Like most of my generation, I live in, and on, my iPhone 6. This is not hyperbole. The fantastic (and rather scary) Moment App tells me I spend 8% of my waking life accessing my iPhone. I pick it up over 110 times a day, every day. Worryingly, I use my iPhone more on the weekends – when I’m most with my kids – than I do during work.
I’m 38. Imagine I live to be 85, which, statistically, I can expect, and imagine I sleep 50% of that time. I have 23.5 years left awake before I die. That’s 1.88 years of my remaining life I’ll spend on an iPhone.
1.88 years of my allotted time on planet Earth. Fuck that.
I don’t spend 8% of my waking life reading books, or working out, or walking with my family. I’d like to think I spend my time somewhat productively, and I’m a reasonably happy person, but I’m pretty sure I can think of better uses for 1.88 years of my life than staring at a smart phone.
Smart phone use is this generation’s smoking, and I’m a heavy smoker. I’ve been aware of this for some time.
Moment tells me I use Twitter the most, followed by RSS feed app Reeder, podcast app Overcast, and then everything else.
The thing is, I love my iPhone. I love everything about it. But I don’t think spending 2-3 hours a day accessing it is smart.
The Punkt. phone challenge came at exactly the right time. It’s summer and as an academic I’ve fewer responsibilities, apart from writing. I also had a nice mixture over the weekend of free time, and travel.
I started the challenge on Thursday the 5th of August in the evening. I sent a tweet announcing it, and the fun began.
Unboxing the phone was a lovely experience. The packaging is sleek and well considered, the setup instructions are very clear, and the phone itself is both pleasing hold and obviously, very simple.
Once I was up and running, I sent a few text messages to friends to tell them not to message me on WhatsApp or any of the other iPhone-centric services I use, and then got stuck in to doing not much at all with my phone.
The urge to tweet about how I didn’t have a phone anymore was somewhat overpowering.
The idea of disconnection is appealing, and a little frightening. I write to be read for a living, and I am a digital native. But have I ever really been disconnected?
There is a German word to describe the nostalgia for things you never knew, and the word is Sehnsucht. Nostalgia or longing for a distant place you’ve never actually been to, but which may inexplicably, be home. There’s nothing quite like Sehnsucht in English.
The Punkt. MP01 is a Sehnsucht phone. It is nostalgia for disconnection in a small, modern, well designed plastic shell.
The lack of music, of podcasts, of feeds, of twitter, was a little alarming. I didn’t get iMessages, or pictures of my kids. Because I couldn’t import contacts onto my sim, I didn’t know who any of the calls I received were from. This unnerved those on the other end of the call more than me after a while. We’re used to being pre-recognised these days. The predictive text messaging is deliberately rudimentary. Replying to text messages became a total pain, so I just started calling people back, which I could tell annoyed some of them a little bit, sometimes. Voice calls can be an intrusion in 2016.
On Sunday, I travelled from Limerick to London to give some lectures. I’ve flown this route dozens of times. It is, essentially, a bus ride for me. Printing out boarding passes felt very 20th Century. The Punkt. phone was to be my alarm clock and my phone. My iPhone stayed in Limerick. I brought my laptop for work, and an old Kindle.
I managed to read a few books on my Kindle, which is itself a form of calm technology, the kind of tech that demands the smallest amount of attention, be as informative as possible, and create calm when it can. I read books by Theodore Zeldin, Warren Ellis, and James C. Scott. Those were, I think, a better use of my time than reading tweets. I still allowed myself to tweet a bit from the computer when it suited, but I wasn’t running to it every 5 minutes.
From Thursday 5th to Thursday 11th, I sent 15 tweets, 4 of which were retweets of the newspaper I write for. More importantly, the hours I normally spent on Twitter were now minutes.
Travel was a good bit harder for me. I got lost on trains, on streets. In fact, I got lost pretty much everywhere I went in London. With no map apps to guide me, I had to rely on the kindness of strangers. Strangers who mostly had earbuds in, foreheads down, and when stopped for directions, didn’t know how to get to where I was going either. They used their phones to show me, but we had a laugh as well. There was a human connection, however brief, brought on by the phone.
I became much more aware of street signs, and of just listening. No headphones and no notifications beyond the odd text message meant I had a lot of time to just listen on planes and trains. The average train carriage is quite a loud space. Everyone listening to an individual sound source but me, shuttling through London’s underground and overground services. I looked out the window a lot.
When I got home from London, I played with my kids and didn’t think to check my phone once. I only realised this when it beeped at me. I charged the phone fully on Thursday the 5th. I’m writing this on the evening of Wednesday the 10th, and it is has just demanded a bit of power with a little vibration. My iPhone 6 barely made it past 3pm on any day.
I then travelled to Belfast for another set of lectures. Again, no iPhone. No problem this time as I was driving, but without the turn by turn navigation, the trip into Belfast city became a little fraught. I also really missed podcasts, which were a staple of my driving experience up to now.
I’ve now been using it for 15 days. The iPhone has stayed in its box and hasn’t been used once in 15 days. That’s 12,650 times I haven’t picked it up. I’ve charged the phone twice in those 15 days.
I am going to keep using the Punkt. phone for another 15 days. 48 hours wasn’t enough to really see where this can take me. 360 hours gave me a sense that phones like this, which represent a sort of pulling back from the notification nirvana that is the iPhone, have a real place in the lives of digital natives like me.
The conditions I’m using the phone in are, as economists say, out of sample. I’m going to extend this experiment into a new academic semester and new responsibilities at work, to see how much I really need the iPhone in my professional life.
Update: 840 hours later and counting.
As the Autumn semester has started, I’ve been keeping to the Punkt. phone. The iPhone is still in my drawer. My phone bill has dropped 40%, and charging the phone is still a weekly event. Calendaring is a big issue because I share calendars with my family and work colleagues. I bought a paper calendar, but it just isn’t the same thing. I keep needing to pull out my laptop to check things, which isn’t ideal. Email volumes increase markedly as students return, and this has meant spending much more time at my laptop, which, again, isn’t ideal. I have yet to find a way to replace the photo element of the phone, and I listen to podcasts at a much lower rate than before. In the car I’m stuck with radio, mostly. What is happening, I suppose, is that if I stick with the Punkt. phone, I’ll end up building up a stack of devices the iPhone replaced for me: a camera, a calendar, and so forth. I’ll write a final word on my experiment at the end of September.