Last week I did something I’ve never done before, a feat beyond the realm of my imagination. Two days in a row, I forgot my cellphone at home . . . and didn’t go back for it. Chances are, you can empathize with the panic I felt when I realized my oversight. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 75 percent of American adults own smartphones; of those, nearly half say they “couldn’t live without” them.
Before last week, I might have placed myself in that category. My Galaxy S7 has become a virtual appendage; not just a reliable tool, but a source of entertainment and comfort. On the rare occasions when I’ve found myself inadvertently phoneless, I’ve always returned home, sheepishly, to retrieve it from the nightstand. But last Sunday, I was running late for my gig, so turning around was out of the question. And the next day, having already arrived at my destination (and having survived five phone-free hours the evening before), I didn’t feel compelled to drive all the way back. In fact, I felt surprisingly relaxed.
My two best friends have healthier relationships with their phones than I do. One purposely leaves his in the car whenever he attends a social function. The other is even less attached and often doesn’t even know where hers is. Their comfort with disconnection used to provoke marvel and envy, but not enough for me to adopt their take-it-or-leave-it composure.
Until now, that is. My newfound ability to let sleeping phones lie is, I’m sure, due to a couple of articles I recently read. In The Guardian, journalist Paul Lewis explained “How Silicon Valley hooks us” with instant-yet-fleeting gratification. Lewis found that the very engineers who designed those addictive features such as the “Like” button and the pull-to-refresh mechanism are curbing their own social media activity. And writer Craig Mod captured my attention with a Backchannel.com article that began, “There are a thousand beautiful ways to start the day that don’t begin with looking at your phone. And yet so few of us choose to do so.” Mod’s essay recounted a monthlong retreat from the internet and his subsequent success in finding a reasonable balance.
Now that I think about it, forgetting my phone was probably a subconscious choice, spurred by those articles. Mod’s description of meditative coffee breaks without phone in hand, of quiet evenings spent reading books rather than posts and tweets, stirred nostalgic musings of days not so long ago.
In my teens, I had fantasized about someday having a telephone in my car, like the rich and famous folks I’d see on TV. No more missed opportunities because I was out cruising instead of sitting by the phone at home, no need to search for a pay phone and the loose change to feed it. A car phone would be one of the measures of my eventual success, I thought.
I never got the car phone, but my first cellphone was provided as a perk of the radio job I had in the mid-1980s. It seemed sort of decadent at the time, and I was almost embarrassed to use it. But it didn’t take long for the novelty to become normalcy. And with the evolution of phones into personal assistants and windows to the world, I became one of the millions who perceive these instruments as necessities.
Until last week, anyway. The few hours away from my phone/email/calendar/search engine/social media/video games were much more pleasant than I had expected. Disconnection from the virtual world allowed me to better connect with the real one, to be fully present in the present.
So, like Craig Mod, I’ve decided to impose a few boundaries on myself. No longer will my phone be the first thing I touch in the morning or the last at night. I’m turning off the notification alerts and resisting the urge to check on how many likes and shares my posts have received. I’m determined to be smarter than my smartphone.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.