Words by: Erin Constable Art by: Saskia Mortarotti
I failed a week-long experiment into life without a smartphone.
I couldn’t even forgo the typical five-day work week without it. No emails at my fingertips, no constant and incessant communication with my friends, no Google Maps, and no endless stream of podcasts to occupy my mind.
The week was not only boring, but a complete and utter failure. Please allow me to enlighten you with my brutally honest stream of consciousness: I became more present in my day-to-day life. I found myself appreciating the smaller details, like staring at my enchanting pet fish — Festus — instead of a screen. All he does is swim around in a tank. It’s nothing compared to the endless stream of information usually available in my palm.
I would have liked to report that this increased awareness of my surroundings led to an epiphany about mindfulness, but I would also like to be honest. It instead led to a realisation that I cannot escape
the technology my generation was born into. During outings with my friends, my lack of a handheld distraction-device led to my own isolation. I was not on my phone, but they were. Whilst I had the capacity to be more present, it could not lead to more in-depth conversations on self-development, life aspirations, or world issues. A conversation of this calibre requires a minimum of two parties being wholly present. These interactions merely led to an explanation of the latest drama I had missed on social media — conversations which only further ignited the longing I had for my phone.
The increase in mindfulness had the best effect on my internal conversations. Most importantly, my smartphone hiatus halted the constant comparisons I make against my peers on what I should be doing to get a job after graduation. Joining LinkedIn has been my mental demise. Instead of scrolling through the endless successes of others, I had more time to spend on working towards my own success. As an aspiring journalist, I reflected on my interactions, to better observe the world around me — subsequently, story ideas began to spark more freely. The lack of a smart- phone also created the time in my day to research and write these stories. In the spirit of honest reflection, I would like you all to know that none of these stories have been finished since the end of this experiment.
My quality of sleep improved drastically for the duration of this experiment. I credit this to establishing an uninterrupted bedtime routine. Without a smartphone, this routine was more polished than any influencer’s nighttime routine video circa 2016. I would work out, stretch, do my skincare, brush my teeth (I even flossed!), and then settle down to read my book or stare at my fish until I fell asleep.
I would sleep through the night, and maybe even longer, because of course I had no alarm without my phone. I did not fall asleep staring at a screen and I did not wake up to one either.
I have never thought of myself as addicted, but the minor inconveniences caused by not having a phone caused me to tip over the edge and fail this experiment.
My entire life planning system is on my phone. I do not have an alarm, a flashlight, maps, banking, access to news, recipes, or the ease of Googling anything at will. And that’s all without addressing my constant desire for personal gratification through social media.
My week consisted of trying to do regular life tasks, and failing. I’ll be transparent and tell you that I did use my phone during this week. I used it less but still needed it. Not only did I use my phone but every task I could not do on my flip phone I just transferred to doing on my laptop. I responded to messages and scrolled Instagram from my computer. This was a semi-effective deterrent, but not effective enough to squash my desire to be constantly and aimlessly scrolling.
I wanted to know what was going on in the world. I wanted to know what a random boy from my high school was doing at 2pm on a Thursday, and I wanted to be able to Google every inquisitive thought in my mind. However, I can’t blame myself for any of these ridiculous desires.
This week led to a deeper realisation of my mental attachment to the technology companies that make my digital world spin. By boycotting these technologies, I became more human in the way in which I relate to my environment. But I also felt even less human because of the divide created in my relationships with my peers. I have always known the addictive nature of technology, and the harm that lurks if you’re on the internet, but the digital community has been and always will be something I want to be a part of.
No, I didn’t see everyone’s latest Instagram post, but I did feel the existential dread of being excluded from life online.