April 1, 2023

On not using a Smartphone: The Why

I've been pondering recently - how did I get here?  Why am I the weirdo with a Nokia 105?  Even Cal Newport, of Digital Minimalism Fame, says the phone is fine, but it's how we use it that's the problem.
I think my main issue with that argument is that I feel it's the same as "it's not junk food, it's that you eat it" or "It's not alcohol that causes the problem, it's how much you drink".  Very true - but I am more likely to eat too much junk food if presented with a buffet, and I definitely notice overconsumption increases at a free bar.  

One of my nicknames is "All or Nothing Rachel".  It could be that everyone else is better at controlling their screen time than me.  I found, when I had a smartphone, I looked at it a lot.  Screen time was 4+ hours a day. If someone texted me I would text back... and check something else.  I would spend 20 minutes on a single WhatsApp chat back and forth - and when I was pulled away I would come straight back to see if I missed any messages.

I would be at the park with my kids and think about a quick thing I needed to know/do, and out would come the smart phone.  Maybe this is innocuous to some - adding groceries to a list or checking the weather - but for me this meant I diverted my attention from what I was doing and onto something else.  For my simple little brain I could never just focus on the moment I was in.  For a person prone to overthinking anyways I don't think constantly switching and optimizing with the entire world, from reality to screen, was good for my brain.  

Like most people, I would get my phone out when it was boring.  The train, or a queue.  If I started to feel anxious or scrambled I would grab the phone to sink into it's warm oblivion.  It didn't make me feel better, really.  It just made me feel different.  I didn't have other things "to do" with that time.  But maybe there is value in doing nothing, in giving you head some blank space.

Why was a I filling every moment with thoughts and actions, accelerated by my phone, to the point that I needed the headspace app on my phone to try to unclutter all these thoughts and actions I had spent all day doing?

So yes, I could try rules to use it less - I started by only checking WhatsApp in the evenings.  Or not going on BBC all day.  But then, the Analogue August idea hit - and I thought that instead of working backwards from where I was I could just give it all up for a month.  Maybe I would hate it and go straight back after a month.  People can do lots of things for a month.

I didn't hate it though. If I hadn't tried it for a month I never would have done it.  Maybe this is how people who cut out sugar or coffee feel.  Maybe I did the "Whole 30" of technology.  If, at some point, I think my life will be better by using a smartphone I'll certainly go back.  For now, I am embracing Gretchen Ruben's Satisficer mentality.  My life is not worse than it was, so that's good enough for me!


  1. Exactly what you said ==> if for some reason you ever want or need to use a smartphone again, you can pick one up in a heartbeat. But you've found that not having one works best for you so that's the right path to take for right now.

  2. I think that some people are like alcoholics with their phones. Some people can have one beer and go about their day and some...cannot. For those who cannot, the substance controls them, not the other way around. I think that you are smart to realize this and to take a step back. I definitely see this at work, where some people can manage their time and have other interests, and some people have to keep a phone charger next to their desk and have their notifications pinging left and right and cannot let the phone just sit there unchecked.

    I put my phone on silent/do not disturb at work, or when I am at home and do not want to lose focus, and I have almost all notifications turned off (I keep text notifications and have an "important emails" filter) and then schedule (loosely) time to check the things I need to check (email). However, I am not an addict and I also don't really feel the need to respond right away or always be a slave to my phone so maybe that part of it is easier for me. BUT (I did not intend to make this comment so long...but) I definitely have other things (tortilla chips) where I either consume the entire thing in one sitting or I don't keep it in the house. We all have something!

  3. Love that this is working so well for you! Gretchen Rubin talks about technology being a good slave, but a horrible master and...it's really hard to not have tech leapfrog into a dominant role in our lives.
    While my actual (phone) screen time is likely very "reasonable" for some - usually between 50-75 min/day...that's still A LOT OF TIME. And my biggest problem is how many times I pick it up.
    It's only the last few years I've had a texting plan and no home phone, so my cell phone use has gone way up. Now...everything seems to come via text or e-mail and people use both those modes of communication for things that need a prompt reply, instead of actually making a call. So I do feel like I'm really on-call at all moments, but I'm not sure how to solve that issue when it's so engrained for everything these days (notices from the school, time-sensitive information from work etc)...

  4. I love your approach. While I don't think I would want to give up my smart phone (for many reasons), I do try to have a healthy approach. Screen time was WAY down for me the last couple of weeks when I was at home with my family. Go figure.