Stories from a man who has lost his iphone…

Recently I sent my iphone on a ride to the country, without me.

I got out of a friends car and as she drove off I had this terrible realisation that my phone was hurtling away from me for a weekend away in rural Victoria. Lovely. For the first 20 minutes I kept reaching for my phone to call my friend and tell her my phone was in her car. This continued all the way to the first pay phone I found where I called and left her a message (hoping she wouldn’t pick up as she drove).

Once the panic let up, the phone was located (yes it was in the car, yes she can post it back to me…) I settled in to life with out a smart phone. And there are some pretty remarkable things that I have learnt in the few days since.

I am constantly checking my phone.
I realised as I walked (and sometimes ran) through my life just how regularly I would have my phone in my hand. This, however, was not the surprising bit. What caught me off guard was the amount of times I caught myself in a discussion with myself about whether this moment was a moment I should get my phone out. I realised for every time that I actually pulled my phone out and checked the weather, took a photo, checked twitter, flipboard, twitter, instagram, wrote an email, checked my text messages, googled or, occasionally, made a phone call there was another moment where I had considered doing one of these things and decided not to. You might think this is good, that I am showing restraint. But what I saw, once the decision making process had become redundant because I realised THERE WAS NO PHONE TO REACH FOR, was that I was constantly occupied with an ongoing question about whether this moment was worthy of connecting with something or someone.

And it was only once I settled in, when I got used to this not being an option, that I realised how calm my internal world could be. What a relief.

I felt afraid.
I was also struck with a dread when leaving the house. “What if…?” was my constant companion. I realised how much my phone acted as a psychological safety net. And then something happened.


Pretty much most of the time, nothing. No special circumstances that couldn’t wait until I got home or to a public phone. In all the years I have had a mobile phone I can vaguely recall one or two moments of emergency where I was pleased to have my phone. But mostly, nothing unusual happens.

I don’t know anything
I don’t know anyone’s phone number, or the address of where I am going, or who I met with last week, or what is about to happen for the rest of the day or where I am having lunch, or what I am meant to do next with that ‘thing’ I just finished, or who’s birthday it is today or tomorrow, or what shows are on, or what movies I like the sound of, or even who is singing the song that I am listening to all the time at the moment.

I just don’t know this stuff. I have let go any sense of trying to manage my own life and handed it over to the virtual assistant that I carry around in my pocket. It is a massive convenience, I mean really, really convenient. But something has been lost in the process. An ownership for the things that I have committed to has been lost. It’s almost like someone else is in charge and it gives me permission to not ‘make it’  to some of the promises I make to myself and the world. It’s so easy to send a message saying ‘I’m running late/can’t make it/send my love’ that I have lost a bit of credibility in the world. I don’t like that feeling.

I don’t know the time.
Of all the things I don’t know the one that was the most difficult to reconcile was not knowing the time. I no longer wear a watch and so if my phone is not by my side I have no idea what time it is. Now that is fine if you are on holiday. But if you are trying to meet a pre arranged point of connection with some other human not knowing the time is more than a little disconcerting.

I don’t spend more time with my family and friends because I have technology in my pocket.
A smart phone has not freed up time for me to spend with people who are special to me. It has automated a lot of tasks for me. It has made a lot of information available to me where ever I am. It has made contacting people much, much easier. But it has not, in any way, created miraculous pockets of time where I find myself able to drop in on a friend and spend hours chatting over a cup of tea. There are several reasons for this.

Technology has given me virtual ways of connecting that I seem to use to watch how others are connecting – rather than create my own connections. It has also made it possible to use every waking moment to get ‘stuff’ done, I can solve problems practically anywhere – and so I do. But more important than both of these things is the fact that cultivating a habit of spending time with people who are important to me is something I have to choose to do. It won’t just happen because my banking is now automated online. Now I don’t have to go to the bank and cue up I do have more time – but all of our expectations have changed. I expect banking to take 3 minutes, not 30, and so does everyone around me. So our jobs and lives fill with other obligations. So unless I consciously choose to not use the 27mins to do the next thing on my list, unless I choose to spend 27 mins with a friend, then its not going to happen. I have to make this a choice, put it on top of my priorities and then say no to something else to ensure that it happens. And technology can only enable those decisions – it can’t make them for me, or make me make them. 

My phone came back
It arrived in the post 4 days after it went on its road trip. Which was just long enough for me to have a detox and see more clearly what I do with the time I have ‘in between’ times. I have started to make more conscious choices around what I am doing when I am sitting on the tram. Sometimes I even choose just to sit there. Seriously. Initially it feels like I am doing nothing. I feel a little at a loss. And then I settle in. I have discovered that there is so much to experience in the world around me that it has become a real pleasure just to sit and take it all in. People watching can be an endless entertainment.

Thanks – Luke

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