Disconnected: My Week Without a Smartphone

I remember my very first smartphone. At the age of 20, I was provided a Blackberry Curve during my employment with AT&T Mobility. Once I went Blackberry, I never went back. At one point, I carried two Blackberry devices at the same tame (albeit unnecessarily). Up until recently, my Android device was my savior. From checking Facebook regularly to using GPS to navigate my way from Upstate New York to Brooklyn, there was barely an activity I could perform without my trusted smartphone by my side.  Essentially, my phone was an extra appendage.

That was until I broke it. Well, full disclosure…I dropped it in the toilet. It’s quite a funny story. My extra appendage followed me everywhere, including to the bathroom. I had set my phone on top of my tablet and had proceeded to wash my face. When finished, I swiftly scooped up my tablet and the phone propelled into the air. KERPLUNK. Right into the (clean) toilet. I sat there in disbelief for a moment, and then let out an exaggerated yelp. After the momentary shock and awe wore off, I reached deep into the bowl and yoinked up my phone. The phone entered rehabilitation in the form of a bag of rice. Despite my attempts to nurse the device back to health, the damage was already done.

A water damaged cell phone in rice

My smartphone’s rice rehabilitation

Living With an Un-Smartphone

With a tight budget and no cell phone insurance, there was only one option that would keep me somewhat connected: an antiquated flip phone with a VGA camera. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so I activated the old device and began my journey sans GPS, Internet and Facebook at my fingertips.

An old flip phone by LG for Verizon Wireless

My new, un-smartphone

The worst part about ruining my cell phone was losing all of my contacts.  More importantly, the phone numbers of my family and close friends. I have three phone numbers memorized: my father’s, my parents’ house and my best friend Alicia’s. My digital Rolodex of friends, colleagues and clients had been wiped out in one foul splash. What good was a cell phone if you had no numbers to contact?

Lost Without My Phone…But Not Really

A month ago I moved from Upstate New York to Brooklyn—a borough I had only visited twice prior to the leap. I split my time in both locations still, working from DragonSearch’s Upstate office on Mondays and in the Flatiron District the remainder of the week. I hate driving in the city and up until this point had never done so without the assistance of my phone’s GPS feature. In fact, I could barely navigate the subway system without referring to Google Maps prior. Who needs a subway map when your phone can tell you how to get there?

I learned to read a subway map in a very short period of time. I also learned how to trust my sense of direction—something I thought to be long extinct. I ventured back to my apartment in Brooklyn for the first time without a GPS and without a map. I didn’t get lost. Instead, I read street signs. For the longest time, I had ignored mile markers and exit signs simply because my GPS would tell me when and where to turn. Without my phone, I had no choice but to be aware of my surroundings.

Communication Breakdown—It’s Always the Same

When I lost my Droid, I regained my sense of direction. Not only that, I was given back my freedom—from Facebook alerts, Instagram comments, constant emails, etc. The only time I needed to look at my phone was when someone called or texted. Not when someone repinned a post of mine. Not when Toys ‘R Us wanted to share their latest coupon with me. My engagements were fewer and more meaningful.

My focus improved. Without the constant buzz of my phone, I could spend more time deeply involved in tasks at work. I read a book on the subway instead of fiddling with games. I made eye contact in the street instead of shutting out all human interaction by browsing my Facebook stream. The daily static that diluted my communication was slowly drifting away. For once, my morning ritual did not consist of checking my inbox before stepping out of bed.

A Lesson from Disconnecting

Many business experts preach the benefits of turning off devices and having some more “me” time. In August, I vacationed in Hawaii and continued to respond to work emails for the majority of the time I was away.  I toted my cell phone with me every time I hit up the beach in Maui. In fact, I’ve probably checked my phone at least a dozen times since I started writing this post.  I am, without a doubt, a smartphone junkie.

However, I can live without a smartphone. Scratch that, I can thrive without a smartphone. I can have deep meaningful conversations without allowing my eye contact to drift towards the latest Twitter mention that has popped up on my phone. I can make mental notes of my surroundings to ensure that I find my way home. And I can read a damn subway map.

Living without a smartphone, I learned that I allowed technology to do too much for me. I have a master’s degree ergo I should be able to manage the New York City subway system. I also learned that the most important people in your life will always be there—smartphone or not. Technology doesn’t replace the enthusiasm in a laugh or the perfectly timed pause when delivering a joke.

In the end, I acquired a smartphone to replace my measly flip phone. However, I enjoyed my week with a lot less static.

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