I dropped my phone into a pool a couple days ago, and that just might have been one of the better things I've done in a while.
I switched to a "smartphone" some years ago. That first smart phone was so exciting. Email and Internet on my phone! And then apps upon apps. And a camera. And my calendar. And my to-do list -- all in one little device!
But I hadn't realized how much that phone has infiltrated my being, and changed the way I go through my days and live my life.
When my phone plopped into the water and sank to the bottom, I had that sickening feeling: Oh no, when did I last sync the phone and save my address list, my notes, my photos? Had I remembered to get insurance? How long would I be without a phone, how was anyone going to be in touch with me, how would I stay in touch, how many texts was I going to miss, without the senders knowing I was not ignoring them
I did have insurance, and the phone company would be mailing me a new phone. But -- gasp -- I would be without my phone for a few days. Unthinkable. The lovely phone store clerk set me up with a temporary phone -- an "old-school" kind with no wireless and no smarts. I would, however, be able to phone and text.
It was not that long ago that texting meant using your two thumbs to press numbers multiple times to get to the letter you wanted. My teens at the time were lightning fast, but I could never get the hang of it. I quickly discovered after I left the phone store that I still can't. So I was going to have a phone with my phone number on it for a few days, and nothing more.
Psychologists who study these kinds of things have been noticing we are displaying symptoms of addiction to our smart phones. I immediately went into a type of withdrawal. Unease, fear, anxiety -- how was I going to function without ready continuous access to the world through that phone that was always with me?
It started even as I was driving home. I guiltily admit, I too often check my email at stoplights, and I check the Internet while waiting in line at the grocery store. So I found myself driving home feeling a little antsy. What was I missing? What emails or texts or news was I behind on already?
The next day, I headed out for my morning walk feeling frustrated and irritated and a little lost; I didn't have my phone's podcasts to listen to. But then I noticed a turtle crossing the road. I stopped, enjoyed the won
der of it, and stayed with it long enough to see it safely across the road before any cars came. I stopped and chatted with a neighbor on my way home -- someone I usually only nod and smile at while listening to my headphones on my walks.
As I've gone through the past couple days, my anxiety has ramped down and I'm relaxing. I'm checking my email only when I sit down intentionally at my laptop to do so. I'm reading a novel without having a smart phone beside me, continually pulling at me to check my latest emails. I had to recreate that lost to-do list on paper, and I discovered it's so much more satisfying to physically scratch off a done thing, than to just delete it.
What I'm doing is going back to how I did things just a few short years ago. It's striking to me how quickly I've allowed a smart phone to integrate itself into my life; even worse, how much control I've ceded to this little electronic thing.
The device that makes so many things easier and faster has also scattered my attention. I react instinctively every time my phone dings with a text. I too often am distracted from the present moment, and present people, by that lure to check emails.
My replacement phone is arriving late tomorrow. Two days ago, I didn't know how I could get through three days without it. Now I'm thinking of just giving it a couple more days to sit in the box, giving myself a little more digital detoxing.
Of course I'll go back to using my smartphone, and I'll appreciate the conveniences it offers. But with a few days away from it, I've gained a bit of wisdom.
I'm going to try to tread carefully while re-integrating the new phone into my life. I know there will always be the allure of newer, better phones and apps coming, and the excitement of seeing all they can do. But I now understand that I need to make the technology work for me, for how I choose to live my life, rather than allowing the ever-increasing and seductive capabilities of technology to change or determine how I live.
And in those random moments when I find myself reaching for my phone, just to check something online, I will remember the turtle, the peace of the uninterrupted reading, the chat with my neighbor -- and I hope I will resist. And take a moment to smile at the unexpected gift of a dropped phone.