The Case Against Constantly Bright Hands

I tweeted that sentiment a few weeks ago and have been thinking a lot about how smartphones have been changing our lives—mostly for the better, but that’s not always the case.

Naturally, I believe the current wave of mobile technologies represents a massive sea change in the way we do everything. I would only argue that it might not be the smartphone itself but the always-on and accessible connectivity that accompanies it that is making the real impact. The recent tragic events of Hurricane Sandy have shown just how important that connectivity is.

Today, it’s the smartphone, but tomorrow, that same connectivity is likely to be found elsewhere instead—in places such as your car, your clothes, and your general surroundings. In the meantime we spend a good portion of our time staring into glowing rectangles. Probably too much time.

So a few days ago, I turned off my iPhone. I don’t plan to turn it back on for another 30 days. For a techie, this is akin to ceasing to breathe for an entire month. It’s an experiment, and these are the main reasons I’m conducting it:

The Distractions

While the modern smartphone certainly makes life easier, it also adds many distractions. From the beeps to the tweets to the constant flow of e-mails, it’s becoming increasingly harder to focus on any one thing. Simply put, smartphones create a lot of noise. I actually use very limited notifications on my phone; however even then, the phone’s just too noisy. Right now, I need an extra focus on my business, so I just can’t afford anything that might interrupt that.

My Health

Does your neck hurt more these days? It probably does since you can’t stop looking down at your damn phone. Ask any health professional, and he or she will tell you just how bad that posture is for your body. I have to say that after only a few days without my phone, my body already feels much better. My neck doesn’t hurt, I’m sleeping better/longer, and even my hand feels stronger. I just feel happier across the board and with a renewed sense of energy. No, really.

Family Time

I have a start-up, so I have limited quality time with my family. That’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make, but that also means I need to make the most of any time we do have together. As such, when I’m lying on the floor as my boy learns to crawl, building a massive block fortress with my daughter, or talking with my wife, my full attention is needed. My family deserves this. It’s simply not fair to have some of these precious moments stolen by an e-mail or the minutiae of someone’s social media update.

As I thought about this experiment, I started planning out the supplies needed. Because the modern smartphone does so much, it’s easy to forget how many things it has replaced in our lives. While I can certainly appreciate the consolidation, I’m already taking some pleasure in the technology reversion a smartphone-free life entails.

My Supply List:

  • Pager: Remember these? Well I actually rented one of them just in case any emergencies should arise. That way family and co-workers can get a hold of me right away when needed. They can even do it with pager codes (?).
  • Camera: One the best things about modern smartphones is the amazing cameras they come with. I really enjoy taking photos, so I’ll bring my Nikon around with me more often. The end result will be fewer photos but probably more meaningful ones. I’ll be living full frame as opposed to only within an Instagram square.
  • GPS/Maps: My Nissan Leaf has a built-in GPS unit, so I should be good there. Given the current state of Apple Maps, I’m likely better off with printing a good ol’ MapQuest out anyway. Worst case I have a Tom-Tom.
  • Flashlight: I probably need to get one of those small pocket flashlights. Don’t try to act as though your cell phone doesn’t serve as a light of hope on many occasions. It’s the modern day torch.
  • Alarm Clock: Another victim of the smartphone era. I haven’t had one in years and haven’t needed one with my phone at my bedside. Although, it’s clear that having kids means you already have one of nature’s greatest (and most convincing) alarm clocks.

So there you have it. I’ll set up an ongoing log file in a separate blog post, but so far, the experiment has been a positive experience. I will admit it does feel somewhat similar to when I quit smoking. It’s not easy to break some habits once they become deeply ingrained parts of your life. I’m also not entirely certain I’ll be able to make the 30 days without my phone, so I view this as a true challenge.

Please wish me luck; just don’t send those wishes via text message.

*Rules and disclaimer for friends, family and colleagues:

I’m allowed to touch other peoples smartphones during this experiment. For example to look at a photo or checkout a new app. iPad use is also allowed. I may carry my phone while traveling for emergencies but it will remain in the off position (not even airplane mode!). My cell phone number has been forwarded to Google Voice so I’m still available there. Text messages will actually be lost during this time. To request my pager number please email me with the subject “143”. 

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