When I heard that Vitaminwater is giving away $100,000 in a contest where the winner has to give up their smartphone for a year in favor of a 1996-era app-free version, my immediate thought was: I could never do that. I couldn’t even handle the consolation prize of $10,000 for six months smartphone-free. Even a day would be a challenge. I admit it: I’m addicted to my iPhone.
I sleep with it under my pillow or next to my bed, often dozing off with it in my hand. It’s the first thing I reach for in the morning. I’ve never counted how many times I pick it up during the day, but it’s at least several per hour (and often I can't go five minutes without looking at it).
What am I doing on my phone? Everything, it feels like. Making to-do lists, Googling random information, checking email — often by pulling down on my inbox as if that will make new missives appear. I’m also haunting social media, because somehow it’s become vital that I know exactly what my childhood best friend’s cousin is doing (yes, I added her on Facebook).
I can truthfully say that as a freelance writer, I also work on my phone, scanning for story ideas or responding to editors, but that comprises only a fraction of my mobile screen time.
As someone who writes about dating and relationships, I know the importance of communication — in theory, that is. But in practice, I’ve been scolded more times than I can count by my boyfriend with: “You love your phone more than me.” Ouch. When I feel socially awkward at a conference or professional event, I whip out my phone … sometimes to scroll what people are posting about that very event.
I feel antsy when my phone isn’t easily within reach, like news and friends and life are happening without me. If I don’t know about it, did it really happen? My already high general level of anxiety ramps up if I don’t feel as informed as I can possibly be.
However, when I do pause long enough, I realize that the infinite scrolling options my smartphone offers leave my mind more numb than nourished. There’s only so much input I can handle before it all starts to blur together.
Much of my phone usage isn’t healthy, either. I used to follow a fellow writer on Instagram who I was sure had the perfect life. Instead of admiring her, I envied her, and always felt worse about myself after seeing her feed.
While social media would be allowed in the contest, sans smartphone, using a laptop doesn’t feel as easy. It’s not as comfortable and can’t be used while in transit. The double-edged sword of smartphones is that they’re never inconvenient (unless the battery dies).
Mine suckers me in with its patina of simplicity. I’ll “just” look at it while I’m in the bathroom. Or waiting on line at a store. Or eating breakfast. Cumulatively, those few minutes that seem harmless enough likely represent whole days’ worth of time I could have been reading books or simply letting my mind relax.
The prospect of going even a day without my smartphone fills me with dread. And yet — as someone who considers myself highly independent, it galls me that I’ve become utterly dependent on this one technological advancement. If I was able to quit my six-liter-a-day diet Coke habit cold turkey, I should be able to wean myself from my smartphone — right?
So on second thought, I’m going to enter the contest. I’m unlikely to win. But even if I don’t, I vow to limit my phone usage to 15 minutes a day in January, for a start. “Giving up a phone seems like giving up a limb nowadays,” one entrant to the contest wrote on Instagram. Even though it applies to me, that’s still a sad commentary on modern life. So this January, I’m going (mostly) old school. I hope I remember how.