It happened while on holiday. I dropped my iPhone in the salty sea, my phone got soaked, end of phone. I’ve been iPhone-less for over a week now. That means no WhatsApp, no social media, no Google Maps, no newsfeeds and no camera. I’ve had to resort to using my “back-up” old-school Nokia (pictured) – it can make calls and its battery lasts forever, but that’s about all it can do.
But every cloud has a silver lining. I’ve discovered I have a smartphone addiction. I have the itch to take out my phone every 15 minutes. I can feel my hand reach for my phone only to realise it’s my Nokia. What drives this itch: checking some fact, taking a photo or just plain boredom. So even though I’ve tried to “optimise” many aspects of my life, by for example checking work emails only three times a day, I haven’t faced up to my smartphone habits.
The silver lining is to be forced on to “smartphone cold turkey”. My mood has deteriorated, at least initially, and I have felt vulnerable without my external brain. But without my attention being hijacked by my smartphone, the days have opened up and time has seemingly expanded. More specifically, I found four benefits:
1. Photos in my mind, not on a device.
I was in Oxford recently and walked past the Radcliffe Camera– the domed building that is the reading room of the Bodleian library. I saw a film crew near it, with an actress in front of a green screen. Obviously this was for some kind of CGI-enhanced scene of a movie based in Oxford. Normally I would have taken a snap and walked on. This time, I lingered and looked more closely. I noticed that that part of the crew had a monitor that showed what would be on the green screen: turns out the actress would be a giant climbing over Oxford colleges. I noticed other things to, but importantly I also reflected on what I saw as I returned to London. As such, I embedded the scene in my memory, rather than “storing” in a device for me never to return to. I can still remember it many days later even though I can barely remember photos I had taken on my holiday.
2. Using my inner compass.
Google maps is often my saviour, but I realised that I’m not as reliant on it as I thought. I was taking a walk through Wimbledon common and I wasn’t sure how to get back to where I started. My Nokia was useless, so I fell back on some elementary navigation skills. It was midday, the sun must be shining from the south, so I could work out the compass directions. Based on that, I found my route back. Funnily enough on my way out I saw a sign outside a horse trail that said:”This is not a road, if you are using satnav, don’t follow it”!
3. More time to do stuff.
I initially suffered withdrawal symptoms without my iPhone. My mood went down, I felt uncomfortable, even angry at times. But once I got through that, I realised I had more time to fill with things to do. Normally, I would’ve wasted time scrolling through articles or listening to podcasts on phone. Now, I had to find other things to do, whether that was walking and noticing things around me (rather than being plugged into my phone), meeting people or doing some kind of physical activity.
4. Getting in touch with nature
The most British form of engaging with nature is the weather. I’ve become so used to checking my various weather apps (my favourite is Dark Sky), that I sometimes ignore the obvious actual weather conditions outside. My humble Nokia gives no weather forecasts, so I’ve had to resort to going outside to check the temperature and cloud cover. It works surprisingly well. I also now smell the trees and look at the sky as I head to the station rather than plug into my phone and listen to music or podcasts.
I should also add that I’m no longer intravenously feeding my mind the neurosis of people who post stuff in the digital world. The real world is a lot nicer place to be in.