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What I Learned When I Gave Up My Phone

I recently found myself feeling down, stuck in a hole, and wondering what I could do to scrabble my way out. One of the worst parts of low mood for me is the helplessness. Feeling like you’ve no control. I evaluated my life. I looked at what was going on that could be exacerbating the way I was feeling. I was eating well, getting tons of sleep, I don’t do drugs or drink or smoke. I was exercising and socialising at work. I had plenty time dedicated to doing the things that motivate me, like writing, yoga, reading, watching horror movies. What else could I change?

I noticed that I was getting obsessive with my phone. Like most people, I had it on me at all times. I was neurotically scrolling through Instagram and feeling frustrated and panicky every moment I wasn’t receiving replies back from that boy on WhatsApp.

‘What if I eradicated the ability to even know when people are sending me messages? What if I had no access to Instagram?’ I asked myself. Could it really be done? Nowadays, it’s near impossible to be without a phone. We need to be contactable. Emails are often accessed through our phones. My Linked In account is easier to navigate on the app. Online banking details are stored on apps - I can’t even remember my details to input them on my computer. Instagram posts, promoting my writing. Uni, fitness apps, Italian lessons. Music, podcasts. The list. is. endless.

Once upon a time, not even that long ago, we weren’t contactable at all times. If you wanted to check your email, you’d have to wait until you were home to load up that musical router on your cinder block of a computer. I was born in the pre technology era, but midway through my adolescence along came phones and social media. My first taste of social media was a psychedelic Bebo account at the age of fifteen. I used it irresponsibly and inappropriately. Next came Facebook when I was sixteen. I didn’t get a smart phone until I was in my early twenties and Instagram came not long after. My generation is a funny one, because we have been plunged into a digital world, without growing up in it. Our generation is entirely immersed in social media and the digital, without possessing the tools to navigate it responsibly. Dr Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist, hypothesised human brains are simply not evolved to cope with social media. The structure of social media is built so we get a dopamine kick out of likes, followers, messages, and other small interactions, but we miss out on the other chemicals triggered when we meet a real human in real time, that keep us healthy. This leads to stress, anxiety, and depression.

I can be talking to five different people on my phone and still feel profoundly lonely. During the second lockdown I lived alone. Zoom and teams and social media were great for keeping me connected, but they almost seemed to amplify my solitude, adding to the need for human contact.

A couple of weeks ago, I locked my phone away in a drawer and went about my day. I spent an entire weekend without it. I went to work without it and immersed myself in the now. I noticed how much I slowed down. Like I had all this extra time on my hands. That weekend I restarted my newsletter, something I’ve been thinking about doing for the past few months. I almost completed my dissertation. I worked tirelessly on my book and guess what? I felt… happy. After feeling miserable for weeks, I suddenly felt set free. Like I’d been locked in chains in a prison of mindless chatter and memes that added no sustenance to my life. I saved money because I didn’t have Amazon at my fingertips. I stopped obsessing over WhatsApp messages and forgot I was waiting on a boy to reply. I gave up the resentment I felt over every second my friend didn’t call when they said they would. I meditated and listened to peaceful music while I read. The biggest time saver was that I stopped scrolling mindlessly through Instagram making myself jealous of friends on holiday. I stopped seeing sad reminders of things I’d lost. I didn’t look at the lives of others and feel envy about things I didn’t even want. Instagram just makes them look so damn good. I stopped comparing my body to models who are paid to spend hours at the gym every day. I went on walks because I wanted to instead of to add to the daily steps recorder on my phone. Essentially, what happened was I started living.

Since that day I ordered an old Nokia 3410 so people can contact me if needed, but so I’m not tempted to whip my phone out when I’m bored and stare mutely at social media. I’ll keep my iPhone and use it once a day to post mindfully or reply to WhatsApp messages in a designated time frame.

The biggest lesson I learned is that the world does not fall apart when you’re not contactable all hours of the day. And you will learn to savour each moment of life if you don’t have the distraction of a mini computer pinging away in your pocket. I feel free.

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