Friday afternoon I was looking at my mobile phone, preparing to answer a text. In a flash, it was gone.
I could tell by the flicker of the display that all was lost. It wasn't going to come back on again, either.
I purchased a new device, but it's not going to arrive for a few days. Verizon failed to deliver on my “next day service” request.
I am currently (almost) unconnected. My thoughtful wife let me use her personal iPhone – she's using her work phone in the meantime.
I decided to only use it for text or voice, only with her; we have kids so if anything went wrong…
No social media, no news, no sports or music allowed. I didn't and haven't yet opened any of her apps.
Recently I asked my students at school if they would participate in an experiment. I told them I wanted them to hand over their mobile devices, I'd lock them in a box and give them back in class the following week.
The unanimous howl of protest from them was hilarious. After reassuring them I would not be following through on my threat, we brainstormed how it would be possible to live for a week without a mobile device of any kind. We determined that yes, it's possible to eat, sleep, talk, walk, drive and clothe ourselves without them. I opined if all of the basic needs of life could be met without a smartphone, they're not really that important. I braced for the backlash.
More howls. ” It'd be soooo boring without it!” one cried out. Another gasped, “I wouldn't know what's going on!”
Last Friday night, I kept reaching for my dead-and-gone Samsung, like reaching for an arm or a leg recently amputated. I wondered what I might be missing. Then Saturday. I attended our university winter commencement. I was pleased to not have to worry about it accidentally ringing. Sunday was a stay-at-home, work around the house day. I didn't miss it at all.
Ironically, I'm reading Dave Eggers's “The Circle”, about a young women working at a Google-ish company that appears to be preparing to take over the entire universe. It's crazy because I am reading an analog (hardcover) book about technology and totalitarianism, yet carrying no communication device other than the wife's iPhone, which I'm forcing myself not to look at as part of this experiment!
Instead of posting a blurb about the book on Twitter, I told my wife about it.
(Sunday morning, 7am PT)
I went to a coffee shop before hitting the gym. I read my book instead of plowing through Instagram posts. I had an extended conversation with another customer. That was odd. Normally the only people talking in a coffee shop are the staffers.
I teach a graduate class on media platforms and our behavior/interaction with them. I have (or I should say had) a Google phone with a million apps on it; a phone that knew where I was and often knew where I was going. I am one of those people who say I have 567 social accounts because I have to know about them for work! Now I'm just hanging around in a mostly analog existence, noticing people, places and things right in front of my eyes.
(Monday morning, 10am PT)
My flickering and faded phone display set off an initial panic, but as I write you aboard Amtrak's Capitol Corridor this morning, I am less stressed than I thought I'd be (I'm writing this on my iPad but using no other app but word processing).
I'm not tethered to anything now. I'm not reflexively reaching for this electronic appendage every 25 seconds. I hear no notification dings, whistles or gongs. I am focusing more, reading this great Eggers book and soaking in the consequences of singularity and mob rule and complete personal transparency without shifting my eyes after every paragraph to the latest thing Flipboard wants me to read on my mobile.
(Tuesday afternoon, 3:30pm PT)
I told my class about these past few days, mostly phone-less. We started riffing about privacy, totalitarianism, and this great BBC show called Black Mirror. It is a must-watch for anyone interested in glimpses into our media-connected future.
(Wednesday morning, 10am PT)
I woke up and didn't even think about my long-lost mobile. I made the kids breakfast earlier then gave one a ride to school. I have an hour at home, alone, before I drive to the train station. I did hop on my desktop to look at some school stuff.
That's it for now. No more checking in, sharing or posting. On board the train I dove into my next book, Jaron Lanier's “Who Owns The Future?”, a chilling book about content, monetizing content, and the end of work for 100 million Americans.
I got home last night, expecting my replacement device – nothing. I check the tracking on my iMac. Really? Notice how long a “2 day” shipment takes.
Let's walk this back a bit. Horrid customer service and all, there was something good I could take from this experience.
Something has been happening to my brain.
It feels like it's quieter, like it's in energy-saving mode. It sleeps occasionally during the day, like a desktop or tablet going into sleepy mode. When I sit down to write or read research papers I can focus better. There is no mobile phone begging me for attention.
I'm now ready to agree with the vast research that insists we….
CANNOT. MULTITASK. Well.
Now I'm wondering if I could keep this up, keep going, keep walling off the tsunami of data attempting to flow into my head.
I'd be free, I tell myself. Free to talk, to interact more with humans, to study and read and write better. No more bullshit posting of nonsense that almost no one cares about. I would use technology to do my work, pay my bills, make appointments…and read. Read about what I'm interested in and passionate about, the ultimate content filter in use. Fewer distractions, less inane notifications, less spammy messages from friends who aren't friends. I could continue to live and love and learn and eat and drink and talk and (most importantly) really listen to my real world, the one right in front of my face, the one with smells and shapes and humans and landscapes and real life!
I wonder. My sleek, powerful, elegant and intuitive Samsung GS4 arrives this morning.
Will I fall in love and fall back into old bad habits, or will I learn that I was better when I did one thing at a time – and just turn it off when I'm doing important stuff?