I gave up my phone for a week and would recommend it to everyone
‘Siri is laughing at us all’
Young people are drinking less, smoking less, and using fewer drugs.
We have replaced these traditional methods of passing time in our prime with staring at a tiny, glowing screen. A new, more efficient form of distraction that protects us, intermittently, from life. We have traded one addiction for another. I’m addicted to my phone, you’re addicted to your phone, so is your 11-year-old sister and probably your mum.
When I decided to give up my phone for a week, I realised it would be the longest that I had gone without one in ten years. The only other habits of mine that are as ritualistic – eating, breathing and sleeping – are ones that keep me alive. The silent and seamless integration of mobile phones into our lives is terrifying.
But unlike other addictions, giving up my phone was easy. I woke up the morning after powering off my phone and left the house feeling free. I walked to the library not plugged into headphones, not responding to messages, not checking my Facebook. I assumed that without the internet at my fingertips, I’d spend the walk navel-gazing and feeling self-righteous, but instead I just thought about nothing in particular.
The same thing happened when I arranged to meet people. Instead of filling the minutes between our separate arrivals scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, I just waited. Not having a phone meant I didn’t fill the short gaps waiting for life to happen with someone else’s statuses or tweets, or that incessant stream of online news articles. I simply existed. Doing nothing has never felt so good.
It’s mad: our phones seem to comfort us, but in fact all they do is stress us out. These devices have a dark, beautiful power over us when we are alone. The constant barrage of information and attention is pernicious, the connectedness artificial. You don’t realise how much it is affecting you. There is no unrequited love that matches that of a mobile phone and its user.
Furthermore, the phone is a substitute for all social interaction. We have replaced friends with friend, and unlike your flawed human pals, there is an ever decreasing list of things your phone can’t do. But the solace the phone delivers is complicated. Perhaps it’s galling news stories about how our generation/humanity is fucked, perhaps it’s people living a more exciting life than you are, but the phone feeds our anxiety, so much so that it might as well come as one of those built-in Apple apps that you can’t delete.
It is easy to forget that real people exist at the other end of your phone. I felt selfish when I gave mine up. I emailed my parents to let them know that I wouldn’t have my phone for a week and received an immediate reply from my mum asking, in the way that only mothers do, for the contact details of my housemates just in case anything happened. My dad was coming to visit me halfway through the phone-less week for dinner and told me that he hoped that this article wouldn’t become “How I failed to meet my Dad in York City Centre”. My girlfriend said that it had become harder to track me, and the fact that I’d dropped off of her Snapchat best friend list was heart-wrenching. I realised phonelessness makes you more attuned to others’ thinly-veiled sarcasm.
Still, I woke on the morning I was due to reclaim my phone quietly excited about it. I slipped back into the habit immediately: it returned to being a pinging, blipping and buzzing extension of my hand. A few hours after getting it back I was longing to give it up again, but without a legitimate excuse, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Even now, as I write this, I am clicking my phone redundantly every few minutes, checking for notifications. If there was ever anything that desperately needed my attention, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone to get hold of me. Throughout the week I still had access to Facebook and the internet via my laptop, but not having a phone meant I didn’t always have immediate access to them. I went on my laptop on my own terms, when I felt like it. I realised that so much of our communication is unmemorable, pointless and, most importantly, can wait.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve had more time to revise for my exam,s but I reckon Siri is laughing at us all. We think we tell it what to do, but it’s the other way round. Our lives are compartmentalised and we are now ruled by an omnipotent-Angry Birds Frankensteinian clusterfuck, built by Dr. Steve Jobs and cased in sleek metal and glass.
I plan to buy a shitty phone that can only take calls and texts. It won’t stop my life being controlled by aggravating bleeping, but it’ll help.