16 Comments

Summary:

We often take smartphones for granted — the ability to instantly find information, get directions, take photos and share them, and so on. Doing without one even for a day is a good way to be reminded of just how much they have changed our lives.

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If you’ve used a smartphone — like an iPhone or an Android, or one of the newer BlackBerry devices — for a long time, here’s a challenge: go for a day or two without it, and see how it feels. I don’t mean hiking the Appalachian Trail; try to go without it during a regular day in a city, or better still, do it when you’re on a business trip to an unfamiliar city. I did that on a recent day in San Francisco after my iPhone locked me out for no reason, and it was a painful experience.

It was painful because suddenly I was disconnected. I don’t mean that I couldn’t make phone calls (in fact, that was the part about the phone I missed the least), but I couldn’t look up where I was in Google Maps, or find out where I was going, or measure how long it was going to take me (I was trying to get to the Apple store, so they could help me fix the phone, which suddenly started asking me for a passcode, even though I hadn’t set one). Particularly in an unfamiliar city, this kind of tool is hugely useful — and even in my home city, I use it all the time.

But it was more than just that. I couldn’t take photos of my surroundings, which is another thing I like to do with the iPhone as my main camera. I like to snap photos, upload them to Flickr or Facebook — and share them with Instagram — a service that posts your photos to a stream your friends can follow and comment on, but also automatically cross-posts them to other services as well, including Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and Tumblr.

Twitter and Facebook were the other two things I missed. As anyone who follows me on Twitter (I’m @mathewi) probably knows, I share a lot on Twitter — thoughts, but mostly links to interesting content. It’s become an integral part of my day (and often of my night as well); not just posting things that I come across, but reading and commenting on the things that others post. I know it’s an overused term, but it really is a conversation, and it was something I missed a lot.

But it was more than that, too. I also missed the ability to look up anything I was curious about at a moment’s notice. Why is that building called that? What does that sign mean? Why is there a giant bow and arrow sticking in the ground near the Embarcadero? Lots of questions occurred to me, but I was incapable of finding the answers. Sure, I could have bought a guidebook, or I could have stopped someone, but the ability to do it from a handheld device on a whim is something I have become fairly addicted to.

This isn’t about the iPhone either — it’s about how smartphones have changed our lives in hundreds of tiny ways, and it isn’t until we try to spend a day or two without them that we find out exactly how dependent we are on them. Is that a good thing? I don’t know, to be honest. Maybe I should remember more things, instead of relying on my ability to look them up in Google. But I do know that having those tools at my fingertips is incredibly powerful — and for better or worse, there’s no question that we are becoming inextricably linked to devices, and particularly those that allow us to connect with our family and friends. And from my perspective, there are way more benefits to that than there are disadvantages.

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Post and thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user SuperFantastic

  1. I use my iPhone exactly like you do and it’s going to be a really strange day when it quits on me. I think information at your fingertips is a good thing, but too much information is a balancing act. Do we use information when it’s needed, or do we need information like a drug? It’s wise to know the difference, and where those lines cross.

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  2. Have been without my X1 for nearly 3 months now.
    It means that you have to constantly remind yourself of the most important tweets, and that you should come back to that spot later with the SLR.

    Frustrating, but at least it lets you realise what is most important in your phone.

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  3. I’ve only had my Android for a few weeks, and I already find it difficult to go without it, even for just a few hours. I use Maps and Waze when driving, Endomondo when cycling, and some app or another when doing practically anything else. I can relate to you being without an arm for a day.

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  4. So what did the solution end up being?

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    1. They restored my iPhone to factory settings by going into recovery mode, and then I had to restore from a previous backup.

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  5. It was hard for me for the first week, but it’s gotten a lot easier. I miss turn-by-turn GPS the most, and the camera like you mentioned. But I got out my *old* Fuji 5MP which still takes nicer photos than my phone. I don’t like talking while driving anyway so I just catch up on my Google Voice-mails when I get home. If I keep this up I’ll save nearly $1000 a year, and my life hasn’t changed a bit. In fact, it has made me a more active listener – now when I’m staring into my wife’s eyes at dinner, I’m not distracted by my Google Reader queue or my 6 Twitter accounts, IMs, SMS, etc, etc.

    I’ve connected more to my *real* social network: the people right in front of me.

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  6. I’m totally with you on this one. I hate being without my phone. I had to look this up, but remembered a great study done a few years ago about cell phone withdrawal being similar to drug withdrawal: http://news.ufl.edu/2007/01/18/cell-addiction/

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  7. You mean that you had to spend a day unplugged, like much of the rest of the world does, and did, everyday, and many quite happily I may add. Its great to have access to technology, and it is convenient, but does your dependence on it not concern you? The fact that you cannot enjoy some solitude and be present in the moment, for less than 24 hours, during your visit to SF makes me feel a bit sad for you.

    I sit in front of a computer and a two-line phone all day long at work, and I have a Droid mobile phone which I enjoy, but I do not let them control my life. They are just tools of convenience, not of necessity. I was going to recommend some very simple suggestions on tweaking the balance in your life between being plugged and unplugged, but I am not sure it would fall on open ears. I wish you luck the next time you go “off the grid”.

    –Ken

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    1. I wouldn’t say that I am dependent on it, Ken. I certainly do enjoy it though. Obviously I can live quite easily without it — but having those tools available makes many things I do a lot richer and more interesting. I enjoy solitude and am present in the moment much of the time, with or without these tools.

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      1. Glad to hear. I never know when people write these pieces how much they can, or cannot, live without their gear. It often seems that younger people who did not spend any time growing up “unplugged” can have a difficult time off the grid. Like you, I enjoy the convenience of my gear, but I never let it control my life, as I also enjoy being present in the moment, especially when I am on vacation.

        –Ken

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  8. What a load of crap. One day without your phone and you write an article about it. This is part of the crappy overloaded information on the net. 1 day?!? I’ve gone 40 years without a phone! And even now I have a old phone that only calls and texts. Why? Because I don’t give a crap about all those features… it’s a phone all I need is to make a call. So the next time you write an article about a day without your… please make it something worthwhile. Like go a day without eating, or a day in total darkness, a day without jerkin off and then write an article. But till then quit putting this crap on the internet and whining about a stupid phone. Grow a pair and learn to use a map dumba$$. And what does that picture mean? Empty? Are you empty without a phone? WTF?

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    1. Maybe he could write an article about going a day without acting like a self-righteous moron? I have a feeling you’d probably enjoy that one a little more.

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  9. You need a hobby.

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  10. I am not even close to one of the most organized people in the world, and looking back, I never knew how I survived without my iPhone. Damn you smartphones and everything you have to offer. Have you seen this video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mCkbrYKQyI The stats are outrageous.

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