Not long ago, people lived without smartphones. We met our friends at the local mall or park. We made eye contact when we talked to each other. And we weren’t worried about what everyone else was doing.
Now we walk around with computers in our pockets more powerful than the ones NASA had twenty years ago to command the space shuttle.
We live in a state of constant contact. Distraction. And nobody really knows what it’s doing to our psyches, our relationships, and our societies.
It’s all a great experiment.
Only this time we’re the lab rats.
I used to be a surgical coordinator for organ and tissue transplants. I worked in Colorado for a few years and then at Stanford University in Palo Alto.
Everyday I carried two smartphones, one in each pocket, and had to answer or respond to calls and texts within two minutes.
It was important work. But the schedule, the demands, and the never-ending stream of case reports and status updates fried my nerves.
I was tired, emotionally drained from seeing death everyday, and they were screwing with my paychecks.
So I quit and moved back to Colorado, sold my car, and took a low-paying job that didn’t call me at all hours of the day.
Then I ditched my iPhone.
It was bliss.
For the first time in years I felt entirely present in the moment.
I walked to work everyday. I started looking people in the eyes again. And I had the focus to write my first novel.
A 2018 report by Ofcom in the UK says 40 percent of adults look at their phone within five minutes of waking up. For those under 35 it’s a staggering 60 percent.
Youth aged 15 to 24 now spend more than 4 hours each day on their phones.
What could you do with 4 hours a day?
And what are we really getting from our phones?
Fake people who make us feel bad about ourselves?
More advertisers selling us stuff we don’t need?
Think about it, the average person has just 2 to 3 hours per day of true focus. And we’re giving it away.
Instead, you could be learning to code, getting in better shape, reading a good book, making art, starting a side hustle, or playing with your kids.
I saved so much money without a car or smartphone that I quit my job and spent three months in Sicily learning to speak Italian.
Then I went to Mexico.
More than four years and 23 countries later I still don’t have a phone.
And my social life is better because I live in the moment instead of checking status updates or swiping left and right.
Is it a challenge? Of course.
When I land in a new city I have to check the printed transit maps to figure out where I’m going. I have to lookup bus schedules on my laptop and write them down in a notebook. I walk instead of calling for an Uber.
Sometimes I have to ask a total stranger for directions.
But the challenge is part of the process. It’s fun. I’m exercising my mental muscles and developing the ability to solve problems without pressing the shiny blue button.
The world functioned before smartphones. Flights crossed the Atlantic. Buses ran on time. Parents raised children. Farmers grew crops and grocery stores sold them.
Then people decided they wanted to live in a utopian world where they could turn on lights and music around the house with their phone, find sex with their phone, see what all their “friends” were doing with their phone, order food with their phone, and our phones became our new best friend.
Carlos Slim used to be the richest man in the world. He owned cellular networks.
Now the richest man in the world will deliver toilet paper to your doorstep with a drone, all at the push of a button on your phone.
But life is not utopian. It hurts. It’s scary and uncertain. It’s an adventure. And we’re losing that.
We’re losing life.
Imagine for a moment you’re dying. Your life is flashing before your eyes and you’re replaying the years, the days, and the hours in your head.
The missed opportunities.
The places you never went.
The adventures you could have experienced.
The risks you could have taken.
And the time you wasted on your phone.