Here were the rules: For one week, I would only use my phone for texts, calls, and to get myself past traffic (it’s Atlanta).
That’s it. Everything else would stay the same. Same work, same leisure. I’d still watch Atlanta (double reference!) on Tuesday night, Westworld on Sunday. If I wanted to post on Facebook or reply to someone, I’d use my laptop.
Wednesday to Wednesday. A minimal alteration in my daily life. Just limit phone use to calls, texts, and maps.
How did it go?
Oh, my poor little rat brain. My dopamine-starved, hamster-on-a-wheel, gray matter-deficient, peanut-sized brain.
I must have pulled the phone out of my pocket fifty times that first day for no reason at all. Fifty might be lowballing it. Anytime I wasn’t in front of the computer and the external world didn’t provide something immediately compelling, I’d go for the phone.
Standing on a street corner and nothing is happening? Phone. No birds flying by to distract me? Phone. Grocery store line? Forget it.
(I don’t care how many times you’ve seen that video. It can never be enough).
But as many times as I pulled out the phone, I put it back. Stuck at a train crossing on Friday, I managed to pick up the phone and immediately set it back down six times.
If someone texted me (a rules-approved excuse to use the phone) things got even more difficult. With the phone screen open, it took a special effort to resist news, blogs, even a weather update.
My phone has a weather app, but I almost never use it. If I have a trip planned, sure. Otherwise, meh. But during this experiment, I found myself desperate to know the average high and low temps for the next week. It MATTERED.
I even found myself having an internal debate about whether or not checking the weather app violated my rules. There’s no story in the weather. No gifs, no video, no pictures (mostly), and no cats. That’s ok, right? No. I resisted.
Each time I was tempted, I tried to convince myself something like this would happen to my brain if I broke the rules:
(FYI, mysterious demonic radioactive boxes were the smartphones of the early 1950s.)
I don’t want to overstate things. I’m a writer, so it’s my instinct to paint a dramatic picture. My addiction was worse than I anticipated, but I didn’t go fetal in the gutter, shivering with withdrawal.
I called this post “I Spent a Week Trying to Be Bored…” because that’s what I intended to do. Force my brain to be bored, i.e. force it to live like it did in the early 2000s (or close to it.)
It worked. I was acutely, painfully bored for short periods. It’s primarily a chemical boredom, I think, based on the science I’ve read. I could actually feel my brain searching for novel information (and the accompanying dopamine burst), not getting it, and being cranky.
I’m not trying to make any big new statements about technology here, nor could I. The internet coughs up 5,000 new articles on technology addiction every day. I’ve read a bunch of them, so I knew more or less what to expect.
Most of us—those who aren’t yogis or under 25—have experienced something like it. Your phone dies or breaks, leaving you without access for at least several hours. But you keep reaching for it…
I meditated a few times during this. It’s good. It calms my brain down for a whole fifteen minutes before the roller coaster starts again.
The literature promises wonderful things to those who break from tech addiction Boredom is good, they say. Among other things, it encourages creativity—a big benefit for a professional creative.
I expected my habitual hand-twitch grab for the phone to lessen by the end of the week. It did, but just barely. I suspect it would take much longer—and stricter rules—to see real change. I would have to be bored for a month or more, really working at it, to see lasting benefits.
It made me want to try one of these no-technology camps, really try to be bored, and see what happens. Be with nature, hunt for Bigfoot, eat wild berries, revert to an animalistic state, AND avoid my phone. Paradise.
I have a new wish-list item. There are “focus” apps for computers that can block internet access for predefined periods of time. I use them, but they don’t exist for phones yet. I assume this has something to do with issues related to cellular data vs. wifi. But whatever the problem is, I’d love to have something like it.
So get to work!
But just in case someone has invented such an app in the fifteen minutes since I last checked, I’ll do another quick googling now…