Last year I lost my phone on a trip to China. I’d lost it before I’d even gotten off the plane actually, and I spent two weeks exploring the country without it. I enjoyed the concept of phone-free living so much that I didn’t bother getting a new one when I got home.
I then wrote about my experience in this post. The story got picked up by a national radio station and I was interviewed 19 times to talk about what it was like to live without a phone. People seemed to be really interested.
I spent four weeks without a phone that time — now, it’s been six months.
But the difference this time is that I do have a phone, I just don’t use it like everyone else.
I have a phone that isn’t linked to a network or service provider. I can’t walk down the street and send texts or make phone calls or check messages. I can’t take a picture while I’m out and post it to Instagram right away. I can only do these things if I’m connected to WiFi, but I can still do a lot with my phone even when I’m offline — you’d be surprised.
I’ve been living this way for six months and it’s an experience that goes beyond a “digital detox”. I call it “slightly less connected”.
Living this way has allowed me to notice some of the bad habits of people that are always on their phones — habits that just wouldn’t exist if these people decided to be less connected like I am.
These are a few of the bad habits I’ve noticed many of you have.
1. You’re a constant flake
People seem to use their phone as a means for making excuses — if you’re running late, you send a text to say so; if you have to cancel, you send an email 5 minutes before. You treat others this way because it’s the way they treat you—even though you hate it when they do.
Without ubiquitous access to a phone, you’re forced commit to plans and be on time. Your friends that know you don’t have a phone become aware of this, so they also show up on time. This new mutual respect for each others’ time and plans emerges, and those that are incapable of that respect seem unorganized and unreliable. You start to notice which type of person is better to have around.
2. You don’t respect people as much as you should
When you’re tethered to a constant connection, you’re easily taken out of the present and transplanted to future concerns. Heading for a walk? You get messages that make you think about something else entirely — a completely irrelevant thing from what you’re currently doing. The people you’re with do notice — but they probably don’t say anything.
You’re also selective of what and who you respond to, because there are some things you’d rather ignore at that moment. So you end up flaking on people that are trying to reach you, too — and they know this because you’ve seen their message.
By not being constantly connected, you give greater respect to those around you and even those that aren’t.
3. You’re a terrible driver
I’ve been the passenger of a car whose driver is swiping between two phones at once — one for music, the other for texting. I’ve been next to a driver trying to show me pictures on Instagram from the highway. I’ve watched an Uber driver send texts and scroll through contacts while he tries to get me somewhere safely.
No matter what you think, a person looking down at their phone cannot be the same quality of driver as they are without looking down at their phone. And if you were just slightly less connected like me, you wouldn’t be on your phone in your car at all.
4. You get less done
You’re always thinking about two things at once. Similar to how you lack respect for the people around you both presently and virtually, you have trouble giving respect to things you’re doing. The tasks you work on or set out to accomplish are always given less than 100% of your focus, and the result is they take twice as long to complete or are of lesser than perfect quality.
"You can spend less time on something if you give it 100% of your focus."
When you allow yourself to always be connected, you’re reacting to events as they come to your attention. You think you’re getting more done at once, but you’re just switching between tasks and to-do list items, without ever actually spending more time or focus on just one thing.
If you instead devoted your entire focus on just one thing, you’d spend less time on it and it would turn out better — giving yourself more time to respond to your friends or send a Snapchat later on.
5. You use your phone as a social crutch
You stand in a crowded elevator and swipe between home screens, without having anything new to check. You come up with a reason to text someone while you’re at a party because you aren’t drunk enough. You can’t sit and sip a coffee from a park bench without scrolling through Instagram.
I once even saw a woman in her thirties scrolling through Facebook from her bar stool, next the man who’d brought her there and was ordering her drinks. Something about her inexpressive face lit up by a screen made me very sad.
Sure, a lot of people are uncomfortable in social situations, and maybe looking at your phone to pass the time or avoid a moment of awkwardness is easier for you. But it still isn’t a good habit to get into — no matter how awkward you are.
And if you think you’re being nice by accepting an invitation to just sit on your phone somewhere, you’re wrong. Stay home until you can figure out how to enjoy yourself.
Living a slightly less connected life does take some getting used to. You might need to learn what it’s like being on time for things, you’ll probably need to get used to living in the present, and you’ll have to cope with the fact that you won’t be able to Google every question that pops into your mind at any given moment.
But once you do, you’ll notice that these were once your bad habits and that you’re much better off without them.