In general, I love technology…

I work in IT and in general I love technology and use it for my job. For many years I was a Blackberry user. The Blackberry was extremely configurable; alerts could be switched on or off, different kinds of alerts (lights, sounds, vibrations), different management at different times of the day, different alerts for each email inbox, message type, etc. In general, my Blackberry did not annoy me and it did not control me. Additionally, as the screen was not so big and it didn’t have so many apps, I used it when I needed it, not just when I was bored or distracted. However, the Blackberry became ever more outdated, less supported, etc. and eventually I migrated to an iPhone on the day the iPhone 6 was available in the UK.

As a long-standing Mac user, this seemed like a natural progression. Almost overnight, I had lots more apps, most with some kind of notification to tell me I had done something, needed to do something, something had happened, etc. Furthermore, these notifications were less configurable than on the Blackberry. Even with sounds turned off, I had to check for more notifications. I found myself distracted by the phone. It was always by my side or in my pocket. Not only would I reach for it when I had nothing to do, but I would do so whilst doing other things, such as watching TV. I found myself having to rewind TV programmes because I wasn’t concentrating. I began to wonder, “why do I need to check the news or read social media posts whilst I am trying to do other things?”. Having a young (3 year old) daughter also made me realise that I want to set a good example to her and also of course to make sure she has my full attention. I do have quite a lot of international friends and therefore social media is often the only way I keep in touch. So I did need to find a way to use this but only at the appropriate time and ideally only to see important posts and not all of the rubbish on there. I also found that the news apps were showing popular news articles but not necessarily the important ones. So my view of the world was filtered and biased.

I considered closing down social media accounts but that would mean losing contact with my friends. I tried not looking at the phone, but despite generally having good willpower, I still became distracted easily. I turned to the internet for ideas and found a growing movement of people who were looking to reduce their reliance on technology or ditch it all together. I still needed a phone and needed to be contactable and didn’t want to have just any old phone, I still like good design! After some searching, I found some concept phones that had not been released and then I found the Punkt. MP01. And so my detox began…

Since becoming an MP01 owner, I had dabbled with detoxes of sorts. Nothing formal or official, just trying to use the iPhone less. Maybe leaving it to one side and out of reach in the evenings. Or going out without it if I didn’t think that I would need it. Having signed up for the Punkt. Digital Detox Challenge and deciding to go for a weekend challenge, I was keen to make a start and try a real detox! I switched off the iPhone at midday on the Friday. I was working in my home office that day and would also be on the Monday following the weekend. So, I suppose it was quite a gentle immersion into the world without a smartphone. Over the weekend, I only used social media to make a few posts about my detox and I did that from my Mac. Any work or non-urgent emails waited over the weekend until the following week. I spent more quality time with my daughter. When I watched TV, I concentrated on it. I was able to re-start my reading of Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle, which reinforced my worst fears about how technology is affecting me and those around me.

What did I miss? I needed a camera a couple of times and had to reach for the “real” camera. Not a bad thing, as it takes better photos, but you can’t always carry a camera with you. The weather app would have been handy a couple of times. If I needed the internet then I made a conscious decision to go and do that on my Mac, but I did it when I had time to. A handful of friends and family use WhatsApp to contact me. Using “old school” text messaging on the MP01 was quite time-consuming and frustrating, so I did that less, which in one way was a good thing, but in another was maybe a step too far at times. On the whole though, it was really refreshing and a positive experience.

When the time came, I was actually quite nervous about turning the iPhone back on… How would I feel once it was back in my life? I’ve noticed that when I do get distracted by the iPhone I now find this much more frustrating, and I am really trying to use it less. I also notice others using their smartphones much more. Doing the same things that I did, like ignoring others, not concentrating on what they are doing. Also, doing things that I have never done such as strolling along in public, zigzagging, looking at the phone, slowing other people down, not concentrating etc.

So, what do I plan to do next? I would like to have a longer detox, maybe at least a full week. I still need to find ways to keep in touch with people, to be able to take photos when I need to and to use apps here and there, such as maps, trains, etc. I think this is just the start of a long journey to become more comfortable both with technology and the alternatives.

Mark O'Connell
Rugby, UK

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