Today marks 2 weeks since my dramatic public breakup with my littlest mother’s helper and I wanted to do a little post op, as much for my future self as for any curious readers as to how it’s going.
So how’s it going?
In a word, swell. But it is incomplete yet. I haven’t bitten the bullet and grabbed the flip phone yet, because its actually costs money, as some of you intrepid souls pointed out, to reinvest in a new device and find a plan that isn’t crazy expensive. The problem I’m running up against is that the providers who do carry dumb phones (and I’m leaning towards Charity Mobile at this point) seem to assume that if you want one, you don’t also want a lot of minutes or texting data. However, in my case, I vv much do want those things. Especially now that Voxer is relegated to an awkward to use desktop app, I’m finding myself using more minutes than before, not fewer.
So, in the meantime, I’ve made do by stripping down my already basic Samsung Galaxy J7 (a cut-rate Galaxy iteration compatible with my current carrier, Boost Mobile, which runs on the Sprint network. Coverage is so-so, phone itself does get a bit hot (but not anymore as there are no apps running! The battery life isn’t great. Or, rather, wasn’t. Now that I’m not using it for anything but talking and texting, I’m only plugging it in every 3 days or so. What?! I used to struggle to make it to 8 pm without draining the battery to zero. Crazy, I tell you.) which was $80 at Best Buy during a Black Friday sale, and is $30/month with unlimited talk and text. Which is hard to beat.
So how do you make a smartphone dumb? Well, I’m not the most tech literate person, but I was able to delete or uninstall almost all of the factory-installed apps, plus those I’d added myself. Then I untethered my email and delated the gmail app, turned off location and wifi, and, voila, a fairly dumb phone.
Of course, the big caveat being that at any moment, I can undo all these things and endow myself once again with phenomenal cosmic powers, which, in a moment of poor planning and weakness last week en route to a doctor’s appointment in an unfamiliar town, I did, for the sake of using google maps to guide me in for a smooth landing.
I think that if I were a better moderator and not a dyed in the wool abstainer, this intentionally stripped down still secretly smart phone would actually be a decent long term solution for me, but I know me, and I know that 4 months or 4 weeks from now, whether checking in late for a flight and in search of a boarding pass or simply passing the time in car line, I may very well cave and go back to using the internet on it.
But, for you more more temperate folk out there, I think that stripping down your existing phone could be a valuable exercise in detachment and time-reclamation and a good half measure towards getting away from the addiction to the device. Plus, super cost effective.
So, what have I learned in 2 weeks without tapping, scrolling, browsing? A couple things, the first of which has been most surprising.
And that is? I have a lot more time than I realized. I have enough time to make meals at home. I have enough time to keep mostly on top of my housework. I have enough time to write those articles, make those deadlines, pay those bills, and, yes, read you one more story.
I don’t work a 9-5 job outside the home, but I do work about 20 hours we week writing, reading, researching and planning for the blog and related content for CNA. Outside of that, I do a bit of freelance work, including regular gigs for Endow and Blessed is She. I also have 4 kids, only one of whom is in school full time, so they’re, you know, around a bit. And in need of cuddles, cut up avocados, bike-riding supervision and bathing. Add in a husband, a school commute that currently hovers around 2 hours roundtrip, and a house that we’ve spent the last 8 months fixing up and now selling, and there is a lot going on. But the past 2 weeks have felt like vacation.
Granted, a pretty unexciting and not terribly exotic vacation, but a vacation nonetheless. A break form the ordinary. A respite from the rat race. A change of pace that has me looking around the house and wondering, should I be doing something right now?
Because there are suddenly these pockets of…I guess I’ll call them opportunity…in my days lately.
A half hour here or there where it’s too early to leave for school pickup but somebody is still napping, so I guess I can curl up on the couch and pray a rosary or read a little bit from whatever spiritual reading I’d been slogging through towards the end of Lent. So not exactly party party vacation-y, more like restful retreat vacation-y. Which is…not my favorite.
I like to be busy. I thrive on adrenaline and scooting in just under deadline and cramming it all in as efficiently as possible.
But I also struggle with anxiety and insomnia and a general sense of the world is on my shoulders…and I wonder now, could it all possibly be connected?
I don’t want to oversimplify this for the sake of painting a pretty clickbaity picture that “DITCHING YOUR SMARTPHONE WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE,” because there’s more to it than that, as there is in every case. I’ve been changing the way I’m eating, what and whether I’m drinking, habits of prayer and intentional cultivation of virtues that I am sorely lacking. And also, there have not been 14 perfect days of good behavior and effortless mothering on my part. I have yelled and lost my mind and then rediscovered it around 9:33 pm, a solid hour after everyone is in bed.
But overall, there has been a marked difference.
I am still grabbing for my phone like a phantom limb now and then, but even that behavior has yielded to a 90% reduction. I carry just my keys and wallet into the store. I don’t bring my phone when I leave the house half the time, because it’s just not that interesting without the dozens of little notifications going off throughout the day. When I do walk by the counter where it’s plugged in and look at it, it’s boring.
Stripped of all it’s attention-grabbing apps, it will show a handful of text messages and maybe a missed call, but nothing nearly as exciting an Instagram notification. (I do miss being able to post there though. But, it’s an acceptable price to pay, for me.)
I can attend to the messages every 4 or 6 or even 12 hours, and nothing bad happens. (Given, I am no emergency medicine doc. Nobody will die if I don’t check my phone. But I think a lot of us – looks meaningfully into mirror – live that level of availability out of a sense of obligation or FOMO or just plain force of habit, because this is what everyone does in 2017, and if I miss a call/email, all hell will break loose”
But most every piece of career advice I’ve read lately says otherwise, emphasizes the critical (and rapidly disappearing) skill of “deep work,” the necessity of attending to one’s own present and pressing tasks, ordained as such by self (and God, if you include Him in your calculations) because otherwise – otherwise – we risk living most of our lives responding to other people’s requests for and demands on our time. And we don’t get our own work done.
And that’s all well and good to read these things and skim those books and then roll your eyes and think, yeah, must be nice, to be able to go off and be a hermit or be single again with no relational responsibilities or to be independently wealthy and mobile and, and, and…but what I’m realizing is that I, a simple stay at home/work from home mom of 4 little kids, actually have a hell of a lot more free time than I know what to do with. And am going to have to render an account one day for how I’ve spent it.
(I think I can make a good case for 2-3 hours a week of Netflix. Anything more than that, I get a little nervous.)
So without the apps, without the notifications, without the constant influx of data and Very Important Beepings, it turns out I am neither that essential nor am I all that important to most anyone outside of the 5 people I do life with.
I do not mean to devalue my friendships or disrespect my coworkers or downplay the connections I’ve forged with internet peeps over the years. These are truly valuable relationships. But it is perhaps not ideal for me to be continuously attending to all of them at any given time, on any given day.
I realize this is not a perfectly-transferrable parable I’m spinning for you. Some people are more connected to their phones for work than I am, and I concede that this is a luxury which I possess. But. A big, big but: I think more of us have more flexibility than we realize, and we’re trading away a good deal of peace out of a need to look busy and seem available and feel important.
I am not actually that important. The people who need my attention are right here with me, occasionally barfing onto floor beside me and tugging on the hem of my shorts, asking for another popsicle. And it turns out that even when I’m running on all cylinders getting all their needs met, I still have a little margin left over at the edges and even in the very middle of my day for meditation, exercise, writing, reading, sitting vacantly on the front steps blinking in the sunlight…and also for being bored. I have been bored at least once a day since this little experiment began, and it has proven to be glorious and painful fodder for ideas. Books have been outlined and titled (at least, in my mind). Relationship difficulties have been identified and considered. Plot lines for bedtime stories have been refined. Elaborate backstories to the person driving beside me in traffic have been concocted. And, most essentially of all, conversations with God have ensued.
I have plenty of time for prayer, it turns out. And with fewer attractive options to distract, I’m finding myself resignedly surrendering to it more and more frequently.
So, those are my initial takeaways from this foray into what I believe will become a lifestyle for me. I miss my Instagram peeps. I miss being able to shoot a Vox to my best friend in another time zone. I miss being able to easily send or receive a link to something on my phone. But that all pales in comparison to the new spaces that have been opened up in my head and in my soul.
What do you think? Would you ever consider ditching your smartphone? Or, if you’re an adult who can actually moderate your behavior in a responsible fashion, would you consider putting firm boundaries around how and when and whether you use it?
It seems the conversation is becoming increasingly common. (<— language warning: all the f bombs.)