A Day in the Life of a Phoneless Person
I learned that my relationships and my career could survive my occasional escape from the little cellular dictator in my pocket.
As I walked home from my office, I caught a look at myself in the glass door of a convenience store. I hardly recognized that woman staring back at me. Because I care about fitness and good mental and physical heath, I do yoga regularly to keep my back straight, my body strong and my mind balanced. Being healthy is a big part of my identity, which is why I was so startled to see that haggard-looking face in the reflection… shoulders pinched up, back hunched over like a "C," eyes red-rimmed and puffy. I knew right away what the culprit was. I was holding it in my hand, right up under my nose. My beloved-- and be-hated-- iPhone 6.
As an owner of a recruitment firm, my phone is my entire work world. My whole business is in there-- not just my address book, banking info, and database, but also my marketing, my customer service, my career, my future. Nothing can bring on gut-clenching terror like thinking, even for a second, that I may have lost my phone. A few months ago, I did lose it. And then I really I lost it. I made the horrible discovery that it had dropped out my pocket as I rode my bike home from work; Heart racing, I sped helmet-less in blind desperation through the streets of rush-hour Chicago, whipping in and out of traffic as though my life depended on it. As though the existential danger of being flattened by an inattentive driver --one who, no doubt, would be texting behind the wheel-- was nothing compared to the existential danger of being phone-less until the Apple store opened the next day.
When my phone was again nestled safely in my arms, I finally caught my breath and realized that maybe, just maybe, my priorities were a wee bit out of whack.
I am the person Arianna Huffington describes in her books and speeches about bad sleep habits; the person who upon first waking reaches across her nightstand to read new emails, who stares fiercely into the phone all day, tapping like a maniac, then sneaks surreptitious glances when she’s supposed to be enjoying dinner with friends, only to sleep with my phone on top of my blankets each night. I claim the nocturnal phone cuddle is because I use my phone for an alarm, but I also like to check for new texts every time I stir in the night. What if I miss something critical? Like the instagram photo of my friend’s “FABULOUS!” lobster roll she’s enjoying on her business trip to Boston?
So when I caught a look at myself that day, text-walking my way home, hunched like Quasimodo over messages that let’s face it, were really not important, I realized I had become an addict. I’ve always been very judgy about smokers, who can’t make it through a nice dinner party without sneaking out into the bitter cold to curl, praying mantis-style, over a shaky match to light their stinky little sticks. Clearly now, I have become one of them… an addict who chooses to do something annoying and unnecessary rather than being here now. So, I decided to take a break.
Just for one day, as a test…to see if my phone was truly as essential to me as it had begun to feel or if, as I suspected, the slave had become the master.
I couldn’t accomplish my experiment on a weekday so I waited until Sunday when I could spend a leisurely day with my husband. I didn’t ‘t make a fuss about it, no big proclamation, announcing my planned absence on Facebook or anything, I just quietly turned my phone off and left it on the nightstand when I went down for morning coffee.
Now, normally morning coffee is coffee and emails, coffee and Facebook, coffee and texts. But today it was just coffee. Being phoneless made me more jittery than the caffeine because first thing in the morning is when I catch up on everything, like finding out find out what fun things my friends did without me on Saturday night, checking for any overnight announcements… New babies? Engagements? Without that early AM update, the nervousness set in. What if there’s big news and I miss it?
And then there is the risk of missing out on new information for my job. Lots of candidates work on resumes over the weekend and reach out to recruiters on Sundays. What if a great candidate sends her resume to me along with three other recruiters and they respond but I don’t? Will I lose out on that business opportunity?
As the day progressed, I discovered that what was driving the discomfort and anxiety was that nagging sense of missing out. What if I’m the last to know? What if I’m out of the loop? What if I’m left behind?”
I recently saw a speech my Charlie Kim, the Founder of Next Jump, in which he said that what drives a lot of mistakes in business is the remnant of fear that lingers in all of us from the childhood experience of being picked for teams in gym class. Kim says that we all still hold a bit of that old terror of being picked last. Kim says that it drives bad choices in the workplace as we expend too much energy on being well regarded rather than on the quality of our work.
I believe that fear was definitely tucked away in me because-even though logically I knew it wasn’t true—on some level I was afraid that if I didn’t answer emails fast enough, my clients would drop me. If I didn’t “like” FB posts fast enough, my friends might be offended, and if I didn’t answer texts immediately, I might miss out on some amazing opportunity that everyone else would be a part of.
It will come as a surprise to no one that taking one day away from the incessant text “ding” and guitar strum ring of my iPhone did not cost me my job, my friends or my social standing. I lost nothing and instead, gained a beautiful day.
Because I also chose to avoid reading or watching the news that day, I had no input other than what was exactly in front of me. That included a killer stack of orange rosemary French toast at my favorite brunch place. I savored it slowly because what else did I have to do? The day included a leisurely stroll through the Logan Square farmers market where we took a crazy long time selecting the perfect loaf of aromatic rye, and the chubbiest red tomatoes. We watched a scrappy little Blue Grass duet and munched Tamales from the food cart on a blanket in the shade.
I noticed things as I walked: the filigree flourishes on an old Victorian, the chalk Hop Scotch on the sidewalk. It wasn’t exactly a fresh-out-of-a-coma awakening, but there really was a sensory enhancement. Without the compulsion to scroll on a screen, I really did look up and around more.
The day was filled by a bike ride along the lake, a maple doughnut break, a long uninterrupted conversation about the kids… clearly not the stuff of heroics and epiphanies, but there was a new richness to the colors of the day. And here’s the best part; the day seemed really, really, really long. I hadn’t realized how all those little buzzy interruptions divided the long stretches of day into bite size morsels. At bedtime I remarked to my husband that it felt like we had filled one day with two. Then I fell into a peaceful uninterrupted sleep.
Of course, all was not unicorns and popsicles. Monday morning arrived on schedule, and I made my usual grab for the phone, jumping right back into compulsive checking and scrolling and typing. Still, I had learned something. I could survive as a phone-less person. My relationships and career could survive my occasion escape from the little cellular dictator in my pocket. And, a little communication vacation could provide me with the reinvigorating mental R&R I needed to be productive the next day.