more focused on the tasks, conversations, and people at hand, as there wasn’t a blinking notification light to consume my attention. I also engaged with ~25% more strangers, mostly to ask for the time or out of boredom while waiting for the damn F train.
As small as these actions may seem, they were an adjustment (for the better!) of my daily mode of operation. More of “IRL” Kim was present, instead of bits and pieces of my attention spread out across multiple online and offline realities.
Yeah, it was only 3 days, and yeah, a lot of these problems are of the first-world nature. But I learned a lot about my unhealthy habits built around mobile communication, consumption, and connectivity.
To combat some of those bad behaviors, I’m setting new rules for myself.
- No more emails / “work stuff” after 10pm. Unless it’s urgent, there is little difference between 11pm and 8am. Emailing after midnight creates the expectation that it is okay for someone to contact you at this time and (implicitly) ask for a reply.
- No cell phone on the table. Whether I’m at work, a coffee shop meeting, or dinner, I shouldn’t have my cell phone laying next to me on the table. It is rude and incredibly distracting once a notification starts blinking, and could be misread as a signal that you don’t appreciate someone’s company.
- “Music-less Monday.” Once a week, I will go one day without having my earbuds in while commuting. I don’t think I notice the small, beautiful things about NYC street life, especially when I’m drowning it out (albeit with good jams).
- No “checking my phone because my friend just took out their phone.” It’s the yawn of our generation, and only further condones this sort of bad social behavior. I will continue to stay present, even if my peers don’t necessarily prioritize that.
While definitely not sustainable, those 72 hours without a phone were incredibly refreshing. A lot of my life’s “noise” was filtered out, both literally and figuratively.
For those 72 hours, I focused my time and energy on the people and the world around me. My existence was enriched by their company, not by the absence of it.
It felt good.
This article is the latest in PRSUIT’s weekly female perspective series