When was the last time you left home without your cell phone? How do you feel when you have no access to your email, Facebook page, or work messengers? How often do you use your phone or tablet to browse the Web? Can you imagine yourself living a month, or even a year without checking your mobile phone every five minutes?
If you are like me, I bet a mobile gadget is something you use actively daily. As a busy modern person with lots of social connections, arrangements, plans, and responsibilities, you just cannot afford to not be in touch with the rest of the world, not in a schedule, not in the middle of something. It is a pleasure to live an active fulfilled life, and staying connected to other people is a big part of it. However, sometimes it can be bothersome, if not overwhelming.
In my case, one day I discovered that I was completely drained. In addition to a vast number of duties and responsibilities I had, I also had to deal with all kinds of notifications, messages, updates, and alarms that my phone kept throwing at me almost 24/7. I tried turning notifications off, but the fear of missing out something important made me check the phone even more often. All the tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Telegram channels, emails and texts from work, private messages from my friends and relatives—all this required too much time to pay attention to. I do not know why I believed it was important to reply to every single message I received, but the fact was that one day I felt I cannot manage the amounts of incoming information anymore. So, I simply stopped using my phone.
Well, to tell the truth, it was not simple at all. It reminded me of the times when I quit smoking tobacco. For the first couple of days, I had an intense fear that I would not be able to live the same life as before. I had this irrational feeling that all of my acquaintances would immediately forget about me, or that I would get fired. When I had a free moment, I had no idea what to get myself distracted with, and the anxiety mixed with boredom became almost constant. After a week or so, I thought: “Okay, I made it this far—now I can reward myself with some browsing. I’ll just check out a couple of updates, nothing more.” However, this is exactly what happened to me when I was giving up smoking: a small misstep, just one “rewarding cigarette,” and I almost relapsed back then. So, this time I decided to not succumb to the temptation.
Although I went to the office every day, communicated with people a lot, and still checked my personal and work email on my laptop, I had a feeling that I was falling behind. When someone told me they could not get in touch with me via phone, I almost panicked. I had to tell my friends and colleagues that I lost my phone so that they used other means of contacting me. The absence of scrolling felt unnatural somehow, as if I was born with an iPhone in my hand and then got it amputated or something.
This lasted for about three weeks. And then, I started noticing changes—changes which I liked, and which motivated me to not just continue the experiment, but in fact to restructure and reorganize a number of my habits.
First of all, I noticed that I became much more focused. Before, I would occasionally glance at my phone, checking notifications or updates. Even when I was in the middle of something—driving, talking, working, or dating a girl—I would find myself wondering what was going on online. After a month of abstaining from the use of my cell phone, I discovered that the urge was already not that strong. And when the urge calmed down, my attention span and my ability to focus surged.
I discovered that the world is a beautiful place. I felt amazed and guilty by how many sunsets I missed. I noticed how diverse and saturated city life was. I saw beautiful people walking around, and witnessed the seasons change. I laughed watching a boy play with his dog in the park, and felt anger when I saw teenagers laughing at a homeless guy on the street. I finally started to see the world around me the way it was. Before, I would look at it through my camera mostly: click, post a photo, get some likes. Now, I could understand its actual beauty, and I did not need anyone else to confirm the value of this beauty through likes or shares.
I found that communicating with people is more difficult without a phone, but at the same time more honest as well. It is always easier to lie or to talk about uncomfortable things when hiding behind your phone’s screen. When talking to people face to face, however, you notice more, feel more, and show more; it is a more intense and lively experience, and I believe now that the omnipresence of gadgets has made people less capable of simple conversation.
I also realized that being organized and productive has little to do with the amount of time-management applications installed on your phone. You can memorize all the important things you need to attend to, and if not, there is always a notebook and a pencil out there to help you. In my case, I bought a fancy Moleskin notepad and a pen, and kept my records in it. It was so great to take out a Moleskin and accurately write down the details of an appointment I just made in front of the person I was talking to! It made me feel like I was a respected gentleman living in the Victorian era.
And of course, my stress and anxiety decreased significantly. Without having to get distracted every now and then, I could focus on what was really important, thus saving my time and energy.
Now, as 100 days have passed, I can say that the experiment was worth it. I am planning to stay away from my phone for as long as possible—I like the changes that occurred in my lifestyle since I decided to go on a “digital diet.”