Two weeks ago, for not apparent reason, from one day to another, the WiFi of my Google Pixel, the one that I’ve been using non-stop for the last ten months, stopped working.
Let me clarify this: I’m a happy Pixel / Android user, after years in iPhoneland, I moved back to my first love (I was one of the first guys in town to get a Nexus One back in 2010) and I’ve been enjoying every single aspect of it.
Like you, the digital component of my life switched from the laptop to the palm of the hand in the last few years. This is just my third year living in London, so I use Citymapper and Google Maps a lot in order to move around the city. I’m a hard user of Twitter (yes, I know, but I do still find the platform very useful in many aspects), Instagram (I’ve been away from Facebook for nine years, so at some point many things you probably do with Facebook I do with Instagram), LinkedIn (when you’re a foreigner the need to grow and keep a network is constant indeed), WhatsApp (to keep in touch with family and close friends, regardless their geolocation) and Gmail (the email address I never stopped using since June of 2004). And of course, Spotify while I’m commuting, the work email inbox, Instagram Stories to post random stuff I found interesting but without real need to be shared, Tumblr to follow, well, those weird and beautiful Tumblrs out there… Well, pretty much like you, I do use an average of at least ten different apps / platforms, several times a day, everyday.
So, coming back to that WiFi issue that I had: I went to the store where I got it, and after going through that terrible thing called factory reset and still not making the WiFi work, the technician told me what I didn’t want to hear: “You’ll need to leave the phone for repair. For two weeks.” I wasn’t expecting that, but I understood: you need to go through some serious mobile surgery in order to fix that. And then the bad news came, when they gave me a temporary replacement phone.
I opened the generic white box handed to me by this guy, to see a logo (and I’m being benevolent calling it “logo”) and a brand I never heard of before: ZTE. I admit it, I was shocked. It was like traveling back in time, but without the fun of riding a DeLorean at 88 mph or the visual excitement of a flux capacitor. I googled it: it was a ZTE Blade A110, 8GB, equipped with Android Lollipop 5.1… So all of a sudden I was in front of 15 days of living a mobile life similar to the one we used to have years ago, without asking for it.
Needless to say, the mobile-drug withdrawal symptoms kicked in right away. I barely managed to install WhatsApp in this new/old device, that was slow, sometimes glitchy, small in screen size, and limited in both memory and process capacity.
I was struggling, not knowing exactly what to do with that not-so-smartphone with me. I spent the first two days opening my MacBook at any available WiFi hotspot I could find. LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter, all of them were expecting me to respond or take some action almost immediately and I was getting there with an almost analog understanding of time, with a constant delay that my brain was trying to process and understand.
That non-sense reward-based behaviour we have on a daily basis activates our brain’s dopamine pathways. If you really think about it, how many times you found yourself clicking on icons or swapping apps just because, without a real need to engage with those apps? I can tell: many -too many- times.
Most of these platforms and apps are totally right in giving us users what we want, but that it’s certainly quite different to what we need. “All of us are jacked into this system” said Tristan Harris, a 33-year-old former Google employee turned vocal critic of the tech industry. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
Let me please suggest you to read the article from The Guardian weekend magazine from which I took the previous quote from: “The tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia”. It’s a sort of long article, but please, make the effort of giving your full attention to something on your screen for more than five seconds. If you can’t, just print it out, you’ll enjoy both the quality of the article and spending time reading on something “old skool” like paper, believe me.
That’s what I discovered during these two weeks of forced abstinence from constant connectivity. I could finally focus, read and finish the paper version of “Paid Attention” (ironically) from the great Faris Yacob. Nothing happened at the end of the day because I’ve been reading emails, comments, tweets, posts and even news headlines with a delay of 3 or 4 hours. Nothing at all, seriously.
Matthew Crawford, an American philosopher, said that “an animal turns its eyes to face the new thing that appears in its field of vision. When a new thing appears every second on a screen, it’s very hard to resist that”. Well, that was me all the time while using my lovely Google Pixel: Dug, the Talking Dog from Up. “Squirrel!”
Today I got my phone back. My precious! ? Bye bye 8Gb ZTE Something-Something! Of course I installed Twitter, Citymapper, Instagram and Facebook again. But I also realised that half of the apps I used to have are literally not needed at all, so they’re not around anymore. And I brought the whole relationship with my phone to a level of consciousness: I’m aware when I’m using it, why I’m using it and if it’s really needed or not.
So go ahead, break your phone. From time to time, just to see how life just gets better without all those micro interruptions all day long. Or don’t break it, but put it inside a drawer, or a box, or whatever will help you to see things with a bit of perspective.
Originally published at medium.com