I Lived Without My iPhone For A Week & Here's What Happened

Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
A few weeks ago, I noticed something strange happening with my “ancient” iPhone 5. The battery wasn’t performing quite up to speed and the phone kept dropping off Wi-Fi. Annoying. When the problem didn’t magically resolve itself, I resigned myself to reading through forums and finding a solution.

Maven099516 suggested that perhaps my screen guard was causing the brightness of the phone to not adjust properly, thus over-draining the battery. So, I began to remove my phone from its case when I saw the light — literally. There was a millimeter-wide space between my screen and the phone. Light was glowing through it. I tried to "click" it back in, to no avail. My screen wobbled with every hard press. This wasn’t good.

After reading about bloating iPhone 5 batteries (That's a thing?!) and countless users who'd had their phones replaced, even out of warranty, I headed to the Genius Bar. Unfortunately, I had no such luck: I needed to pay for a replacement or buy a new one. With wedding costs quickly piling up, I opted for a cheaper replacement iPhone 5. But after a week, I started having more battery problems. Mildly enraged, I went back to the “Genius” Bar and it turned out that the firmware was faulty. Enough.

I began negotiating for a new phone. An hour later, I had a solid deal on a new iPhone SE. But alas, after all my travails, they were sold out of the model I wanted. A new shipment was coming in a day or two, but I was on my way out of town. Fed up with all this phone nonsense, I was ready to just kick it old school (read: phone-less) for a long weekend. I figured it would be relaxing — or at least interesting.

After spending a week without a functional smartphone, I learned a lot more than I'd anticipated.

I was present.

This was, by far, the biggest impact of being without a smartphone for a handful of days. It forced me to be more present in conversations, car rides, and even at the dinner table. I had no easy out, no time to look away and check Facebook for something more interesting, no way to look at what was next on my calendar, and no easy way to jump back into a quick game of Candy Crush (or in my case — nerd alert — chess). For someone who’s admittedly introverted, this was definitely a good thing. I appreciated the people around me more, and found a reason to join in conversations I may have otherwise neglected.

I was more efficient — but not on my own terms.

Being more in the moment was not just a boon for my peace of mind, but also for my overall efficiency. When I was out with friends, I was out with friends, not planning my next two activities. When I was at work, I was at work, not worried about what I was doing later. I felt more able to conquer tasks one at a time, without the constant temptation to multitask. The drive home was just the drive home, not a chance to make three work calls or find the perfect Spotify playlist. Overall, I’m sure this meant that I spent a little longer doing things, but I did them more effectively, and with less stress. It also meant, interestingly, that I had to actually set aside time to plan and coordinate my day — without a phone, I couldn’t be as flexible as I normally would be.

I worried about missing out.

I was mostly worried about missing phone calls and texts. Thankfully, I was able to set up voicemail and auto-replies that gave me a reasonable excuse to get back to folks later. I also emailed the friends and colleagues I was supposed to meet up with in advance to let them know they couldn’t reach me by phone. This was a slight annoyance, but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying my weekend (and I didn't miss any meetings, either). There was a world before the iPhone, after all.

I missed taking photos, but not social media.

Part of being more connected IRL also meant not constantly checking my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I wasn’t posting photos of the Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ event I attended. I wasn’t tweeting about the NHL or NBA playoffs or reading commentaries. I was with my friends and enjoying sports — I was living. But what I really missed was being able to take pictures. I was okay with the world not seeing what I was doing, but I wasn’t so okay with not being able to preserve the visual memory of it for myself. One of the great features of the modern smartphone really is a quality camera. And unless you’re willing to lug around a DSLR, there’s really no substitute for that convenience.

I had to ask for favors.

Full disclosure: not having a smartphone didn’t exactly mean that I didn’t need to use a smartphone. I hadn’t fully appreciated the amount of independence a smartphone truly provides. Going on a trip with friends for the weekend, I had to ask for a few favors and rely more on my friends than I would have liked. I had to use other people’s phones to follow directions, relay messages, and let people know I was out of reach. (Being 100% totally smartphone-free was just not an option.) Unlike my older relatives, who I chatted with at a cousin's wedding, I haven't committed directions to various places to memory — I've almost always relied on Google. Having a phone makes me more self-reliant.

Your phone simultaneously connects you and facilitates your independence. It makes you less present in the present, but more present in the virtual. My experience showed me that in today's world, living without a smartphone is not a viable option, but having a break — if it's forced — can be really nice. It helped me reconnect with my friends and freed me, if only briefly, from the burden of digitally documenting my every move. So, my advice: By all means, keep your phones, but don’t let them make you miss the life happening around you. Most importantly, when the Apple Genius Bar hands you lemons, stay strong. You'll survive.

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