I spend hours checking my iPhone each and every day.
Researchers say I shouldn’t – from the slowly dying art of conversation, to memory loss, there is a raft of detrimental effects associated with excessive smartphone use.
British millennials typically use their mobile phones 150 times a day, so I decided to buck the trend and forgo my Apple-branded handset for an entire month.
I bought a yellow Nokia 3310 and decided to leave the world of social network feeds, WhatsApp group chats, and Angry Bird high-scores far behind.
Here’s what I learnt in the month I moved from being an armchair critic, to living a post-smartphone life.
British millennials typically use their smartphones 150 times a day. I decided to buck the trend and went one month without it. I bought a yellow Nokia 3310 ‘brick’ phone and moved from being an armchair critic to living a post-smartphone life
I delayed turning off my smartphone for days. I’m particularly attached to several WhatsApp groups, which can generate hundreds of messages a day.
As such, there’s no good time to break away. I was concerned about disconnecting from these group conversations, worried it would make me more anti-social.
I was also worried about having to rely on my terrible sense of direction so I bought myself a pocket London A to Z and said goodbye to Google Maps.
I switched off my iPhone permanently on March 24th in a sleepy cottage in Cumbria.
Surrounded by rolling hills, it felt like the appropriate setting to disconnect.
With a new SIM card and number bought on the cheapest contract GiffGaff had available – £5 a month for 150 minutes and 500 texts, if you’re wondering – I added the 20 phone numbers that I anticipated needing over the next month.
Twiddling my thumbs on the three-hour train journey from Cumbria back to London, I have to say, the benefits of not having a smartphone were not immediately obvious.
‘I’ll only talk to you if you pay me’, my brother taunted, engrossed in his phone.
I half-heartedly read my book and ate more store-bought pasta salad than I would have had I been able to distract myself with my smartphone. My first small victory was navigating my cycle route from Kings Cross back to Farringdon, where I live.
It was nice not looking at work emails that didn’t deserve my attention at the weekend and I arrived in work on Monday really feeling refreshed — if a little unprepared.
Thankfully, I didn’t experience any ‘withdrawal period’ during the first week of going cold-turkey. This made me question whether I ever really was addicted to my smartphone in the first place, or whether it was just something I used a lot.
Without a smartphone constantly vying for my attention with the chime of unread messages, I started to feel more relaxed.
From waiting in queues for the toilet to getting the tube in the morning, I noticed how panicked people become when they have nothing to do.
Whereas me, I was glad to be doing nothing.
I should never have doubted myself.
To my surprise, the second week without a smartphone brought with it the revelation that I didn’t miss Google Maps anywhere near as much as I thought.
Granted, I stuck to the familiar path I have carved out between the office and home, but on the rare when I did get lost, I would simply stop strangers in the street and ask for directions, which worked just as well.
The benefits of not having a smartphone were not immediately obvious. The train down to London took three hours and I quickly got bored (picture taken at the start of the journey)
On occasions when speaking to members of the public wasn’t an option, I became reliant on those around me who were still fully paid-up members of the smartphone addiction contingent.
For example, on a walking holiday in Wales I was totally dependant on my cousin, who drove us there and navigated Glyndŵr’s Way using Google Maps.
This is a task we would have normally shared. Likewise, my flatmate did a lot of messaging on my netball WhatsApp group – keeping me informed about where I needed to be for the latest matches.
The family WhatsApp conversation was a little inefficient with one member down.
Mum sent regular emails asking if I had seen her messages and – rather unsupportively – asking when I was going to get my smartphone back.
Other people also felt inconvenienced by my hiatus. I didn’t quite have the same concerns, since I was unaware of what I was missing out on.
My friends virtual lives were marching on without me. Gradually, I started getting emails from friends: ‘I don’t know how to contact you, but do you want to come to dinner?’. When I saw friends, I had virtually no idea what they’d been up to.
My brother (pictured) told me he’d only talk to me if I paid him on the train down to London
Since I didn’t have access to apps, I got a black cab for the first time in years.
It might sound flashy, but it was a decision driven only by the fact that I was desperate to get home, and had had enough of waiting for the bus.
It cost me £10 for the journey I know would only have cost a fiver on Uber.
All weekend, I navigated night busses and the tube with the help of intoxicated passengers. It took me much longer to get home than usual, but at least the journeys offered valuable people-watching opportunities.
I missed things like checking the news, being in contact with my best friend Harriet who lives in Hanoi, taking pictures (Nokia has enough in-built storage for a measly five snaps) and checking Twitter. I had to remember to print tickets for gigs too, since I could no longer wave a QR code on my phone beneath the nose of a steward.
However, as time marched on and the final week approached, I started to get used to my new life with a ‘dumb’ phone. Most of the things I found inconvenient did not stay inconvenient for long.
At lunchtime, I read my book rather than scrolling aimlessly through my phone.
I was beginning to feel increasingly able to focus on one thing without getting distracted. I finished ‘On Beauty’ by Zadie Smith in two weeks, something which previously would have taken more one month.
I also had more time to go running (albeit without a playlist to accompany me).
Without the distraction of my smartphone, I started to read more, write more. I was infinitely more productive.
My smartphone gave me the illusion of getting stuff done, without actually accomplishing very much at all – it was all so disposable. The daily exchange of nonsense was simply creating more bulk in my life.
Earlier this year, Simon Cowell announced he hasn’t touched his smartphone in ten months, a choice he claims has made him happier and more focused.
Like Cowell (except without a personal assistant) I began toying with the idea of making post-smartphone life a more permanent decision.
HOW SEVERE IS SMARTPHONE ADDICTION?
With the average age for a child to get their first phone now just 10, young people are becoming more and more reliant on their smartphones.
Worrying research from Korea University suggests that this dependence on the technology could even be affecting some teens’ brains.
The findings reveals that teenagers who are addicted to their smartphones are more likely to suffer from mental disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Other studies have shown people are so dependent on their smartphone that they happily break social etiquette to use them.
Researchers from mobile connectivity firm iPass surveyed more than 1,700 people in the US and Europe about their connectivity habits, preferences and expectations.
The survey revealed some of the most inappropriate situations in which people have felt the need to check their phone – during sex (seven per cent), on the toilet (72 per cent) and even during a funeral (11 per cent).
Nearly two thirds of people said they felt anxious when not connected to the Wi-Fi, with many saying they’d give up a range of items and activities in exchange for a connection.
Sixty-one per cent of respondents said that Wi-Fi was impossible to give up – more than for sex (58 per cent), junk food (42 per cent), smoking (41 per cent), alcohol (33 per cent), or drugs (31 per cent).
A quarter of respondents even went so far as to say that they’d choose Wi-Fi over a bath or shower, and 19 per cent said they’d choose Wi-Fi over human contact.
’Now some of that tapping and swiping and texting connects people, and in that sense, the social connection sense, the smartphone can be a good thing,’ Stanford psychiatrist Dr Anna Lembke told me.
‘But we need to engage more thoughtfully with this new technology, or we’ll find ourselves becoming slaves to mindless, compulsive use,’ she said.
As the fourth week came to a close and my experiment ended, I turned my iPhone back on.
I had over 1,450 unread WhatsApp messages waiting for me, and winced as the messages flashed across my screen.
Faced with the prospect of having to systematically check and reply to the reams of messages filling my lockscreen, I snapped my smartphone back into airplane mode.
Yes, that decided it – I would be taking a leaf from Cowell’s book after all.
What happened next
I had 1,453 unread WhatsApp messages when I turned my phone on
A few days later, I decided to check my iPhone to make sure I hadn’t missed anything too important.
Just as I had expected, I hadn’t.
Around 1,400 of those unread WhatsApp messages did not warrant reading. Apart from the odd update, my apps had gone dormant in my absence.
I did enjoy being in back in regular contact with Harriet in Hanoi, and my parents were chuffed to see my name reappear on our family WhatsApp group.
Gradually I found myself gravitating back to WhatsApp. As I spent more time on the chat app, not replying to all those unread messages started to seem rude.
As I spent more and more time with my smartphone in-hand again, I enjoyed the fact that I was no longer reliant on other people organising my social life for me.
That’s not to say nothing has changed.
Although I’m back to carrying an iPhone every day, my compulsions have been moderated somewhat, and good habits such as reading at lunchtime and not immediately checking my phone when I wake up have stuck.
According to a survey from last year, 38 per cent of Britons are convinced they use their smartphone too much. If you think you’re one of them, I strongly recommend trying to get rid of it for a month.
It was miles easier than I ever anticipated and has helped to put things back in perspective now that I’m a smartphone user once again.
I wasn’t constantly waiting for the next chime of a text message, or buzz from a retweet. I was much more relaxed and focused as a result.
Also, my friends didn’t disappear.
If anything, it meant we had more to discuss when we did catch-up.
Ditching my smartphone has made some profound changes to my day-to-day life. And if nothing else, it made me realise quite how much nonsense I was sending my friends every day, something I have since moderated.
Who knows? If you’re stronger-willed than me, as Simon Cowell clearly is, you might even find it sticks.