Thoughts on being Smartphoneless

Almost five years ago, I wrote my thoughts on Facebook after a few months of being off it. In 2018, I was planning to do the same thing with my aging smartphone and had decided not to replace it when it finally died that year. After a few months I relented and got a new one. As a result of this article by Roosh V and part of my Lenten penance this year, I decided to finally do away with my smartphone altogether. My perfectly functional phone was sold and my accounts, data and everything deleted or backed-up elsewhere — which was an ordeal of its own. I now own a very simple 3G phone (the same model as Roosh), that I need primarily for work and family reasons.

Here, I will outline some thoughts on doing this and some observations I’ve had over the years since these little toys became widespread and the rapid social change they brought with them.

All three smart phones I owned were iPhones beginning with an iPhone 4S which I believe was bought some time in 2012. My wife and I both got one at the same time and we were both immediately hooked on them. The novelty did wear down after the first few months but by then, it had become an item I couldn’t leave home without — even having strapped to my arm for long-distance running and exercise. We were both relatively late to smartphones as the first iPhone came out (I believe), in 2007 and by about 2010 these phones had become the norm with many people. At first, I didn’t see anything wrong with the changes brought by this change in technology. They made web browsing and many other things easy to do while out of the house and many websites and online businesses had to quickly adapt to this. I also made regular use of podcasts and news platforms through the phone.

One of the earliest problems I remember witnessing that caused me to question all this was something I observed around 2015 in a restaurant in Brisbane. I had come to have lunch with a family relation and we observed a young couple sat down close to us and both immediately pulled out their phones and started using them without saying a word to each other. At some point they decided to order with minimal communication before renewing focus on their little devices until their meals came and occupied their hands. This is an extreme example of what had begun to go on with many people and I was as guilty as anyone else.  As I have long used public transport, it became normal to see virtually everybody on a bus or train consumed by their phone for the entirety of the trip. Even people who put them away can often be observed taking them out again a few minutes or seconds later from a constant urge to check their “status” or messages. Books were never common but they quickly became even less so and I’d have to think carefully to remember the last time I saw someone reading a newspaper on public transport.

The ease of communication by these devices along with social media like Facebook also reduced the way even those who were close communicated. People were ironically less likely to use their mobile telephones as intended and preferred messaging to speaking directly — not uncommonly also while in the same building or even room. I have observed on an anecdotal level that people are now more reluctant to communicate normally and today when walking past people at restaurants, they usually have their phones on the tables and not in bags with other items. It has become normal for people to pull out their phones during conversations in public and even to communicate by showing things they’d found or thought were funny as a form of social interaction. Again, I am as guilty as most in doing things like this. Though in my defence, I was more introverted before smartphones were ubiquitous so it is probably seeing everybody start acting more like me that signaled something was wrong.

There is a strong relationship between the rise of smart phones and social media as both took off around the same time. Social media has evolved quickly around the smartphone and together they have been like a spark on gunpowder for anyone with narcissistic tendencies. It is not uncommon to see people taking photographs of themselves in public, especially at beaches, restaurants and anywhere considered fashionable. Observing these people one has to wonder whether they are focused on enjoying themselves or conveying the impression to others that they are. There are also the hook-up/dating apps that encourage the same limited personal interaction to arrange intensely intimate liaisons. Though these are becoming as fleeting and unemotional as people’s personal relationships in general. The music video I posted at the beginning is a great mockery of all this as well as a prediction of where all this is headed.

There are other issues as well that I will briefly cover but could also easily take up several more paragraphs. The demands put on the environment and developing nations are themselves significant and the “environmentally and socially conscious” are strangely but not unsurprisingly silent on much of this though there are exceptions. The equally if not more alarming issue of privacy which affect both these devices and social media together have also been a growing concern; especially in the last few years. That these devices track and monitor you is no secret and despite wanting to appear sympathetic to privacy concerns, governments are quite okay to allow this data collection if they are granted access to it. This is obvious by my own government’s desire to have its citizens all install an app to trace them for their “health” and seems to be the way many others around the world are going to; especially China. I do not want to own something that will later be used against me.

The two issues above are certainly important but the main reason I have decided to be “smartphoneless” is simply related to social and family reasons. I don’t want my children to grow up seeing me constantly staring at a little screen; or big one for that matter. I want them to mostly seeing me doing something engaging or enriching even if I’m not the most talkative person. How can I tell them they are watching too much television or playing too many games if I can barely take my eyes off my telephone? How can I explain why they shouldn’t have one? I’ve had to be very careful with what I allow my children to do but the worst thing I can do is be a hypocrite. When I am in social situations, I want to socialise with people in an authentic way. I can not do this if my mind is engaged elsewhere or I get used to communicating impersonally. This is not healthy.

It has been a short time but life is already a bit more difficult in some ways. I can’t do a lot of business on my phone, like pay bills, check my emails and other things but I am old enough to remember when I couldn’t do the former on my home computer anyway. My bills have still been paid and my emails have not been neglected. Indeed, it has been a pleasure to have lost the ability (and therefore the urge), to constantly check these things. I had already weaned myself off social media so this is not a problem but my ability to message quickly is something I already miss. I also feel less informed about what is going on but as I’ve reflected recently, I’m actually better off not being informed in the way usually implied by parasites in politics and media. What I most miss already though is the podcasts which I now have to go out of my way to listening to. The positive of this, is I hear the birds a lot more often and I better know what I really value doing with my time.

Some final thoughts are that smartphones don’t seem to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. I have decided to stop using them and I am adamant that I will not relent this time. That said, I am not trying to tell anybody else what they should do. For many people, these are still very useful and I understand that there are plenty who have exercised far more restraint with their use than I have. What will have to develop though is a new etiquette around their use. It is hard to imagine in these times, but it should be seen as rude to stare at a phone while in company. This is not something that can be imposed right now but if life is to go on with them, I think at some stage this will be the case at a bare minimum.

Something else about Lent to remember is that it isn’t just a time to go without a good in your life for the greatest Good but also to excise bad habits permanently. You can’t give up sin just for Lent and go back to it. A smartphone is certainly not sinful in and of itself but it is a definite vector for sins both minor and grave. I advise anybody unsure or who has some of the same feelings to consider trying to go without a smartphone a while and see what difference it makes. It may be something you want to make permanent as well.

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