Two years ago, on the fourth day of Passover, I wrote a very powerful post on my blog about how I would be utilizing the holiday of Passover to experience the liberation from my addiction to my Smart Phone. It was very well written, if I may say so myself, and very sincere. To quote Yours Truly:
But we suffer from a different enslavement, a bondage of the spiritual sort. We are enslaved to our phones. And for me, this Passover 5776, I will be free at last. As soon as I finish this piece, I will travel to Verizon, having the courage to do something I have longed to do for years: downgrade for the sake of an upgrade.
There was but one fundamental problem with this passionate post of mine from two years ago: I chickened out.
When I got to the Verizon Store in downtown Denver two years ago, the fellow who worked there looked at me like I was crazy after telling him my aspirations to downgrade my phone, but patiently explained to me how I didn’t need to go the route I was intending to embark upon. He explained to me how I could block my ability to waste time on email, Facebook and Twitter, and to only use the items on the phone that were actually helpful and useful to me, that wouldn’t turn into time wasters. I realized that I needed the camera on the phone– what would I do when I observed a gorgeous Rocky Mountain Sunset? Are not my hundreds of Instagram followers relying on me to catch the moment?! I needed the thousands of songs that were stored on my phone on my music app– how could I get through a day, or a chore while not listening to Zusha or Backstreet Boys??? I needed GPS to guide me to my every destination– how could a boy get to his destination without being told every single direction? I needed the convenient calendar, which so seamlessly keeps track of daily and recurring appointments and meetings. I needed the texting function, which enables you to text quickly, and to see the flow of the texting conversation. I needed my newly discovered favorite app, Bitmoji, which enabled me to truly express myself to my friends. And I needed the emoji option where could make gnarly signs like 🤙🏿✌🏽 and 👊🏿. As none of these things are time wasters, it didn’t take long for me to reconsider, and ultimately, keep my iPhone.
Two years later, I am older, and I am wiser, but I did not learn my lesson. Because I am publically reaffirming my pledge to (at least temporarily) drop the smartphone altogether. From Passover until Shavuos, I will be using a dumb phone. And this year, being two years smarter than I was in the Spring of 2016, in great thanks to the Moment App, and in thanks to Mishpacha Magazine, I have answers for each one of my reasons to keep the smart phone two years ago:
1) But Danny you NEED your camera!
2). But Danny, you NEED your groovy jams!
3) But Danny, you NEED your GPS on your phone!
4) But Danny, you NEED the sweet iCalender!
5) But Danny, you NEED to be able to text quickly, and to see the flow of the conversation on the screen!
I indicated in my blog post from two years ago how I was terrified at the prospect of finding out how much time a day I wasted in front of my screen. Sure enough, there is an app that conveniently calculates that number for you- Moment. It keeps track of screen time, and there would be days where I would be on it for over five hours– about one-third of my awake hours.
No Camera? No Problem!
Thankfully, within the Moment app there is a smart phone boot camp, and a program called “Bored and Brilliant” where it assigns tasks to help minimize the screen time. Surprisingly, some of the daily challenges included not taking a picture for the whole day, or not even listening to music or a podcast. The idea is that when one takes a picture, his/her brain turns off and doesn’t opt to remember the occasion as well. As the app preaches, ” There is a Photo-Taking Impairment Effect. When you’re taking a photo instead of experiencing the moment, you’re missing out of what is happening right in front of you. You want to capture the scene to remember later but what are you remembering? You never really experienced it in the first place.” Therefore, I realized, yes by surrendering my Smartphone I am also giving up my camera. But is that necessarily a bad thing? If I see something amazing, and cant snap a picture of it is that detrimental to me? True, I won’t have a picture to prove to my friends on Facebook that I saw something cool, but the image will forever be etched in my heart and my mind– is that not a worthwhile tradeoff? I have written before about the miracle and blessing of childbirth on Shabbos– which we were blessed with on two occasions. When our children were born, there could be no pictures. No phone calls. Just precious memories that will endure forever.
Surviving without my favorite jams or podcasts????
When individuals listens to music, or anything external, it is true that there is much to be gained. When I listen to the holy words and tunes of Zusha or Yehuda Green, I feel closer to the Abishter. I have been enormously enriched and inspired by listening to podcasts or lectures on inspirational Jewish topics. Therefore, I was surprised on the day where Moment challenged me to not listen to anything on my commute to work. And to be totally honest, the nine minute drive to work one day in silence, was among the longest nine minutes of my life. I must have yawned twenty-five times, unsure how I would be able to teach a Talmud class to high school seniors. But when I got to my destination I noticed I was a much better version of myself than I could have imagined. Perhaps not being able to listen to something on my way to work, or even an educational podcast, might not be the worst thing for myself. Maybe it enabled me to connect internally, with myself– something that does not happen all that much. I look forward to the challenge of forcing myself to spend more time with, myself.
But how can I get around without GPS spoon-feeding me directions, make meetings without my iCal, or survive without convenient, easy text messaging?
I remember, many many years ago, during our first year of marriage, when we lived in Boston. For some reason, and I don’t claim to know how this is even actually possible, Boston has intersections that occur twice. For example, there are two Commonwealth Avenue and Washington Avenue intersections, but they are 5 miles apart. Like I said, how that works, is beyond me. But on many, many, many occasions, my wife and I would be driving to Taam China, only to get totally lost. The printed Mapquest maps were of no use to us on the pitch black icy roads. So the question begs itself: How could I possibly be willing to forego my smartphone which would necessarily mean giving up Waze and Google Maps, in which I don’t even need to know the address of the place to which I am going? The reality is, that while this very well might make my life more inconvenient, (having to go through the trouble of printing directions, or thinking about where I am going,) this is not necessarily a bad thing. Mishpacha Magazine featured last week a life changing article by Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu from the New York Times which was called The Tyranny of Inconvenience.
His premise is that our pursuit of convenience trumps our true preferences, and it has become our ultimate value. According to Wu:
But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear…though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning in life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us… The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it? Perhaps our humanity is sometimes expressed in inconvenient actions and time-consuming pursuits.
So yes, while it is true that foregoing a GPS is inconvenient, that is not always a bad thing. The Torah and Talmud are filled with statements that extol the virtue of hard work, and putting in effort to accomplish tasks. It is true and undeniable that there are many ways modern technology can add ease to our lives, making things simpler and more expedient than ever imaginable. Just yesterday I set an alarm for my power nap by doing no more than lifting up my wrist and speaking to my watch. I did my ten minutes of chores that evening by telling Siri to set a timer for the ten minutes. I am blessed with an Apple Phone, but those poor people who use Androids do not even need to bother lifting up their fingers when sending a text message—they can simply swipe their fingers from one letter to the next. Self-driving cars are quickly being produced so as not to trouble us with having to drive. Now instead of dialing up a taxi like we used to have to do in the old days, we simply press one button on our phones to summon our rides. Recently I bought a juicer, so I can make homemade fresh juice. However, after realizing that I can simply purchase fresh certified kosher juice in any grocery store, I stopped bothering to put in the effort to juice the fruits and vegetables myself.
All of these conveniences that technology affords can greatly enhance our efficiency and be blessed, useful tools. However, at least for me, I am concerned about the overall impact it having upon me. In regular every-day endeavors, am I willing to put in the necessary time work or energy for important tasks? Or perhaps, I am less inclined to do so, since that would be inconvenient, and I no longer have the patience for inconvenient tasks. Says Wu, “We are spoiled by immediacy and become annoyed by tasks that remain at the old level of effort and time. When you skip the line and buy your concert tickets on your phone, waiting in line to vote in an election is irritating. This is especially true for those who never had to wait in lines (which may help explain the low rate at which young people vote).” If I sanctified the time saved with these convenient technological advances that make my life easier by doing something productive, that would be phenomenal. But I cannot truly claim that is the case. The time saved by these conveniences is either wasted on other time-wasters the phone offers me, or it is used pursuing other convenient ways to get tasks done.
By foregoing my GPS I will have to not only put in effort to get to my every destination, but I will also have to use my brain. For some reason, after living in this city for 21 years of my life, I still rely on GPS to get me from place to place, so as not to have to go through the bother of actually being mindful of what I am doing and where I am going. That can, and should change.
It is for this same reason that I no longer have any qualms about foregoing my iCal. Back in the olden days, people would write down appointments on things called “personal planners.” The world functioned back then, people still made it on time to meetings. By golly, my world can continue to function with the use of a pen and paper to schedule my meetings.
This is also one of two reasons why I no longer am bothered by the inability to text as efficiently by downgrading to a dumb phone. Yes, it will be annoying and inconvenient to press each button on my phone multiple times before getting the letter I want, and it will be tough not being able to see the flow of the text conversation. But I embrace the struggle of having to work hard to send a text message. And I hope, that the inconvenience, might actually encourage me to do something not done very much these days: pick up the phone and press “dial.” Allen Gannett, CEO of Media Maven noticed recently that the most successful people he knows are “phone-prone.” When getting an email or a text they simply responded with, “call me.” They explained to him that a phone conversation helps create empathy and promotes open communication and is “a much more real and civilized conversation on the phone because you’re able to express emotion and hear a person’s voice and understanding what’s happening.” Inspired to try it for himself, he “had fulfilling conversations that wouldn’t have been possible through typing alone. I helped one of my customers solve a thorny issue and ended up reassuring him about some of his career worries. I’d never have heard the stress in his voice by emailing.”
Will downgrading my phone mean I text less and call more? Yes? Is that a bad thing? I am not so sure.
So, here I am, two years later, but this time a changed man. I am confident that this seven-week social experiment will greatly liberate me and enhance my life. I am going to learn about myself, and observe the things that I really do need vs. the things that I don’t need. Heck, with the time saved by being inefficient, I eveni plan on reporting about the journey on this blog. Then when I come back to the phone in seven weeks I will be armed with new strategies for how to maximize the convenience the phone offers.
Will it be easy? No, not at all. But that’s exactly the point.