It was a Friday night, and I had just shut the door to the cab when I realized I didn’t have my phone. I must have gotten disoriented between paying for the car and gathering up my Shake Shack order, gym bag and tote. My phone of more than two years, gone in a single, muddled moment.
I thought of it thumping along in the backseat of the yellow taxi and cursed myself for not being more careful. The bright side was that I had the receipt, since I needed it to expense the cab ride for work. With the receipt in hand, I called 3-1-1 — NYC’s non-emergency services hotline — and acquired the number of my taxi driver’s garage in Queens. It was closed until Tuesday (Monday was a holiday), but I remained hopeful I’d get my phone back mid-week.
Turns out, the driver didn’t have it; I would have to purchase a new one. The phone I lost was an Android and was starting to freeze at random points, I reminded myself — I was clearly trying to find a silver lining to my situation. After all, who doesn’t like a new tech toy? Seven days had passed by the time I had my new iPhone 11 in hand. For an entire week, I had been without the device that 84% of people surveyed in a TIME Mobility poll said they couldn’t function without.
My accidental phone-free week revealed some important lessons that I intend to carry with me as I return to the spellbinding world of smartphones:
I should exert caution with the personal information on my phone.
Compared to the flip-phones of the ‘90s, today’s smartphones are truly masterful devices. It didn’t take more than a single day of going without a phone to understand how heavily synced it is to my daily needs. Aside from being my morning alarm and conduit of world news, I use my phone to navigate New York City with ease, keep tabs on my finances, and to purchase coffee on my way into work.
Without access to my apps, my daily rhythm was upended. I was also stressing about the vulnerability of my data. Even with second-level security features, I opted to change my passwords and freeze certain accounts. The process of this proved to be an annoyance as well as a barrier to conducting daily tasks, but it did make me feel more secure until I had a new phone in my possession. The awareness of how susceptible my personal information is made me want to keep a degree of financial separation with my new phone.
Update: It’s been two weeks since getting my new phone, and I haven’t saved my credit card information to Apple Pay, which also makes it easier to curb impulse spending.
The “real world” is isolating.
Without a smartphone, my world narrowed. I watched everyone around me glance down into the personal portals of connectivity while I remained awkwardly disconnected from my own. I normally peruse Instagram and Facebook feeds while waiting for the train, and catch up with my family while I wait for my name to be called at the barista bar. To suddenly have my time be completely my own was unnerving; I kept thinking about what I was missing, which made me anxious. However, once I settled into the fact that I was unreachable until I got to my desk, I appreciated the quiet.
Was it really isolation I was feeling, or have I become so accustomed to being fully available that I can no longer distinguish access from control? My time is my own, with or without a phone, and I’m glad I had the chance to reclaim that powerful notion. During this week, I found myself popping into more bookstores and taking the long route home so I could explore pockets of my neighborhood I normally skip over. In truth, I didn’t mind defaulting to email to get in touch with friends and family. If I planned to go to the gym after work, I emailed my boyfriend to let him know I’d be home later. There was no back-and-forth texting; just a simple note, and the evening was mine for the taking.
My thoughts need room to stretch.
No notification pings or text buzzes means no distractions. Without the cacophony of the world living inside my smartphone, the only noises I’m attuned to are the shuffle of those around me, and my thoughts. By the end of the week, I was having playful conversations and free-flowing ideas that pushed my creativity. Void of distractions, my mind was free to roam like a hiker keen to get off the grid. I felt more present and refreshed coming into work. Perhaps leaving my phone on the do not disturb setting until I’m officially on the clock is a long term solution for improved mental health and creativity. Would I miss anything of grave importance in those 30 minutes? I haven’t so far.
I can live without a phone, but I wouldn’t choose to.
Despite the revitalizing “me time” a week without a phone gave me, I was glad to have one back in my possession on that seventh day. My family was eagerly awaiting my return to the WhatsApp group chat, and it was nice to coordinate plans in real time. While I know I’ll go back to mindlessly scrolling Instagram, I don’t want my smartphone-free time to be in vain. I set boundaries on my phone, which is easy to configure. I reduced some notifications and have scheduled “airplane mode” times when I plan to work out or tackle a certain task at work. My world is in a device I can hold, but there’s another world that’s around me, and it was helpful to have a reminder that I can live in both.
When she’s not writing about the money-saving hacks that helped her save $25k in a year, Sasha is taking to the skies with her sister Melissa. Their Instagram account, @JetsettingJunkies, and website feature their travels from all over the world. DM Sasha for money tips and advice on traveling often and cheaply!
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