Well, first let me start with a disclaimer: I’m hoping that this month, I will be – again – the owner of an iPhone. A used iPhone. My husband’s old iPhone, to be specific. But yes, I will soon be re-joining the world of the perpetually plugged in.
However, in April, when I left my old job, I lost my iPhone and was left to use my not-so-smart LG, slide-y phone with full-keyboard, what-year-is-this-2005? …. phone. I knew it was temporary, but at the time, it made sense. I was leaving a job with the intention of going back to school and working part-time. I wasn’t going to have a lot of money, thus, it made no sense to buy yet another iPhone and shoulder an additional $30 a month in data costs.
And we did save money. What else did I save? A little bit of my sanity. You see, when I was working as an editor/reporter, I was addicted to my stupid iPhone. Like all the mindless minions out there, I checked it constantly. I was always on Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare. I downloaded apps. I guess I wasn’t as bad as some – I never played games, and my app list was relatively short. And I can honestly say I never did anything that could remotely be considered “snap-chatting”.
But that phone had a fatal flaw that nearly killed me: it connected me to email. And at the time, my inbox received close to 50-75 messages a day. I was obsessed with staying on top of that inbox, and thus checked messages again, and again, and again. My boss expected it, my co-workers did it, and so why shouldn’t I reach for my phone first thing in the morning and prepare myself for an instant dose of stress not even one minute after opening my eyes.
After awhile, I had to instill some rules regarding the iPhone, but it wasn’t until I left that job that my sanity began to return. Leaving that job was, in total, a huge weight off my shoulders, but sending back that iPhone was somehow the best part. Goodbye constant communication! Goodbye working 24/7! Goodbye headaches! Goodbye stress!
Since the spring, the difficulties of being mute in the constantly chattering smartphone world have been few and far between. Sometimes, it really would be nice to have a GPS. And yeah, it helps kill those minutes when you arrive an annoying 5-10 minutes early somewhere. And OK, the jokes and blank stares when I mention I don’t have a smartphone are starting to get irritating.
But at the same time, it’s been very freeing, and after working a stressful job for two-and-a-half years, relaxing. After staring at glowing screens for years, I’m forced to look around me when I’m out and about. I notice things when I walk somewhere. When I have free moments, instead of checking Facebook for stupid updates I didn’t need to worry about anyway, I stare off into space. I daydream. I read the book I always keep in my purse. I think. I watch people.
And while the GPS is convenient, sometimes getting lost isn’t a bad thing – in fact, I might argue it’s a pleasure we’ve largely abandoned in recent years. Getting lost forces you to discover new things and learn how to find your way, using only the markers found in our physical world. It also requires you to learn how to navigate and take directions.
And believe me, I’ve never missed throwing away hours of my life playing Words With Friends.
All this being said, I found this article on Salon fascinating: Smartphone are killing us – and destroying public life.
A deft user can digitally enhance her experience of the city. She can study a map; discover an out-of-the-way restaurant; identify the trees that line the block and the architect who designed the building at the corner. She can photograph that building, share it with friends, and in doing so contribute her observations to a digital community. On her way to the bus (knowing just when it will arrive) she can report the existence of a pothole and check a local news blog.
It would be unfair to say this person isn’t engaged in the city; on the contrary, she may be more finely attuned to neighborhood history and happenings than her companions. But her awareness is secondhand: She misses the quirks and cues of the sidewalk ballet, fails to make eye contact, and limits her perception to a claustrophobic one-fifth of normal. Engrossed in the virtual, she really isn’t here with the rest of us.
When I do eventually return to the world of intelligent phone ownership, I will appreciate the convenience of accessing the Internet in the palm of my hand. Instagram will be a friendly face I’ll be glad to see again. And yes, I will probably Tweet more because, let’s face it, tweeting from your computer is kind of lame. But never again will I be one of those people – the ones who aren’t able to see the rest of the world beyond the confines of their tiny screens.