Monday, January 28, 2013
A Ruby developer recently went for three months without his smart phone and decided to write about his experience. Certain discoveries on his part both remind me of -- and help me better understand -- why I was such a late adopter of the technology. (I apparently also don't use mine to the near-constant degree that many others do.) For example:
... A few spare minutes would usually result in checking my email, Twitter and Facebook. I was a little bit everywhere, all the time. But not truly anywhere. Without the temptation available from my pocket, I feel like I am more present being wherever I am. Now I was certainly no addict, but it's led to a small freedom I encourage you to experience. I've realized that not being constantly plugged in, has had notable benefits. When I am not on my computer, only my immediate friends and coworkers will be able to reach me by phone. My smartphone helped fill little voids of time with mindless entertainment and shifted me away from the context of whatever I just did and was about to do, silently replacing what I see as mandatory reflection. This context switching I found to play a larger role than I thought. It's been rewarding to indulge more into my own thoughts and reflections, in lieu of attempting to occupy every gap of time with Angry Birds, news and tweets. [bold added]Hmmm. That sounds familiar -- and yet it is also very insightful. I have always hated phones, but had mainly chalked up this distaste to my introversion. I think, though, that it's the yanking-from-context that a phone ring -- and the immediate problem of whether to answer it -- represents that I really dislike. What Simon Eskildsen notices here is that smartphones make it easy to "embrace the ring" and, for all practical purposes, barrage oneself with context-blowing distractions. (I haven't any games installed on my phone, but Eskildsen has helped me notice that certain phone-related rituals have invaded some of my idle time.)
Eskildsen's solution to the problem is to rid himself of the smartphone for the indefinite future. However, I don't think it's necessary, at least in every case, to deprive oneself of the advantages smartphones offer, just to regain control and become more "present" in one's life.
I think making a habit of asking oneself things like, "Why do I need the phone for this?" or "Why am I doing this at all?" and deliberately making phone-free breaks a part of one's life on a regular basis would go a long way towards making these devices the extensions of our minds that they could be, rather than millstones around our necks. Eskildsen's take-home lesson isn't that we must toss our phones into the ocean, but that we should be careful that we are actually using them in a life-enhancing way. One can form good smart phone usage habits just as well as bad.