I think it’s fair to say that Slow Living is often confused with going without the technological trappings of the modern world. Some folks think of the concept of Slow Living and imagine an Amish like existence, with no gadgets, no devices, no modern conveniences at all. But this isn’t the case:
Slow living is all about living intentionally, choosing to prioritise how you spend your time and allowing yourself to be truly present. As such I have always ascertained that technology can actually help you live a simpler life in many ways – reducing the amount of physical clutter in your life by digitising your paperwork, sending emails instead of letters, having a library in your pocket and the ability to keep in touch with those you care about at the touch of a button.
Nevertheless, I was interested when my phone broke recently, to see how it affected the way I live my life.
I’m a huge advocate of Slow Living – surely not having a personal device with me 24/7 could only help me immerse myself fully in the here and now?
When my phone stopped working I took it into the shop to be looked at. It fast became clear that it wasn’t going to be a quick fix, and so began the arduous affair of returning it to be repaired. Having been forewarned that this would likely take a few weeks, ever curious, I decided to consider it a bit of an experiment:
Could living without a smartphone actually benefit my slow living journey?
As I said, I don’t believe that slow living means no living.
I think that technology, gadgets and the internet are marvellous inventions if used wisely, and can complement a simpler life.
There is a tricky balance to strike because as well as believing in a simpler, slower pace of life I also try to live as minimally as possible and don’t generally like to accumulate stuff. As a result of this, I use my phone for various organisational tasks and planning. I could see straight away that I was going to have to create alternative solutions to things I routinely do on my phone, such as simply organising my day.
Fun fact about me – I cannot function without a checklist. If I don’t have it written down, it isn’t happening.
As such, I see my phone as a tool I use to help make the most of my time. But if I’m honest, I perhaps do reach for it more often than is strictly necessary, and I suspected that it may be distracting me from being fully in the moment – ie, instead of fully appreciating a gorgeous sunset, I instinctively reach for my phone to take a photo of it.
So I was really interested to see whether going without my phone would help me to connect any better – to my environment, my family, my experience and just the moment.
Things you should know:
- I should point out, in full transparency, I didn’t have NO phone for this time – just that I put my sim into a crappy old one we have sitting around, so I could still call people in an emergency, but it’s far too slow to use the internet on. Before I decided to make this an experiment, I had initially tried to install a couple of apps on it like Whatsapp, to keep in touch with my lovelies, but frankly, it’s so hard to use the teeny tiny text function on, I just didn’t. I promise the brick has just sat around in the depths of my bag for a month doing sweet F.A
- I also still have access to my computer. Theoretically, I could access some of the fun and distracting apps I had on my phone this way, but I haven’t. I have used it strictly for work purposes during this experiment.
This in mind, it’s fair to say that I am not cut off from technology altogether. This is really an experiment on how easy/hard it is to live a simple and slow life without the convenience of an instant, in your pocket solution to most of life’s queries.
I took notes throughout the time without access to my all singing, all dancing bells and whistles phone, which I ended up being without for 4 weeks, and this is what I have learned:
One month without my phone
Ok, first things first. I think there was an actual period of grieving in the beginning, which was both surprising and alarming.
I hate the idea of being so reliant/addicted to a gadget that it actually physically affected me not having it. I felt restless and fidgety, followed by periods of mopey vagueness.
I definitely noticed in the first week how much I instinctively just reached for my phone to check it randomly. I hadn’t realised how habitual it had become. I found myself repeatedly just picking it up, absentmindedly going to scroll through it before remembering there was nothing to scroll….
On the plus side, this weird transition didn’t take long and after a couple of days, I started behaving much more normally. After the initial period of absentmindedly reaching to scroll, the main downside I noticed was that I was starting to feel really disconnected.
I feel far more out of touch than I expected to.
I’m a bit of an introvert. I figured not being in touch with people would be the easiest part of this experiment.
In fact, I really, really missed people. It turns out I chat with a small number of close friends and family most days, and I missed that. Even more in this socially confusing time.
On this note, I feel like I should address FOMO or the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. Again, as an introvert, this isn’t something which keeps me up at night but if this is something you relate to, it’s definitely worth considering before ditching your phone.
I wouldn’t say I felt like I was missing out as such, but I had no way of knowing what was happening. You know, that thing where you sort of watch people doing what they do via social media, and even if you aren’t actually there you still feel kind of involved? None of that.
I did feel kind of cut off.
I imagine if you are an extroverted, get involved, people kinda person this would be the hardest aspect of being without a phone.
Not being able to indulge my voyeuristic tendencies by scrolling through Instagram was a pretty predictable downside of having no phone. But it turns out there were some unforeseen issues which just hadn’t occurred to me. As it turns out I actually rely on my phone for much more than I realised, such as my general wellbeing:
Health and fitness
At one point I became hella ragey and out of sorts. Using his sleuth like powers of deduction, Simon tentatively wondered if perhaps by any chance my period was due and would I like some chocolate…?
I was forced to admit that I had absolutely NO idea. Zip. I use a period tracking app, which I now no longer had access to. Who knows? That’s years worth of info on my personal body clock gone. (I ate the chocolate anyway, just in case…)
I also use an exercise app, and it’s simple enough – I could have worked out my own routine and done it, but I didn’t. Same with meditating. After an unbroken streak of over a year of daily meditation, I think I maybe meditated 3 times in the whole of this month.
See, it turns out that my phone is actually my accountability buddy.
Without those unbroken streaks, I just stopped being any good at sticking with a thing. (I refer you back to earlier comment regarding my inability to function without a checklist.)
I clearly could have written down the things that needed to be done (I did do this and experienced medium level success here) but I have my apps set up ‘just so’ with checklists and systems and without them I got confused. I clearly associate my daily habits with the process of recording them on my phone or using an app to prompt me. Take away those prompts and the habits fell apart.
Obviously, if you are a neurotypical person you’ll likely have no trouble at all here, but for those of us, who are dancing with a toe (or indeed both feet in their entirety) on the spectrum, you will want to plan carefully before ditching your lifeline, ahem, I mean digital device and come up with a SYSTEM.
Ah. Capturing moments. I admit it, I’m one for taking photos of all the things, all the time.
Do I ever go back and look at said pictures? Not often. But I could. And it felt weird not recording them.
I missed documenting the moments. One of my favourite apps is 1 second every day. If you are unfamiliar with it, it enables you to record tiny snippets of your life and edit them together into short videos made up entirely of 1-second snippets.
This is something I have done for years and it felt so odd not to be recording these little moments. Because it’s the daft things… The everyday stuff which you don’t really remember. A silly giggle over something small and insignificant, which might have passed by unnoticed, but I am always on the lookout for those little moments.
Of course, they still happened, and after years of looking out for them I still noticed and enjoyed them, but it actually makes me feel a little sad that there is a whole month of lovely second long snippets lost. The practice of going through the day’s snippets to choose a moment for the reel is a lovely exercise in gratitude and something that I really missed.
Conversely, I didn’t feel this way about my inability to take photos:
Connecting with the world around me
Walking in nature is always beautiful and immersive.
I couldn’t take photos of it. I reminded myself that I didn’t need to. I could just be present and enjoy it.
This was actually really lovely. Just being enveloped in the thick mist in the forest and not feeling the need to keep stopping and trying to capture it (which of course, you never really can).
This is one area that I feel it was actually really helpful to not have a phone, and my regular outdoor time and connection to nature were enhanced by my ability to just be present and enjoy it without distraction.
So all in all, would I say that this realisation was enough to make me want to ditch my device for good?
These are the main pro’s and con’s to my phone free month as I see them:
- I did feel that I was better able to connect to the natural world and immerse myself in what I was doing because I wasn’t distracted by the urge to take a photo of every lovely thing I saw.
- I realised how much I time I used to spend just reaching for my phone and scrolling without thought or intent. As someone who has always thought they had a pretty good handle on their screen/life balance, this was perhaps the biggest take away from the whole experiment in terms of how I connect to the world around me.
- I definitely felt disconnected from my friends and family. (I did make a couple of calls using my slow, old spare phone, but it seemed to negate the point of this experiment to do that too often. I justified it by telling myself that if we had a landline phone I would be using that, but y’know, we don’t, so I only did this once or twice.) For me, a big part of slow living is about the intentional connection to those around us, so this was an obvious downside.
- I struggled to maintain habits. Journalling, meditating, sports, Duolingo, gratitude practice – these are all things which I include in a daily routine which helps me feel grounded and connected. They all went out the window due to the fact that my systems are so integrated with my phone.
- My general productivity was lower, again, because I use my phone to organise myself, I lost track of time a lot, I clearly have no idea what my body is doing each month without an app to keep track of it… these are all things which arguably, I should be able to manage without a phone, and I was surprised by.
Although there were some things I found surprising during my time without a phone, I got it back last week and I have to say, it feels great to be reconnected!
I intend to work hard on not automatically reaching for my phone to fill the time and will continue to go for beautiful walks without taking photos (or at least, not as many!) but all in all, I really didn’t feel that much more immersed ‘in the moment’ without my phone as I thought I might.
We clearly ought to be mindful about when and where we are using our phones and for what purpose, but if you have one (and really, who doesn’t?) then it makes sense to utilise it. As I said at the beginning of this, our digital devices are tools. They are there to aid us and help us live productive and intentional lives.
If using organisational apps and systems helps you to get things done so that your time is your own, then they really can enhance your experience.
If you find pleasure in recording the beautiful moments of your life, then that too enhances your experience.
If you spend every second of every day locked into your phone with no interaction with the world around you, then that is clearly a problem.
Everything is about balance.
Life is beautiful, you certainly don’t need a phone to make it better, but from my experience, I can’t say I believe it makes it worse.
There is no need to shut yourself off from the modern world in order to live a simple and meaningful life, in fact, I am feeling more at peace now than I have all the past month. The ability to just be able to reach out and say hi to a friend, to send and receive photos from family members, to manage my time so that I have more to give. For me personally, I feel that the way I use my phone is integrated into my Slow Living ethos and as such, it helps rather than hinders me on my journey.
What are your views? Do you think we rely too much on technology? Can you see how going without your phone could help you connect? Or do you also make your digital devices work to your advantage?