How 40 days with a flip phone made me an internet addict.
40 days ago I switched to this flip phone. Yesterday I switched back to my Android phone. Super exciting story, right?
If you haven’t fallen asleep yet then you get to read why I switched in the first place, how it backfired, and how it (hopefully) permanently changed how I use technology in the process.
(Yawn. I’ve been practicing stream-of-conscious writing lately. And I literally just yawned. Is that a sign that I should stop writing? Probably.)
The Internet and Me
I try hard to be mindful in (almost) everything that I do. Usage of the internet falls under that scope. The internet is wicked hardcore awesome, but I’m careful to make sure that my internet usage is serving a purpose that I’m happy with.
Being a full-time maker of online things you might wrongly think that I’d be enslaved to the internet. But other than
git pull, and
export to WordPress it’s not a huge requirement in my work.
In general I’ve found that online time is for connections and offline time is for creativity (regarding working hours). Both are important, but they don’t mesh well.
Online time is for Tweeting, Slacking, and Emailing (mindfully). Offline time is for making websites and writing.
Of course there are caveats. Sometimes I have to go online to find the answer to a question. Sometimes I need to go on to test out an API. But are you here to read about unimportant caveats? I didn’t think so.
The Buildup to the Flip Phone
The time I’ve spent online has steadily decreased since leaving my “real” job in December. And my productivity has steadily increased in an almost directly inverse proportion. For the first time in (not literally) forever I’m building things quickly and I’m building things that might actually make a (super tiny) difference in the world.
Noticing this inverse relationship I sought to further reduce my internet exposure in new ways. So when Sarah and I moved to Boulder in late February we decided not to get home internet. Best. Decision. Ever!
We have free internet in our apartment complex’s lobby, which is about 100ft away, so we decided to forego internet in the apartment itself. It’s been beautiful. An internet connection is 22 seconds away at all times, but it has to actually be wanted.
Since pulling the plug I’ve written, coded, and Sketched more efficiently - and on a more regular basis - than ever before.
That is, until I decided to take my low-tech life one step too far.
The Switch to the Flip Phone
I’d purged unwanted internet from every aspect of my life except one: my pocket. And I was on a roll, so I wasn’t going to leave that one alone.
I wanted to go hiking, climbing, disc golfing, and dining with zero distractions. Without even the distraction of potential distraction. Which is a real thing.
Switching to a flip phone is something I’d dreamt about longingly for years. But tiny fears always held me back, the mains one being: What if I get lost because I can’t use Maps? How will I keep track of my calendar?
So I bought two of those old-school giant foldable maps. One of Boulder and one of Colorado. I also started carrying a notebook with me almost everywhere. It’s my calendar and my to-do list and my journal all in one.
And that worked. Exactly zero of my flip phone concerns bothered me at all. In fact, I quite enjoyed those workarounds. Because of those paper maps I now know Boulder better than I ever would have. Because of always having a notebook I’m scribbling down all of my thoughts for the first time ever.
It’s been great. Except for one flaw in the plan.
I Underestimated My Occasional Need to be Connected
Switching to a flip phone had the exact opposite effect to the one I expected.
Often times I don’t have a need to be connected. These are the times I was thinking of when I switched to the flip phone. And the flip phone is freaking perfect for these times.
But sometimes I do need to be connected. Or at least I badly want to be connected, which might as well be the same thing.
Right now is one of the latter times. I’m in the process of selling a business. I just launched a new guide and a a new SaaS website (which is my favorite thing that I’ve ever built BTW), both of which I’m trying to get feedback on. I’m planning more coffee dates than I ever have in my life. And I may or may not be trying to partner with someone on a project.
All of these things, whether rationally or not, have me wanting to check my email and/or my Slack every 30 minutes. I’m having rewarding conversations with a bunch of different people and many are conversations that I don’t want to let slip.
I needed my time in internet isolation to complete the things I listed above. Seriously, neither that guide nor that SaaS app would exist if I was connected 24/7. But now that they’re both out there, I need micro-doses of the web to help me carry them to relevance.
Checking my phone twice per hour isn’t ideal for maximizing creativity, but it’s also not deadly to my creativity. The alternative, though, has been deadly.
The alternative is that over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing almost all of my work from the lobby that has internet. I don’t want to miss any important communications so I’m having a hard time pulling myself away.
It’s been getting worse and worse, to the point that this past week has seen me staying in the lobby until 1am some mornings. It has seen me skip my workout on two occasions, and skip several rounds of disc golf.
It’s impossible to blame this entirely on the flip phone. Part of this is the ebb and flow of my life. Sometimes I’m more focused on personal stuff. Sometimes I’m more focused on business stuff.
During times when I’m more focused on personal stuff the flip phone is da bomb. But during these recent times it’s been crippling. Instead of freeing my mind it’s having the opposite effect; It’s tying me to a chair, glued to the internet during times when I otherwise wouldn’t be.
The Unexpected Upside
It wasn’t all bad!
My flip phone made me a better writer. And perhaps a better UX/UI/architect. Texting on that phone sucked sooo badly that I was forced to think about how I could deliver my message clearly in as few characters as possible. For someone as wordy as myself, that’s great training.
As I reread the above paragraph it sounds farfetched. But I’m not joking. I genuinely believe that texting on that phone made me a better, more concise writer.
Then again, this post is getting longer than I expected because of needless sentences like this one. So...
The Downside of the Upside
Did I already mention how badly texting sucked?
I never realized how many social interactions I have in a day because of texting. Texting my wife pictures of our dog while she’s at work. Shooting the breeze with my friends from back on the east coast. Sending pictures of the beautiful Boulder skyline to my parents. Scrolling through my contact list and texting anybody who I haven’t spoken with in a while (yeah, I do that).
My thought process was that I would start calling these people instead. But in reality, communication simply ceased in a lot of these instances. Even when others initiated text conversations with me, I’d respond with as few words as possible, and I’d be subconsciously eager to end the conversation.
My new old phone will be going into Patrick-proof lockdown mode once again, but a bit differently than before.
Restricting access to apps like Facebook and Chrome and Email - all of which I did during my previous smartphone days - is a pretty logical decision. Whether you agree with disabling them or not, everybody at least agrees that they have the potential to be distracting.
What I learned from 40 days with a flip phone, though, is that a lot of the “good” apps aren’t for me either. I never would have considered not using apps like Evernote and Todoist, for example. But I won’t be using them going forward.
This was the first time since 2008 that I didn’t have a smartphone. It was a nice recalibration. I learned that I love the (genuine) communication tools that a smartphone affords. And that I don’t love the paper-replacing tools.