enslaved by the smartphone

An odd experience on the trip home last week. I bumped into a friend from church at the train station, and then he bumped into a friend while we were on the train. There we were, three young(ish) fathers, awkwardly chatting. It wasn’t long until we decided to share photos of our kids. And so, three smartphones came out, and we were all flicking through at the recent photos. 

The smartphone has changed everyday life for a lot of us.

I’ve had some kind of smartphone with me most days for over 6 years – an imate k-jam, then an iPhone 3G, and most recently an iPhone 4. The latter I’ve had for long enough that I’m starting to wonder what my next phone will be – the home button is starting to stick a little bit, and it’s starting to feel a bit old and slow already (much like my only-eighteen-month-old-laptop). 

It surprised me to find, especially in the last couple of months, that I’m not enjoying having a smartphone in the same way that I have for the past few years. The sense of always having access – to Facebook, to Twitter, to my work and personal email, to wikipedia and IMDB, to Google maps, to an endless procession of games – is convenient, but seems more an addiction than something that is enriching me.

First thing in the morning, I find myself checking social media sites and email – almost on autopilot. The single-tasking of the iPhone makes me intersperse this with waiting for things to load, which increasingly makes me feel impatient. And this is before – likely as not – I’m out of bed. I can tell from reading the tweets of others that I’m far from alone in this.

I like having ready access to a reasonable-quality camera all the time, and I’m enjoying the ability to create short-form content (though not as well as I could with my first smartphone) and post it online, but there are so many distractions that I feel like I’m short on motivation to create content.

Being mindful of this as a problem is helping. I’m trying to put my smartphone in another room when I spend time with the kids. I’m not as worried when I leave the phone charging at my desk when I go and talk to someone.

But is the temptation going to be too strong? Should I get a “dumb-phone” instead as my next phone? One that can’t access the Internet so readily, or provide such distractions? There are fewer and fewer such phones. Could I really cope with not having access to all this information, or would my life be poorer somehow?

And this is the trap. Once you’ve tasted the power of ubiquitous Internet access, can you really go back to having to wait for a wifi connection? Reading Paul Miller’s essays during his self-imposed exile from the Internet for a year don’t fill me with confidence, although there is the sense that there’s some clarity to be had by unplugging for short bursts.

Has anyone had a technology sabbatical, or ditched their smartphone for a period of time? I’d be keen to hear of your experiences…

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