The Unexpected Benefits From Giving Up My Smartphone

About eighteen months ago I did the "unthinkable" and gave up my smartphone.

I had been using a smartphone for over five years at that point. And I realized a few things. First, I was always connected, online, and available. I have Wi-Fi at work and home. I didn't really need to be spending $50+ on my smartphone. And maybe I'd even feel better and more productive if I gave it up. That seems obvious, right?

Most people react with horror to the idea that I only have a flip phone.

I get a lot of the same reactions when people find out I don't have a smartphone. They think I never had one and refuse to "give in." But I did give in, for almost five years. Or they think that I must be deprived. Don't worry - I still find a way to watch ridiculous videos on YouTube. I'm still almost always connected, just not 24/7. And I get to control when I am connected. Some people decide that it is nice for me to do this, but THEY could never give up THEIR smartphone. Well, you could. If you wanted to.

Without a smartphone, I can spot someone who is addicted from a mile away.

Most people I meet are addicted to their smartphones. It's something you notice when you don't have one. They get distracted during conversations. They pull it out when they are bored. I'm left standing there, enjoying nature...or trying to be present in the grocery line instead of distracted. I don't wonder where "the time has gone." Or "what just happened" at an event. If you have a smartphone, and don't think you're addicted - I'm here to you that you probably are. Smartphones help feed the "attention residue" problem Dr. Cal Newport writes about. It's hard to get back on track even after "just checking" your smartphone for a second. Or hearing it buzz in your backpack, as many of my students do in the classroom.

I have been building up my ability to "unplug."

Since I've given up my smartphone, I've been able to go for longer and longer times of unplugging. No email, internet, or related distractions (people could call me in case of a big emergency). Sometimes I take just a day. The world does not end. No one needs to talk to me online that desperately (much to my surprise sometimes). I've even gone unplugged for an entire week. And I already wrote about my silent retreat weekend. I'm not sure I could have gone on that trip if I had a smartphone. It's really great to be able to walk away from technology for awhile, as you can imagine. Most people would probably start shaking after an hour. You have to build yourself up to long stretches.

I have found replacements for the parts I really miss.

  • I do really miss being able to video chat with my sisters. But I make up for it by intentionally calling them more often. And of course, actually going to visit.

  • Texting has just turned into back and forth emails. For people I want to text, of course. If we want to stay connected, we'll find a way.

  • I thought I would miss my running app, that tracked every step and told me when to run and when to walk (when I was first starting). But now I just run. Not every run has to be timed or perfect.

  • Traveling can sometimes be problematic. I want Google Maps for directions or I want the Yelp app to evaluate a restaurant for me. More often than not, I'm with someone who has a smartphone, so it is fine. But even when I'm alone, I find I figure out the road myself. Printed Google Maps directions left off five steps? I can figure it out!

  • I still have a Kindle Fire at home. I use it when I don't want to open up my laptop. But often I find myself saying, "No more screen time tonight." I've had enough. It makes me pick up that book I want to read. Or the craft I want to work on. Or just spending more time petting my dogs. And that feels great.

I don't wonder where the time has gone.

I know where my time is going. I am always trying to be more present. Less distracted. Actually focused on my tasks. Not having a smartphone helps me with those goals. And yes, I still marvel, "that was TEN YEARS ago?" from time to time. But I'm not shocked or startled by it. I'm spending my time the way I want to. I know what year it is and what goals I have for the rest of the year. Yes, Christmas will always be here before we know it. Be present in the mean time.

And maybe eventually I'll return to smartphone land.

Once you have that extra $50 in your pocket, plus phone costs, it is hard to imagine going back. But I can't Uber without a smartphone. I can't Instagram. Most text messages from companies now are links. Eventually, I'll probably have to rejoin the world of the smartphone. And there will be many great things about it. But for now, I'm doing just fine without it. And the best part is I know I can live without it.

Update: I returned to smartphone land after 18 months without one. This blog post continues to be popular with readers, every single day. This wasn’t the only change I made to better my life. Read some of my other tips and tricks here.