It is my map; my guide; my camera; my radio; my television; my book; my friends; my family; my wife; my guidebook; my notebook; my pen; my voice recorder; my encyclopaedia; my newspaper; my personalized propaganda machine; my getaway from an awkward conversation; my anxiety; my addiction; my phone.
I lived without my smartphone for three days for a university course. Living without a phone is to live differently. It is a bit bizarre we have not invented a new word for the phone yet. Life companion or life organizer seems to be a more apt description. Perhaps we still cling to this word in order to trick ourselves to think we are not as reliant on it. I can live without a phone we like to think, perhaps we can but can others live without us having one? Living without a phone puts a strain on your relationship with people, you become a special case, meeting people becomes more difficult instead of vague appointments you need to be precise with the time and place, no last minute adjustments possible. There is a strange power dynamic where I could phone people, borrowing other people’s phone or by borrowing a landline from a nearby hotel while they could not reach me. Communication becomes one way, if I remember the phone number of course. Memory is another strange victim or consequence of having a phone. I remember my parent’s mobile phone number and house number before I get a smartphone, if they even still have that number, I have not used it in many years, but I do not remember the phone number of my brother or my wife. After shopping I always enter the purchase in my budget app, offloading the cost into a secondary external memory. Now I find that I carry these with me, waiting to write them down on a sheet of paper once I get home so I can enter them once the three-day period ends. While it would be easy to write platitudes how I ‘notice more’ or something like that or live more in the moment I find it to be a bit overstated. But perhaps this is because I in general am something who likes to look around and look at people’s shoes or the colour of the ceiling, maybe I did this more without a phone, but I honestly cannot tell.
I have become accustomed to sharing things. To make photos of food or things I am doing, to treat photos as the message itself. But why am I sharing these things with my family and friends? Is it because I want approval for what I am doing, or to start a conversation? But what can I honestly expect from a picture of some noodles, I did not make them, I just went to the restaurant, do I expect praise for my decision making skills? What other than, That looks nice, can you expect from a picture of your lunch or dinner. Is it to make other people jealous, to present a kind of lifestyle, maybe it is to keep my family from worrying, see I am doing fine, I am going to restaurants and enjoying my life here in Hong Kong far away. Is it simply for the sake of wanting something to say, or for the sake of wanting to hear something?
A phone is a time sponge. This is something I realized a while ago and I have been putting my phone in the bookshelf for some months already when I am home. Looking at social media or the news is in every sense of the word a waste of time. We do not need this much news. The bite sized chunks of time you spend on your phone here and there can quickly add up to two hours a day or more, I know this for myself as the phone keeps track of it for me. This so called ‘digital wellness’ as Google calls it is a bit like the drug dealer trying to guilt you for stopping by too often but then still continuing to sell you the goods. I find I have more time to do things that build towards something, like playing piano or writing a few hundred words here and there, or simply spacing out and doing nothing.
Doing nothing is something that can be scary for many people. It leads to moments of reflection and self doubt which we seem to avoid at all costs these days. A phone is like a temporary plug to stop oneself from considering the things that weigh on your mind. But in that moment of nothingness I find I can accept how things are. I am sitting on the couch and have made it this far already and that is a major accomplishment in itself. I hope we can all realize this someday.