This was not a deliberate experiment. At least, not at first. A summer of funemployment, traveling the world and skating my way through endless Instagram opportunities had me wielding my iPhone at all times. Until one fateful day, I took a tumble off the old plank pusher and the revolutionary/very expensive piece of communications technology broke my fall. My iPhone was sacrificed to the skateboarding gods.
It would be several months before I could get upgraded to an iPhone 5 without paying full retail, and already frustrated with the finer points of AT&T’s service agreement, I decided to cut my losses and get a prepaid flip phone. I figured my WiFi-enabled iPad would be enough mobile internet to hold me over, and it might be nice to take a break from 24/7 connectivity and limit my phone use to texting and calling. Much to my surprise, texting with T9 was still easy – the muscle memory came back swiftly, and the phone calls were actually better quality than the iPhone. There would be no more autocorrecting my biscuits to bisexuals, chica to chihuahua, and so on.
The first thing that struck me was how connected our universe had become. Getting on the internet in public was easier than I thought. The city’s bountiful Starbucks and McDonalds provided plenty of opportunities to use my iPad. It wasn’t as good as the broadband infrastructure I found traveling in Korea a few months prior – where the internet was seamlessly integrated into, well, just about everything. But it wasn’t bad. And it made me wonder what the world would look like in a few years and what this constant connectivity might already be doing to our brains.
The second thing that surprised me was how short my attention span had become and how that’s a slippery slope to disconnection from other people. Mobile devices had radically changed the way I socialized with friends. How did we ever sit in a room together without Facebook feeds to avoid any awkward silences? How many IRL conversations did I Ieave unfinished because of some iPhone interruption? And while access to real-time news in my pocket was often an advantage, I couldn’t help but reminisce over a past where families and friends (and sometimes strangers on the street in New York) huddled around a TV to share the experience of a major event.
Before this starts sounding like some kind of Thoreauvian, Luddite rant, I’ll admit that the third and most surprising outcome of this experiment were my feelings of loneliness and displacement. Unable to exchange photos or group texts, I was completely out of the loop with my closest friends and family. I didn’t miss the constant barrage of tweets and status updates from my ever-expanding network of acquaintances and strangers on social media. But not receiving the occasional and well-timed smiling poop emoji from my best friend was really starting to take its toll. It suddenly dawned on me, that the iPhone itself had completely altered the basic way I communicated. Meaningful conversation still manifested in face-to-face interactions, yet it also embodied newer, shorter forms of expression, that are equally valid. As nostalgic as I was about the way things used to be, the cons were outweighed by the creativity, innovation and connections this device brought to life.
In retrospect, giving up my iPhone was a small way to test my quality of life in this increasingly digital world. Instead of plugging an address into Google Maps, I chose to ask a nearby stranger for directions. Instead of trusting a hundred reviews on Yelp, I chose to ask the neighboring table what they thought was delicious on the menu. In the end, this digital fast, realigned my relationship with technology, and re-calibrated my methods of communication.
Today, I am again, the proud owner of an iPhone. I carry the device with a newfound sense of wonder, responsibility and appreciation. I’m more carefully practicing the art of communication, sharing with friends and family and focusing on what’s most important to me. The notion of an always-on, constantly connected world still tempts me to obsessively tap away to see the latest update, but, I’m trying to exercise more disciplined control and be more deliberate in my digital life. I also sprang for the total equipment coverage this time.