I want to register my voice as one who appreciates modern technology but does not want a smart phone. I’ve had one for about six years, and I’m in the process of giving it up.
I feel overwhelmed by the capacity to be constantly connected to my social circles and news streams, by the headaches I get from looking at screens for too long, and by the sheer amount of things I can do on my phone. I feel like a slave to it sometimes: it pulls me in, and I can’t say no until I realize how stressed I feel — and even then I sometimes keep right on clicking and typing. If I put my email account on my phone, no matter how much self-control I try to summon, I end up checking it all the time for new messages. The capability is too powerful to refuse.
Some people seem to handle so much connectedness and screen time just fine. I’m not one of them. My smart phone sucks up a significant amount of my mental, visual and social energy, and more and more often I find myself wanting to get away from it (and from all screens) for a while and just be in physical, here-and-now reality instead.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. A New York Times article, “Step Away from the Phone!” by Caroline Tell from Sept. 20, 2013, discusses how “the expectation that we must always be available” harms us and how different people (including some big names like Marc Jacobs) are creating boundaries for their technology use and doing “digital detoxing” to help keep their sanity. Also, the New York-based non-profit Reboot sponsors a National Day of Unplugging each year in March and reported that this year’s participants numbered in the thousands. Following the event, a New Yorker article (“The Pointlessness of Unplugging” by Casey N. Cep) criticized it as essentially a “priggish” national attention-seeking day for people to shout, “Look how unusual I am, I’m going off the grid!” and then get right back “on the grid” the next day as though nothing had happened.
But even if that were the case, I think personal wellbeing is a great cause to get attention for. And while completely changing our technology habits is surely more effective for our wellbeing and perhaps more worthy of notice, I think just taking brief periods “off the grid” can help tremendously as well.
Nevertheless, for me, the answer seems to be just getting rid of my smart phone. But I’ve used it for so long that the process of downgrading is not simple at all. I have to collect all the devices and services which will replace it — a digital camera, a landline phone and a basic cell phone for travel (and probably for texting with my family, because they prefer texting to calling these days), an mp3 player for my music, and so on. The process may not be simple, but I do love the feeling of simplicity, freedom, and peace I get with each new step away from the smart phone.
I’m finally figuring out that convenience does not equal necessity. Just because I can do everything on a smart phone doesn’t mean I need to or should. Convenience and coolness, I’ve realized, are not nearly as high on my priority list as health and happiness.
Or, in the words of the old Boston song, “I don’t care if I get behind … All I want is to have my peace of mind.”
Sarrah J. Woods, of Charleston is a freelance writer and blogger and owner of S.J. Woods Writing, a professional writing service, sarrahjwoods.com.