No memes, no links, no rabbit holes

As someone who has been fully immersed in high-tech for the last 25 years, I have always been connected in one form or another, nearly around the clock. In the early 1990’s, my world was that of mainframes, desktops and 24/7 beepers. Today, my world is one of desktops, laptops, tablets and 24/7 phablets. Like most people today, the wealth of the world’s digital information is always at my fingertips, always on. During work hours, my job demands that I am connected via my laptop to face the onslaught of emails and other work-related functions. When not at the desk, the pings of notifications from social media and email sound throughout the day and night. Relentlessly.

I needed to get away and detox.

This realization came one afternoon while sitting in my recliner, iPad on my lap, Netflix running some documentary on my “smart and connected” TV, and my smartphone in hand. Here's a rundown of the thought process that led me to realizing enough was enough.

The phone kept beeping and buzzing with notifications from several social media accounts, text messages from friends who were sending nothing but memes, shipment notifications from Amazon and eBay, and email notifications popping up from work and personal circles. That particular day just seemed unyielding and I honestly had no idea what was happening in the documentary, or in my living room for that matter. My world was purely digital in that moment.

None of these apps really needed my immediate attention, yet I was giving it to them, especially when waiting for an important text/email from someone (in this case, I was waiting for some film scans to be ready for download, so every PING got my attention). Picking up the smartphone was just opening up the rabbit hole of wasting a lot time online.

I first tried unplugging from the internet out of working hours for a little peace and quiet for my mind. I put the iPad – powered off – into a drawer. I powered down the desktop and laptop in my home office. I had tried using an app on my phone to try and limit my use with some success, but was annoyed with myself that I could easily bypass the settings when I really wanted to. (You can read that as total and complete lack of self-control). It was easy enough to ‘brick’ the phone every afternoon, but I felt myself getting lazy about it, wanting to quickly just check this or that. Some things are just too convenient.

We all know how that goes, grabbing the smartphone to check one thing quickly leads to another and that rabbit hole has firmly sucked you into its depths.

 

 

Detox Time

I contacted the folks at Punkt. and let them know my story and that I was about to jump into their Winter Challenge even though I didn’t have their phone. I began with a total and complete unplug from all computers, tablets, and connected smartphones. It ended up being a total of 109 hours’ worth over a long weekend; and it was liberating. I read a couple of books, did some analog client work, and spent more quality time with my family than I can remember doing in a long time.

Punkt. heeded the call and offered to send me an MP01 to expand on the Challenge, and I gladly accepted. For the last two weeks, I have ditched the smartphone in favor of the MP01, 24/7. I have also continued to digitally unplug every day at 4pm until 5am the next morning and every weekend for 61 hours.

But there was an adjustment to get here.

 

The Fear

Nomophobia, along with FOMO, are words that were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary last spring to label the withdrawal issues people experience when they find themselves without their smartphones. Nomophobia is directly related to smartphones, while FOMO is a more generic and informal term. According to the dictionary:

  • NOMOPHOBIA: noun  no·mo·pho·bia \ˌnō-mə-ˈfō-bē-ə\ fear of being without access to a working cell phone
  • FOMO: noun \ˈfō-(ˌ)mō\  fear of missing out :  fear of not being included in something (such as an interesting or enjoyable activity) that others are experiencing

I can confirm that I have had bouts of both the above over the past two weeks, but am happy to report it's really subsiding. I think FOMO has been the larger of the two for me over the last two weeks; and that wasn't smartphone-specific, but related to times I am unplugged from the internet all together – related to 4 specific areas:

  1. Instagram/Twitter DMs,
  2. Slack Conversations,
  3. Breaking News, and
  4. Email (see my 5 Ways I am Reducing Screen Time post).

 

Two and a half weeks ago, when I did the 109-hour Detox, I had the strongest FOMO reactions. What if someone wanted to ask me something important over social media or email? What if there was an awesome photography thread happening on Slack? What if there was a world event in the news that I was missing? Yes, I was actually worrying about these things, thinking about them while reading books or while going for walks. I was tempted on several occasions to pick up my cellphone or power on my computer to give it a quick check. But I held strong. I kept reminding myself, if there's an emergency, all my contacts have my phone number.

The last two weekends, I was completely unplugged for shorter periods (Friday at 4pm until Monday at 5am) but it was so much easier, due in part to “surviving” the 109-hour weekend and now having a dedicated dumbphone for the exercise.

I got through it all by going on hikes and reading throughout the day. Occupying my mind was the only cure that worked to clear my mind of connected desires.

 

Things I Have (not) Missed

I am finding that I do not miss social media during the unplugged times and my need/desire to see what people were saying/posting has been waning. Even during the connected times, I am barely touching the sites any more. Especially Twitter. The people I am most close to on social media are on Instagram; and though I missed a few of their daily stories, I knew there was nothing pressing that I “needed” to read. I hit the social websites just a couple times a week now, and usually for minutes; no longer for hours.

I love that I am no longer bombarded with instant news alerts and am somewhat detached from what is happening in the world. I found myself heading to the general store for a copy of the local paper to get the headlines one Sunday, but I picked up the paper, glanced at them and decided I can go longer without depressing news. As I am doing a long-term detox, I am thinking I might get the local paper delivered on weekends. Getting the headlines then will be plenty for me, as I realized that 24-hour news was adding to my overload of digital information.

One last thing I didn’t miss was email. Even though I have disciplined myself to only check three times a day during work hours, not checking it at all after-hours and on weekends has been completely awesome. Looking at all my accounts and the hundreds of emails sitting there on Monday mornings, I am not missing a thing.

 

 

The Punkt. MP01

The first thing I noticed when opening the box was simplicity, designed well. A physical keyboard doesn't get a whole lot more simple than the T9 design and a few dedicated buttons. For those who grew up on the smartphone and missed the T9 generation of phones, this is where you repeatedly press the number keys to scroll through letters of the alphabet. So, typing R-A-Y would be 777-2-999. Yeah, slows ya down real nice.

OK, so on to a few things that grabbed my attention when I picked it up.

 

In the Hand

The Punkt. MP01 feels fairly light in the hand, but in a good way. Lighter than my Nexus 6, not by a lot, and a great deal more compact. It's built with a tough durable plastic and utilizes a bright Gorilla Glass 3 screen and back-lit keys. I like that they don't beg for your attention, unlike the candy-colored rainbow of apps on my Nexus. In a nutshell, very subtle.

The rear of the phone is contoured to sit nice in my hand and has additional grip with a golf ball-like dimpling. It feels much more natural (comfortable) to make phone calls with this than the larger Nexus and sits at a slight angle in the hang (tilting towards you) when texting. These small attentions to detail are making this phone really stand out for me.

There are just a few buttons along the sides that are level with the edge of the body. The volume along the right side and the power / lock along the left. There is also a Micro USB port and a SIM slot.

 

Texting / Calling

Aside from entering contacts, this is literally all you do with the phone: text or call someone. Everything takes physical clicks, rather than swipes, gestures and non-tactile clicks. But man, it's satisfyingly simple and puts a smile on my face.

To send a text, press the texting button and type away, choose a recipient and send. To make a call, press the phone-book button, choose a recipient and have at it. It's not rocket science.

In the States, your only option for now (this is a 2G phone) is T-Mobile – though rumor has it Punkt. are working on a 4G/LTE version. Most places I go, I have full strength with T-Mobile and call quality has been fine. I'll get more into it with my full review next month.

With the first few texts I composed, I wasn't sure how I was going to like the T9 keyboard and simple interface.  No auto-correct, no group chats, no swipe-text. But in the same breath, replies were coming back (to a beautiful audio alert) with no memes, no links, no rabbit holes. This is exactly what I was hoping for my digital detox.

 

Call of the Wild

Speaking of audio alerts, this is one simple joy of this phone that's very cool. Many of the audio alerts you can choose from are coos and hoots from birds of the wild. They are very soothing – which is a weird thing to mention, but they are.

Usually I have my cells on vibrate only (the MP01 has that option) but I opted for the “Hei” sound for texts and “Ko ko” for calls. Love when they roll in.

 

Challenge Intensified

My original plan was to use my smartphone during working hours and then ditch it and unplug for nights and weekends. But having the MP01 now, I decided to ramp up my personal challenge as I mentioned above. I have ditched the smartphone altogether and now keep the Punkt. MP01 on me all day and continue to unplug from the internet on nights and weekends; at least until the end of April.

 

Letting the Contacts Know

To do this, I had to let me contacts know that I was ditching the smartphone in favor of a dumbphone. These are the steps I took to let them know the game plan:

  • Got myself a new SIM and phone number
  • Composed an email to all contacts noting:
    • This is my new number
    • Detoxing with a dumb phone, so no group messages, no MMS messages, no links, no apps
    • Informed them if they wanted to send multi-media, email is the only choice now
  • Turned off data on the smartphone

 

Surprisingly, the feedback from them was pretty good. A handful mumbled about not being able to scare the bejesus out of me with twisted clown photos in a text, but for the most part, they were open to my digital detox and wanted to learn more about it.

 

 

Conclusions

So, this is just the beginning. I plan to continue my nights and weekends unplugged and plan to continue detox from the internet all I can. I plan to truly “dumb up” my phone. My eyes have opened up a bit more to how social media and the constant connectivity can get away from me and how stepping away is a wonderful mind-vacation. Social media and the internet aren’t evil by any manner, nor should they be viewed that way, but I feel they need to be checked every now and then. I can see my social presence becoming less and less, which frees up more time for family, hikes, and books.

“Facetime” needn't be a digital thing.

 

Ray Larose
New Hampshire, USA
Twitter [This is now a dead link. But we’ve left it up for posterity.]
Instagram [Ditto.]

 


Back to the Challenge

Sign up to the Punkt. Post