Getting rid of the skinner box in my pocket
“Mankind is poised midway between the gods and the beasts.”
Smart phones are an interesting creature. On one hand they are engineering marvels that allow human beings to do what we do best: communicate, share, and cooperate.
They also hijack lower level systems in our brain which evolved to motivate the search for biological necessities such as food and sex.
Friend becomes foe
I switched from a smartphone to a flip phone nearly a year ago and I haven’t even considered going back. I switched because day after day I wasted hours staring at my phone. Even when it didn’t consume inordinate amounts of time, it interfered with my ability to start a day and maintain any sort of consistent flow state.
The problems usually began in the morning. After drinking my coffee I would pick up my phone. I’d mindless scroll pages to pass the time until the coffee wound its way through my brain and gut, eventually forcing me address my secondary emunctory function. The phone would accompany me on this journey and make the process last far longer than necessary.
As is civilized, the preceding chore would be followed by a shower. While the phone wasn’t able to accompany me on this leg of the journey, it did participate. After choosing music appropriate to my mood, it would sit on my bathroom counter providing unceasing stimulation during what should be a fairly quick, quiet, and contemplative activity.
From morning till night it was in hand or near to it. The constant access to immediate electronic entertainment served up at lightning speeds made the comparatively slow process of something like teeth brushing or washing dishes seem glacial and therefore unbelievably boring.
Due to my chronic unemployment I had very few external factors which forced me to snap out of this world of instant gratification. I found that the more I used my phone, the less productive I was, so I began an experiment. When possible, I switched off my phone and left it in another room. The effects of this were identical on every occasion.
For the first 30 minutes I would wander aimlessly from room to room, searching for something to satisfy my dopamine craving. However, soon my mind would clear. Forgotten projects were remembered and chores which previously had felt like a forced death march became minor events that left me filled with personal satisfaction. Single days without the smart phone were as productive as weeks with.
Unfortunately, the lure of the smartphone was too strong. Inevitably, an event would take place which required me to keep my phone powered on. On these occasions, sickness returned. Like my past drug addiction, attempts at moderate use failed and the phone would remain on long after it was needed.
I reached my breaking point sometime in January. I don’t remember the precipitating event, but it was unpleasant enough to force me into action. Family and friends tried to talk me out of my decision, unable to conceive of surrendering the object which had replaced dog as mans best friend.
Enter the flip phone
The salesman at the Verizon store offered brief resistance. After making it clear I would not be deterred, he led me to the dumb phones. My recently purchased smartphone was paid off and service transferred.
Although I was happy to be rid of my sleek black skinner box, I was soon confronted with my first obstacle. I remembered that up until this point I had relied on my phone for music when driving. However, I soon discovered that my new flip phone could be used as a mobile hotspot. Using this feature I was able to use my now deactivated smart phone as I had in the past.
At first I distanced myself from my old vice. It remained turned off in my glove box unless it was needed for music or directions and it never entered my house. This was important during the first few months. As time passed I was able to reestablish a healthy relationship with my old friend.
My new relationship is built on respect. I treat the phone like I would a handgun. There are times when I appreciate its presence; it is a useful tool. However, like a handgun there are places it does not belong. A handgun would be a dangerous accessory while visiting a friend with whom a heated dispute was likely. Similarly, my smartphone does not belong with me when I am beginning the day and my will is weak. If I make this tragic mistake (a rarity now), my day is sure to be ruined. Plans are forgotten and projects remain untouched.
At this point our relationship is distant. I forget where I have left it and days go by without a single swipe. I am happier and more productive. I have zero interest in ever activating my smart phone again. It is no longer a friend but a tool.