Phoneless

Intro

I often get asked why I didn't have a smartphone. Interestingly, it's not that easy to answer this question with one sentence. There are multiple reasons and those reasons change over time. So lets try to find some answers.

My only smartphone

I've got my first and only smartphone in January 2012 when I first came to the US. I've used it every day: checked the news, emails, Twitter and navigated using Google Maps. In June 2012, I left Bay Area and started traveling around Balkans and then South and Central America. Suddenly, having that phone became a pain. I think it was locked and I couldn't use it properly in different countries. Also, frankly I don't think I needed it that much. So I didn't have smartphone ever since summer of 2012 (I've got a regular basic phone without the Internet just 1 months ago for my work). I don't think it was conscious decision back at 2012, however not getting a smartphone later was a conscious one since I gave this a lot of thoughts ever since.

Concentration

I remember in 2012 I noticed that I lost my ability to listen to a person for more than 3-5 minutes. Basically, I wasn't able to concentrate on one topic and one person. While listening to the person, I was thinking about something completely different in the background. That was really awkward and embarrassing. I wasn't able to follow up with good questions to continue a conversation. If you are not interested in what person is saying to you, I doubt she will be interested in listening you too. I don't think I had this issue before or after using phone, but that is very subjective thought based on my reflections on my behaviors, thoughts etc.

Consumption

The Internet is the big source of knowledge but also a huge source of distraction. I do feel that our generation is probably the most consumerist of all of them. It's become extremely easy to consume news, shows, movies, music videos, stuck in different forums, chats etc. We often made fun of our parents who constantly consume TV with stupid shows and one-sided news. But I think newer generations are actually worst in this respect. Everyone is connected to the Internet 24 hours every day. Nowadays consumption happens not only during newspapers reads and evening news shows, it happens every 10 minutes when we refresh our Facebook/Twitter feeds, check our instagrams and snapchats. I think that consumption is the biggest enemy of production & creativity. It's like a path of the least resistance. It's very tempting to consume something and it's much harder to create. The most worrying thing for me is the constant consumption of thoughts and opinions. I feel if you delegate function to get thoughts and opinions to the somebody/something you lose the ability to create them yourself. Ours brains need practice!

Flow

If you are working in any creative field getting into "the flow" is your ultimate goal. It's something almost mythical that you can achieve only rarely and something you don't understand until you experience it. In my opinion, one of the preconditions for getting into the flow is getting long spans of time without interactions. E.x. you can't be in the flow if someone would come to your table every 5 minutes while you working. For doing creative work we want quite spaces. But I don't think it's possible to avoid interruptions if you connected to your phone, your smart watch etc. Your are constantly bombarded by new emails, private message, public chat messages, notifications from apps etc. I don't think most of us have even 30 straight quite minutes during our work days.

Anxiety

I think having 24-hours access to the Internet raises our anxiety levels. Our parents watch this depressing local and international news and worry a lot about things they have no influence on. We however also worried about news. But they are news about our Facebook friends, they are news about some events that are happening now. And we have strong fears and anxieties to miss these events. The problem is that we not worried to miss something once per week or per day, but every 10 minutes. We want to know about those events in the realtime. So basically every minute of our life we are anxious about some issues. Not a great place to be. I strongly recommend to watch Alain de Bottom talks on news and anxiety.

Living in a moment

Personally, it was much harder for me to be at the moment when I had a smartphone. It was extremely hard to have a meaningful conversation, it was very hard to keep any conversation with someone at all because any second me or person I was talking with would pull up phone and check something. Another weird side-effect on our comprehension of the world is a camera in our devices. If you have a camera always with you then you try to use it. Suddenly everyone became a photographer. Instead of just enjoying the beauty of the nature or amazing energy of some music band people would make photos or videos. Instead of looking on the world through the open eyes they start looking into it through the phone screen. There are people who enjoy photography and I understand them doing photos, but not all of us are photographers, right?

I like this tweet and picture:

Tradeoffs

I'm not against smartphones or other Internet-connected devices. They provide us with some very useful functionality. Everyone has their reasons for having a phone. My goal is to understand the trade-offs - what I'm personally getting and losing owning a smart phone. And my only wish is that everyone was able to evaluate personal trade-offs themselves and made an educated decision.

For me the decision was down to evaluating whether constant interruptions and higher anxiety were worth the convenience of getting access to Maps and Wikipedia all the time.

Conclusion

As a software engineer, I'm connected to the Internet probably 14 hours every day. I consume huge amounts of information during those hours. Not having a smartphone gives me ability to be offline for the short periods when I'm commuting, or doing shopping or walking, or having a meal in the restaurant. I think we should strive for the balance and to have some time for ourselves. It can be scary at the beginning and maybe even boring. But that is the only way to know who you are and who you want to be. Permanent consumption prevents us not only from creating products but from knowing and improving ourselves.