Missing in action? What happens when you go two weeks without a smartphone

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It’s surprising how much not having access to all the knowledge in the world in the palm of your hand affects you on a daily basis. When you’re smartphone free for two weeks, the inconveniences come slowly, and then all at once.

Little inconveniences

There’s never knowing what the weather forecast is. There’s no texting and walking. There’s being insanely behind on sports news. There’s not being able to book an Evo. There’s missing your New York Times morning briefing. There’s no Apple Music Cardio Mix while you run before work. The worst is navigating the process of making and executing plans with people though.

“Who knows, you could be on time and I would have no idea.”

One evening, I had plans with Sydney, a junior communications professional who a former colleague connected me with. Sydney was looking for career advice. The plan was to meet at Earls on Robson Street at 4:45pm. But Sydney mixed her Earls up and ended up at the Earls Test Kitchen at Hornby and Smithe.

At 4:40pm, she messaged me, “I’m a little early – grabbed us a table in the lounge. I’m wearing a black turtle neck!”

Nine minutes later she said, “My apologies..I was at the test kitchen location by accident. Heading there now!”

The problem was that I didn’t receive any of these messages. As I sat at the bar at the right Earls, I wondered whether 4:45pm had come and gone. It had. Good thing I had the IIHF World Juniors to keep me occupied.

Sydney finally arrived, said, “Hi William,” and then apologized profusely for her tardiness. I said, “Don’t worry about it. I don’t have a phone. Who knows, you could be on time and I would have no idea.”

“You’ve gone too far.”

The very next day I was meeting Nejeed, the CEO of Keela, a startup that sells a cloud-based CRM for nonprofits. The plan was to meet at JOEY Burrard at twelve noon. Or so I thought.

I arrived at JOEY around 11:55am. I tell the hostess about the reservation and she reads a note associated with the booking. “A very quiet table.” She then brings me to a table adjacent to a ceiling high wine casing that’s directly in between the entrance to the restaurant and the doorway to the kitchen. It’s potentially the least quiet table in the restaurant. Whatever.

I sit idly for 10 minutes. Remember, I don’t have a phone. No checking emails, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or texting. I’m just sitting there sipping my Diet Coke returning awkward smiles to servers who are clearly wondering who this lonely man is.

It becomes too much for me. I need to start doing something. I ask my server if I can borrow a pen, and then I grab my napkin and start writing down potential key message themes for an upcoming conference that my organization is putting on in May.

“Grow your business… invest in B.C… build your career…” But then I start thinking about how this situation would make for a great blog post about my experience being iPhone-less for a couple weeks. I start writing about that instead. In fact, what you’re reading now is the result of the notes that I made while waiting for Nejeed.

Where is Nejeed, you ask. It turns out the reservation is at 12:30pm, not 12:00pm. Which means I have a lot more time to make notes. So much more time that a server that wasn’t even working in my section ends up asking, “Could I get you a piece of paper?”

I said, “Nah, I’m going for the classic writer look, you know?” Imagine me looking like Don Draper in the first episode of Mad Men, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” where he is seated by himself in a bar writing advertising taglines for Lucky Strike cigarettes. Or maybe I was closer to Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, when he’s in a Paris cafe drinking a rum St. James, immersed in his writing but also mesmerized by everything else. “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought,” Hemingway wrote. “You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” Wait. Where were we?

The server recognized that she was too late, seeing how much I had already written down on both sides of the napkin. “You’ve gone too far,” she said. I wrote that line down. My friend showed up soon after.

“Your smartphone is making you stupid.”

It was a Saturday morning. The headline screamed at me: “Your smartphone addiction is making you stupid. And inattentive. And antisocial. And unhealthy. So why can’t you disconnect?

I had just pulled up at the bar inside Forage on Robson for breakfast before heading into the office. Can you believe it? Barely a week into being smartphone free, the world, via the Globe and Mail, is sending me messages that this is all probably a good thing.

But even before I read the article, I knew my iPhone vacation was having a positive effect on me. I was sleeping better. I was less stressed in general. I was giving people my full attention. Mostly though, I was seemingly just experiencing life more fully. Realizing that it’s better to miss what is happening to you on the Internet (left and right swipes, red hearts and Likes) than to miss what is happening to you.

My waning Instagram eye

The writer Nathan Jurgenson has written about what he calls “The Facebook Eye,” a syndrome in which people have been essentially trained to observe the world in terms of what they can post to the social web later on. It’s when people “live and present a life that is ‘likeable.’”

I’d like to say I’ve never been guilty of this, but if I did, I’d obviously be lying. My iPhone’s affect on me has been discernible. Smartphones are central to modern life. They are our number one tool for everyday functioning. Rather than living life and using smartphones when necessary, our devices have become so important as to be the foundation for all of life’s activities.

If all you have is a smartphone, then everything looks like… an Instagram shot. But what happens when you lose your phone?

If all you have is yourself, then you have to use your senses: Your sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Without God Google in your pocket, you remember what it feels like to think. It feels good.

“You have 10 new voicemails.”

I got my phone back on January 17th. I had 10 voicemails:

  • Dec 23: It was a pocket dial from mom.
  • Dec 26 – Julie-Anne, a very good friend was wondering “What’s going on tonight?”
  • Dec 28 – Jeremy Allingham from CBC Radio wanted to get in touch with the CEO at my former employer.
  • Jan 2 – Mike from Anytime Fitness was hoping to speak to me about why I was cancelling my membership. (While you were all making New Years resolutions to go to the gym every week, I was busy getting realistic.)
  • Jan 6 – “Just your mother wondering how you are.” She clearly isn’t aware that I am phone-less.
  • Jan 8 – “Hi William, this is Talullah.” Who?
  • Jan 9 – A governemnt communications staffer is looking for details on an upcoming announcement.
  • Jan 13 – “Oh my heavens you’re hard to get hold of son.” Oh, mom.
  • Jan 14 – “You are truly missing in action. Please call your mother.”
  • Jan 16 – It’s someone hoping to talk about sponsorship.

Don’t worry, I called my mom back. From my new iPhone 8. No one is happier than her about me having a phone again.


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