One Month with No Phone — How to Go Phoneless in a Major US City

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Lane Wood’s last photo with his iPhone 5.

Preface by Tim/Editor

This guest post is by Lane Wood, societal entrepreneur, CMO of Humin, and alum of Warby Parker and charity:water.

I recently went four weeks without phone, computer, or calendar, while in Indonesia. But what if you’re in a major US city? Can you go phoneless? Lane shares his experience doing exactly that…

Enter Lane

Just over a month ago, I was in a precarious situation. You see, I’m new to the freelance game and through a series of novice moves, I found myself without a big client and no work lined up for July. It was a rough month.

I had already planned a mini personal retreat with some friends and decided to just go for it— and try to find some solace in the beautiful mountains surrounding Lake Shasta. Early one morning, I was in paradise as I breathed in the mountain air, looked for miles over the mountains and I snapped the photo above. Little did I know it’d be the last picture my poor iPhone would take.

Our crew decided to rent a boat, and we headed out with a tube and a wakeboard. When we were about 300 yards from the marina, the boat engine started having trouble and we thought there was a rope caught in the propeller. I decided to be a hero and dove into the water. With my iPhone 5.

Given my freelancer cash flow issues, a newly signed contract with Verizon and no insurance, I chose not to spend $700 on a new device. I powered up my iPad mini (with 4G) and spent the next month in San Francisco without a phone.

When I mention this to people, heads tilt to the side, eyes bulge and mouths are left gaping open.

“Wait, what? How… I mean… Really? No Phone?”

Yep.

Now with intense curiosity, they lean in.

“What’s it like?”

They sound as if I’ve just told them I’m on ecstasy.

But I get it. Not a lot of people have had this experience. So I’d like to share what I’ve learned…

How I did it…

Texting: iMessage + Path.

Phone calls: Scheduled Google+ Hangouts and Skype calls.

Camera: Shameful and limited iPad camera usage.

MVP award for this experience goes to DODOcase. I’ve had it with me this whole time disguising the iPad mini. People assume that I’m carrying a journal around, and at a moment’s notice am ready to write down all of my profundities. I keep it tucked away in the back of my jeans and under my shirt.

Lesson #1: Mindless Phone Usage (MPU) is stealing our humanity

When one uses a tablet in public, everyone notices. It is not subtle. So if I want to text a friend, check my email or read an article, I have to answer this question:  “Is this moment appropriate for me to have this big device in my hands?”  Conversations will stop.  Strangers will look.  I will be “that guy.”

Result: I’ve stopped mindlessly checking Twitter. I’ve stopped using Facebook on mobile at all. I don’t refresh my inbox. I don’t fill awkward silences with technology. I’m mindful of the affect of my tech behavior on the people around me. I’m much more present, and I’ve grown incredibly irritated at my friends when they have their phone out for absolutely no reason.

Tinder. Twitter. Tumblr. Tinder. Twitter. Tumblr.

Refresh. Swipe right. Like. Heart.

MPU. Ugh.

I can’t stress how important this shift has been for me.

Lesson #2: Vibrate is the secret killer of mental clarity

Yes, it’s absurd to let our phone ring aloud in any public situation. So we put our phone on vibrate. Even still, we are interrupted by completely inane and non-urgent notifications pleading for our attention.Vibrate is the phone’s temper tantrum. And we reward it by giving our attention, rather than putting it in time out (do not disturb).

Result: Without a vibrating device in my pocket, I’m unaware of messages, notifications and the kicking and screaming that the operating system is doing all day long. I get out my iPad when I need to check in. I may not get back to your text within 30 seconds, and for 99% of situations, that’s acceptable. I’m more focused, less stressed and decidedly present.

Lesson #3: We use 5% of the photos we take and waste some of the best moments viewing real life on a screen

The best camera is the one that you have with you. Unless it’s a tablet.

I live on Alamo Square Park, and at about any point in the day, you can see tourists taking photos of the Full House houses with their tablets. Inexplicably it happens at concerts. Each time, I laugh and judge. Until recently.

Having only a tablet on hand creates a very interesting camera dilemma. I must ask myself, “Self, why do you need a photo of this?  Is it worth the scorn of your friends and strangers alike?”

Result: I don’t take many photos. While at Outside Lands music festival, I took only eight pictures in three days of festival revelry. And honestly, I think that it was enough. I have proof that I saw a Beatle and I have a couple of photos of my friends, The Lone Bellow and Kopecky Family Band, playing on stage.

Instagram users have yet to organize a revolt at the absence of my content.

Lesson #4: Having separation anxiety from a device is ridiculous and serious

Imagine this scenario: You’re at a friend’s house for dinner and your phone is in the car.

How do you feel? Need a Xanax? Are you plotting your escape to rescue your lonely device?

We’ve lost the ability to be fully present. This is not news. After a month of not having a phone, I don’t notice the empty pocket. I walk out of my room regularly without a device. Walk through the park. Eat dinner. No devices. I don’t feel phantom vibrations.There is a serious psychological and emotional difference when I’m not shackled to a device that is constantly begging for my attention.

I know this unintentional yet transformative experiment has been as much of a disruption for my family, friends and clients as it has been for me. So, after 31 full days, I’m currently tracking a FedEx truck bringing to me a shiny new iToy. I wonder if I have the discipline to retain new healthier tech habits. I can already feel the faint buzzing on my right leg.

If you see me out, falling back into MPU tendencies, you have permission to call it out. In hopes that we can all work through this together, I’ve started a list of ways you can gain discipline without spending a month sans phone.

How to “discipline hack” without giving up your phone:

1.  Turn your screen brightness all the way up when you go out at night. You will be very painfully aware of the fact that you’re using a phone and it will drain your battery. These consequences will help you use your phone only when necessary, and your friends will be more likely to call you out for having your phone out.

2.  Experiment with using Do Not Disturb functionality and turn your notifications off. Don’t reward your phone for throwing tantrums.

3.  Make an agreement with family and friends to call each other out for MPU.

4.  Leave a comment below to suggest your own hack!

###

AFTERWORD BY TIM: Have you ever gone without phone or computer? If so, how did you manage it? If you were to go 2-4 weeks without electronics, how would you approach it? Please share your thoughts below…

This post originally appeared on Medium. Published here with permission.

Posted on: December 23, 2013.

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209 comments on “One Month with No Phone — How to Go Phoneless in a Major US City

  1. Running a business I’d find it hard to make do without a phone. I rarely use my cell phone and don’t give out the number. Most meetings are via skype, but there are just some clients who want to talk and don’t have the technological ability to install or use skype. I’ve decided to start screening clients for the ability to use technology since I know those are usually my problem clients.

    Interesting read! Thanks.

    Like

  2. I’d turn off both the wireless and data, put then phone on DND (no vibrations) and only check once every 4-5 hours….

    This would preserve battery life and your presence within reality as well.

    Like

  3. I actually did this using the same inbox tactics from the Four Hour Work Week. Keep your phone on airplane mode (wifi off, too!) or “Do Not Disturb” mode, with the exception of twice a day – say 11:00am and 6:00pm.

    Check and respond to voicemail, twitter, etc. for ten minutes or so, then go dormant again.

    Easiest way to go about this in my opinion. Check messages and surf at those preset intervals only! Greatly improves battery life, too.

    Like

  4. A few things I’ve tried
    – Just leaving my phone at home for certain things like going to dinner. This is probably a good first step.
    – Turn off push notifications for everything.
    – The girlfriend has reluctantly agreed to a no phone while eating pact, but it’s difficult to enforce.

    I remember very distinctly when all of my coworkers had blackberries and I was using an old flip phone that could barely text…before the screen broke and I used it purely manually. It was just really strange watching them constantly checking and sending emails when we were just standing around waiting. You couldn’t have a normal conversation. There was this constant sense of urgency about things that just didn’t matter. I vowed to never be like them.

    Probably 7 years later I now have to fight against this in myself.

    If you have no other choice, my friend went the nuclear option. He bought a prepaid featureless cellphone that he uses for actual phone calls and ditched the iphone all together.

    Like

  5. Yes. Yes. YES. Going without a phone is so much easier than one believes. Just don’t charge the thing, and test out your resolve. In a week, you won’t even realize it’s gone. If you do, remind yourself that your computer does everything your phone does, so why not just one device?

    I went about 5 or 6 months without one last year, and would still be without one if my father didn’t bug me about wanting to stay in better contact with me. I didn’t miss it one bit.

    No one had phones growing up, so if you think *just* about that, getting rid of a phone is easy. I used to drive back’n’forth from NJ to IL at least once a year during college, all without a phone and no one thought twice about it. I had a CB radio. That was it. I think we fool ourselves (with the help of marketing), into believing we need this stuff.

    Worried about emergencies? Did you know that by law every phone has to be able to dial 911? So if you’re concerned about safety, cancel your plan, charge up your battery, and just keep that phone with you. You’ll be able to dial 911 if you’re ever caught in an emergency where a phone can be of use.

    My latest experiment in this regard is going without Internet at home. I moved about two months ago and didn’t sign up for Internet when I moved. The result? I save about $50 a month, have more time to myself at night, buy less crap on impulse at Amazon.com when I’m bored, and am learning guitar and Spanish – two things I’ve been telling myself I should do for years. That’s a win, in my book! ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Louise,

        Yep. I have Internet at work, and there is wireless on an upper floor of my building that I sometimes use (like now). I’m experimenting with giving up extended/always on Internet usage – not having wireless in my apartment is a big time saver. I’m not likely to sit here in the lounge and surf for hours like I’m inclined to do when I have it in my apartment. I also don’t have Internet on my phone. To me, it’s kinda’ like Cheez-Its. If I have them at home, I’ll eat the whole damn box in two days. If I just don’t buy them, then I can stay away almost indefinitely. Thanks for asking your question!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I did 2 weeks on holiday in Spain (from the UK) a couple of years ago without a phone or computer and it was wonderful. There were 4 of us on holiday together, and whilst we all had our phones with us, costs were such that we agreed we’d only use them in dire emergencies. It meant we actually talked to each other when we were all in the living room together and generally had an excellent time.

    Like

  7. Hi, I’m still back in the middle-ages using a old flip cell phone in a regular manner to talk to people. Occasionally I’ll use the number pad to text but it’s kind of a pain. I don’t want to pay extra for a media plan or a fancy easy to break phone so I do not access internet via cell phone. I also had all media blocked. I do not like to be electronically attached all the time so regularly leave my phone in the car or buried in my purse where I can’t hear it. My friends know this and put up with it. I assume an ipad mini is a little computer? I take pictures with a regular point and shoot camera.

    Like

  8. I went without my phone for 2 months and I loved it. It didn’t annoy anyone too much with iMessage on my computer to answer people back when they needed me and no more calls.

    Only people who don’t take too kindly will be your employers who always want to track you down and make you work extra hours or significant others who want to check in and worry.

    Family are typically content to use FaceTime which is also available on the Mac and those calls only come in late evening or early morning when they are expected.

    Man I wish I never got my new phone now, those days were so much more peaceful.

    Like

  9. This post caught my attention because I love my phone and tablet free life : ) (People think I’m nuts, but that’s ok.) I keep a phone charged but off in the glove compartment of my car in case of emergencies. I take it with me if I travel. I turn it on when I’m meeting clients on location in case they are running late and want to contact me. But for everyday life, everyone knows to call my house because there’s no point trying to reach me on my cell. If I’m not home … leave a message. I’ll call you back when I’m not right in the middle of something. I’m kind of sad for people as I look around and see them all tied to their phones … it’s no wonder we’re all so stressed : (

    Like

  10. I have an eCommerce business. It’s not outsourced because I like managing it myself, it’s like a hobby that also brings me income.

    And I’ve been living without phone for couple years now. I have an iPhone, but I don’t have SIM card in it, I just use it when I go out to check email if I visit coffee shop if they have wifi, 5 minutes. It started when I couldn’t afford to pay for it :) And then I realized that nobody calls me anyway, all my communication happens via email. When business took off and I started getting money, I decided not to get phone service.

    Now… I spent 3 months in Japan, – April-June 2013. And when I came back to Vancouver, I realized that I don’t have any memories in my head. All my memories are on numerous videos that I was making while visiting different places in Japan. Well, I like those videos, but I didn’t feel like I was traveling at all!

    Now I’m in Japan again, moved here for a year or so. I told myself that I’m not going to take pictures or videos, – and I don’t. Finally I live my life through my eyes, not through the screen of iPhone camera! :)

    Like

    • I thought I was the only one who did this. When we travel everyone is always saying “take a picture!” and ” get a video of that!”. Jeeze, I’d rather have the experience than some sort of proof that I had the experience.

      The only exception is when I see something that I know a particular family member would really have liked to see. Then I’ll get a shot or two to forward on to them.

      Like

  11. A few years ago I could not afford to keep my phone contract going and then my TV broke. Cue 7 months bliss I used my office phone to arrange to meet friends, had less anxiety (sure this was news related). And the final bonus was my grades improved at night school and I got promoted at work.
    Sadly I caved and bought a new TV in time for Beijing Olympics. I go regret that now and I’m giving serious consideration to going full cold turkey on both smartphone and TV.

    Like

  12. This may not be cold turkey, but setting vibrate to occur only for calls is a baby step you can do NOW. Notifications, emails, and texts can be silent. You no longer have the “I may miss a call!” excuse.

    Like

  13. I have heard people say they “sleep with their phone” in case of important calls or messages, or “their phone is like their baby”, they can’t be away from it for a minute…really???? What could be sooooooooo important and why is it so difficult to enforce no phone usage during meals? Basic things like eating, sleeping, exercise, bathing, and conversing with loved ones are the fabric of a healthy life. Amazing what we have deemed “normal” and even necessary. I have been living without a phone for 6 months. It works fine. There is nothing radical about it. My time is my own, appointments are arranged via email, and people show up when and where they are supposed to, unless hospitalized! MPU is disrespectful. I worry for our culture.

    Like

  14. Hi, this is really interesting. I actually went on a 2 week low information diet back at uni. I found it very transformative, I found myself with so much free time during the experience and afterwards I stopped wasting away my time getting stuck on loops of imgur, facebook, youtube ect. I still spent my free time on TV, movies, videogames, manga, reading ect but it was things that I enjoy and I felt much more control of my time and a much more clarity in my thinking without the constant internet and phone distractions. I also felt a big weight off my shoulders with so much distraction in my life no longer mentally weighing me down. I’ve been recently starting to go back to my distractions and I think now would be a good time to have another information fast.

    I’m not a huge fan of all these ‘hacks’ because they are a pain to implement and take more mental energy than they save usually. I would recommend just going on a 2 week information (or just smartphone) fast and coming back to it maybe 2-3 times a year.

    If that’s too much the number 1 thing that I would recommend is turning off all is turning off all notifications on your smartphone other than text messages and calls. It will free up so much time and be a massive mental weight off your shoulders too.

    Like

  15. I’ve never had this problem myself. My phone is perpetually on silent and Google Voice e-mails me with missed calls and text messages. My e-mail gets opened once or twice a day. No biggie. :)

    Like

  16. I saw Baratunde did this and wrote about it in a cover story on Fast Company recently. I’ve only gone a day or two without phone or email and it feels amazing. I think going a week without it would be a huge relief as well and plan to test this out in the next couple months for sure. Thanks for the tips here.

    Like

  17. Earlier this year I experimented with a 40 day modified electronics fast, allowing myself only quick, infrequent email/msg checks. It got easier and easier, but not long after the 40 days were up I found myself with nearly the same behaviors as before.

    Recently found the book iDisorder, by Larry Rosen, PhD, recognized expert in psychology of technology, a MUST read! Intriguing, helpful (and totally non-judgmental!)

    His goal is to help us “recognize the warning signs of iDisorders and develop strategies to maintain our humanity”, and I like the sound of his declaration that there IS a way “to achieve harmony with technology without being controlled by the constant influx of information.”

    Such a harmony sounds most appealing.

    Like