Almost one week ago, I handed over my iPhone to KGO management when I was laid off from my job. I’ve been smartphone-less ever since, and have experienced almost every emotion associated with losing a prized and valuable object. An object that’s gotten me from here to there, pointed me toward food when I’m hungry, coffee when I’m tired, and displayed the temperature when I didn’t know what to wear. Our smartphones are intertwined with the fabric of our lives, facilitating the advanced web of communication between us. Texts! Calls! Emails! Facebook! Twitter! Instagram! Without the iPhone, I felt lost and alone.
Then, I discovered my brain.
In the days since I’ve no longer had a smartphone, I’ve felt my brain growing and learning in ways it hasn’t since school. I have to look at landmarks to find my way around, create maps in my brain of the spaces around me, and drive without Siri’s comforting voice. I’ve even gotten lost a couple of times, and had to use my own wiles to find my way to my destination. I was getting there, old school style.
At first, this felt awful. I had a constant bloom of anxiety in my chest, wondering if I’d get lost, if anyone was trying to reach me, if I was missing some sort if immediate and urgent news. I wanted to check my phone at traffic lights, make calls when I drove, see what was happening on Facebook. I felt shaken inside, and wondered if this is how it feels to be an addict.
But luckily, I didn’t have to completely cold turkey, because I have an iPod touch that works in wifi. I delightfully discovered that I can make phone calls through Google, text to other iPhones, and look up important map information before I leave my house. The only thing different is that I no longer have a little friend that’s hooked up to the world wide web, constantly bothering me to pay it some mind.
A recent New York Times article discussed how much we rely on GPS. That the part of our brains responsible for mapping out our surroundings are actually shrinking. That even cab drivers, who had very advanced internal maps, are now losing this part of themselves as they rely more and more on GPS. So the more we use smartphones, the smaller our brains become. Scary.
I have learned a lot about myself during this week without a smartphone. That I am able. That I don’t have to be in constantcommunictionwitheveryoneatalltimesconstantlyeveryminuteeverysecondeveryday. That I can drive around and use the time to think, or listen to the radio. That coming home, then checking my email is a treat to look forward to. That smartphones are not really a necessary evil.
But despite all this learning and hopefully brain growing, I have ordered another smartphone. I hope my relationship with this one is different. I am choosing a service called Project Fi from Google, where you pay as you go for data, $10 per gig. But if you don’t use data, the phone is only $20 per month for unlimited texts and calls. I’m hoping the fact that I have to pay to surf convinces me to use my own brain, to figure things out, before immediately going to my phone.
The smartphone culture we now have saddens me. It’s like we’re a bunch of cyborgs looking down, constantly hooked up to the outside world, doing something else. Forget about eye contact or hellos on the street, or even in a bar. We are a society of addicts.
I hope at some point, everyone learns to look up, to grow, to change.