The Reversal: Dumb Phone, Smart Move

Just the other day I was eavesdropping on a conversation two of my university classmates (anyone want to slap my hand? I’ll provide the ruler) were having about their smart phones (I’m not saying they were talking about iPhones specifically, I’m just saying they were talking about iPhones specifically). The conversation went a bit like this:

Classmate 1: Yadda, yadda, yadda. I need to turn my phone off.

Classmate 2: Blah, blah, blah, wait—your phone? Oh, right, yeah, turn it off.

Classmate 1: Well, not off, but yeah, it needs to be on silent for class.

Classmate 2: Blah, blah, blah. My phone has been on silent for…like…years.

Initially, my internal thought, the instinctive response I had to the statement that her phone had “been on silent for years,” was this: what is the point of having a smart phone if it is going to be on silent all the time? However, I’ve been trying to re-train myself to be less judgmental towards others. Whether those judgments come in the form of verbalization or if they’re running an inner, private monologue in my head (there’s not a lot of room up there with all my other personalities, granted), I attempt to notice when I am making a judgment and combat it with a little self-reflection. So, I followed that initial judgmental thought with a question I directed at myself: how often is my phone on silent, after all?

An honest assessment of my situation went down after I asked myself that question. One, at the exact moment I was scoffing at this other classmate for having her phone on silent all the time, my phone was on silent as well. After all, we were waiting for class to begin and I had already slid my tab into the “silent” position. Then I began to think about how much of my day my phone spends on silent—a large chunk of time, I calculated, maybe about 75% of the day. After realizing I was judging a classmate for something I do myself (isn’t that how judgment is, after all? Generally, if we are making a judgment, it’s because that action we’re judging actually exists within ourselves as well), I started the scramble towards justifying my phone’s time spent on silent mode.

Of course, I just had a baby. That’s why my phone is on silent all the time. Well, that’s true—to a point. When she’s sleeping, I try to remember to turn the phone on silent mode because becoming a parent is like living (in real life) an epic battle against the nastiest boss you’ve ever come across in a video game; we are terrified of fighting with the beast, so we attempt to tiptoe around it rather than engage in combat, but the beast always, always (always! always!) wakes up to kill us despite our best efforts.

To a point, though, like I said. The kid only sleeps in snatches really. Thirty minutes here, an hour there. Naps over an hour are few and far between, and they are the naps that result in me checking to make sure she’s still alive. Of course, I have another justification now that the first one has failed. I am a writer. Whenever I sit down to work on my writing, the phone goes on silent. That’s fair because distraction leads to procrastination which leads to writers block which leads to failure. If I do not put my phone on silent while I write, I will never have a bestseller. Ever.

Then, of course, I realized now that I’m back in school I only write eight hours a week. That’s a little more than an hour a day. I’ve already admitted that my phone remains on silent about thirteen hours a day (I’m up roughly seventeen hours of each day and I am averaging my phone to be on silent 75% of the time), which means the math is not really in my favor if I want to blame the amount of time my phone spends on silent on writing. My attempts to justify have now failed twice (all the while, as I sit justifying, my phone is on silent, remember?).

It was about this time I was forced to admit that my phone has also been on silent the majority of each day for a long time (probably six months) because I simply don’t like to engage in the world that way anymore. In fact, the phone started spending time on silent before I had the baby, before my writing schedule intensified, before I had any “good” excuses at all. Once that became clear, I realized the phone started going on silent more frequently right around the time I stopped dabbling in minimalism and really began to pursue minimalism with some effort.

It’s when I began to seek genuine value in my life the phone began to spend more time in silent mode.

The smart phone is a gateway of distraction in our lives. It is a connection to aimlessness that we carry around in our pockets. In fact, I read somewhere (I can never recall where I pick this stuff up) that the average person checks their phone every six minutes. At first, I tried to delete the applications on my phone I didn’t absolutely need. Even still, the notifications dribbled in excessively. Dings, tweets, pops, swooshes, rings. Then I tried to turn off notifications for every application I felt it was “safe” to disable notifications for. Still, it felt as if the phone was going off all the time. Ding. Tweet. Pop. Swoosh. Ring.

The first few times I switched the phone over to silent mode for more than a few minutes, it was nerve-wracking. What was I missing? What if someone needed me right away? What if that e-mail I am waiting for comes in? What if I forget something because I don’t check my reminders? Eventually, it became clear I was missing no emergencies, the e-mail wasn’t that pressing, and the reminder alerts chime even on silent mode. I became more comfortable with silence, and I extended the periods of time my phone spent on silent. Before I even realized it (so much so that I judged someone else before realizing I do the exact same thing), the phone was spending that 75% of the day on silent.

I don’t miss it at all.

In that way, then, maybe the classmate I so quickly judged is simply ahead of the game by…years. If her phone has really been on silent for years as she said, she wised up well before I did. The phone may be a “smart phone,” but it is a dumb device. The bulk of what it introduces into our lives is distraction. More than being useful, it’s become a technological addiction that actually alerts us to the need to return to it. It’s kind of like crack cocaine calling us up on the landline (remember landlines, ha!) and saying, “Yo, you haven’t smoked me in a few hours, why don’t you come back over?”

Her reversal is brilliant. She turned the situation around in a way that she’s the smart one making the good decision, and the phone is the dumb device being left behind, called upon on her terms and her terms alone. The power is back in her hands. The power has been shifting its way back into my own hands, as well, and I hadn’t even noticed. This girl’s offhanded comment to her other classmate seemed trite at first, even silly. Turns out, I’m no different than her, and that’s actually a really good thing.

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