Smartphones are incredible tools and toys that make our lives easier, more productive, more social and more fun. All great things, right? But like anything in life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. This is especially true with smartphones (Android, or otherwise): we can actually use them to our detriment. I discovered this the hard way…but thankfully found a solution: replacing my smartphone with a “dumb phone” and a tablet to set some healthy boundaries on my “tech time”. Read on past the break to hear my experience of disconnecting.
If you’re anything like me, you love your smartphone. We use them for everything: checking the weather, tracking calories, reading articles, writing emails, social networking, taking pictures, texting, and more. We get so used to pulling them out of our pocket that we soon feel naked if we don’t have the thing in our hands. When we’re bored, we pull them out and mindlessly flick through our home screens, even if there is nothing to look at. We reach for them the second our lunch-buddy gets up to go to the bathroom to see if we’ve gotten a new message or check our Facebook feed. Instead of playing with our kids at the park we’re busy trying to capture the perfect picture of them, find the right Instagram filter, and come up with some witty caption to post to our social networks. Instead of enjoying dinner with our significant other, gazing into their beautiful eyes, we’re gazing into our lifeless screens, engaging with friends who are not even at the table with us.
The list goes on and on, but the gist of it is this: some of us have become so connected to the “alternate world” found within our phones, that we have become disconnected from the real world in which we live. I was one of those people.
My smartphone was ruining my life by enhancing it. I had become over-connected. I missed the simplicity and slowness of life, the time to think, the deep conversations, the uninterrupted blocks of time where I wasn’t being bombarded by emails. I needed a change, so I decided to take drastic measures: I would sell my smartphone, buy a cheap dumb phone, and carry my Nexus 7 tablet with me to work for basic productivity tasks (taking notes, adding events to my calendar, and keeping my contacts in sync). The benefit of the tablet was that I could retain some sort of connection, but I wouldn’t be able to take it with me EVERYWHERE. This would allow me to be truly disconnected from the bombardment of notifications and distractions while out and about, thus allowing me to be fully engaged in whatever situation I found myself. I liked my plan and was so committed to it that I even sold my coveted and hard-to-acquire Nexus 4 the day that it arrived (I didn’t even open it! Crazy, I know)!
I’ll admit it, the first few days without a smartphone were rough. I missed my constant companion and kept reaching into my pocket only to be let down. Soon, though, the letdown turned into a sense of freedom. Life became more enjoyable. It was the little things, like being aware of the beauty in nature while walking down the street (I was actually looking up for once, not down at my feet!). I didn’t feel the pressure and anxiousness of wondering when my next alert would come in. It was nice to know that my emails were locked in their “cage” (on my PC) and they couldn’t come growling at me whenever they pleased…indeed, I had the power to access them when I was ready. My wife and I began having more interesting conversations because my attention was no longer divided. Besides the health and freedom that this new hardware combination brought, I found all sorts of time to do productive things around the house, play with my daughter more, and even earn some extra money.
As strange as it sounds for a guy who writes for Talk Android, I have really been enjoying life without my smartphone. There are some downsides, to be sure (like no contact sync or Google Voice). Some might even call them major inconveniences, but the health and joy that I feel now more than balances out the inconveniences that I only occasionally face. For me, for now, moving to a dumb phone / tablet combination was the right move for my health and sanity.
I hope by writing about my experiences, it has helped some of you who may be feeling the way I felt, see that there may be a solution that allows you to have a healthy amount of disconnect, while still retaining the level of productivity (and fun) that Android has to offer us. If you’ve got some of your own thoughts and experiences to share, write them down in the comments.