My 40 days without a mobile phone

I’m often clumsy with my hands. If I call someone and that person does not respond, I keep calling, and I often get increasingly nervous. And increasingly clumsy.

In about 13 years, I dropped many phones, as you can imagine. This was not a massive problem when mobiles were as big as a speakerphone. Early Nokias were impressively sturdy. I dropped phones from 2 floors and they survived. Some of them ended up on the treadmill while I was exercising, flew away, and survived.

Unfortunately, my Nexus 4 didn’t survive its very first drop. Not even 2 months after I bought it. It wasn’t a particularly strong hit; I read it’s a particularly delicate phone.

Being the third phone I destroyed in 12 months, I decided it was time to try and live without a phone for some time. Today it’s been 40 days.

What’s life like without a smart phone, you ask? Let me give you some example.

What time is it? The first shock you have is that you no longer have a way to tell what time it is. I mean, many people still carry wrist watches, but most actually don’t and rely on their mobile to tell the time. The first time I realised about this it was roughly… erm, I don’t know how long it was! But definitely a short time. I had to get into a shop to check the wall-mounted clocks.

Your train is cancelled Checking the status of public transport was something I got used to. I’m a big user of National Rail trains, much more than the Tube. I would simply check my favourite/closest stations and trains and plan a walk or a suitable journey to get there in time. Cancellations would show up on the screen and I would adapt accordingly. Without a phone, you have no choice. You get to the station in time (provided you have resolved your lack of watch) and hope for the train to be confirmed and on time.

Let’s meet around I lived my youth in the 90s and early noughties. Back then we didn’t have such a big penetration of mobile phones in the market, especially in my age group  (my parents strongly opposed buying me a mobile until I got old enough to buy one myself, in 2000). You would arrange meeting your friends at a certain time, at a given meeting point, or even have a group-meetups every time in the same spot. In my home town the traditions of a comitiva (20+ strong group of friends) meeting for years in the same spot is still going on. Living without a phone is a bit going back to my youth. Most people are sympathetic and accept the idea of having a meeting place and time, rather than a generic “See you around”. You become less inclined to be late, if you know the other person might be waiting. You also accept that after waiting for some time you can assume the other person won’t be showing up and do something else.

The world around you This gives you so much more time to think, walk, look around, see shops, look at people; to read while travelling in the tube without having that urge to take your phone out and check your e-mail at every stop, when a connection becomes briefly available. It gives you time to discover and experience the world around you.

Hand drawn maps My favourite bit, being a geo geek and cartography fan, is that if I need to go to somewhere I haven’t been to before, I can no longer use Google Maps/Bing Maps/Nokia Maps/Apple Maps/OpenStreetMap. The alternatives are buying a London A-Z or other available printed map, or… draw one myself. And, as you probably imagine, I tend to do the latter. It’s a great experience that helps you relate with the space around you, appreciate distances, think in terms of route and points of interest on that route.

Wrist pain For a long-standing sufferer of tendonitis (luckily never ended up as RSI), one of the biggest effects of not using a mobile is that I no longer have that constant sharp wrist pain that used to come along with me everywhere. And I now know the reason why!

Bye bye mayorships On a lighter note, I’ve also lost all of my Foursquare mayorships, starting with my gym and local cafe. Seriously appalling. I’m no longer spamming my friends using Path about my caffeinic whereabouts. But… does that really affect my life? Not really. I can actually tell my friends about my favourite places, and discuss their own.

You might be wondering if I’ve become a luddite. I’m definitely not and if you know me you probably appreciate how my life is intertwined with technology and gadgets. I’m not saying I will go without a phone forever. But I thought I could have never, ever lived without a phone; without that constant stream of information; without being constantly online. That finding myself in that situation would have been unthinkable and very hard. Well, I’m here to say it wasn’t that difficult.