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Dipping into the infinity pool at Oiso Prince Hotel, I armed myself with my iPhone XS Max taking a barrage of selfies. My high spirits were soon crushed by iPhone's display going black. It turns out that the waterproof iPhone XS Max was not so waterproof after all.
I spend hours every day on my phone. I reach for it the moment I wake up, before I sleep, to escape an awkward social situation, at any hint of boredom — basically all the time.
My phone felt indispensable.
It was when I didn't have access to it that I could see my reliance on it. I could see that I didn't own a phone. It owned me.
Do I even need a phone?
I felt silly asking myself that question. After all, I'm a digital nomad working for a tech company. The lack of internal debate was troubling.
I didn't know the answer. But when Apple quoted me a ridiculous amount of $700 to fix the phone, it gave me a chance to find out.
If I had to pay $700, I wanted to see if I could wait for the next iPhone to be released in less than two months' time. I thought I could maybe do without a phone or just borrow a crappy one to receive calls and send messages.
Instead of using TickTick, I wrote my grocery list on a piece of paper. I listened to Blinkist on my laptop. While I usually like to listen to audiobooks while on my morning run, I've come to appreciate the sounds of nature. On the train where I would usually mindlessly play Clash Royale, I people-watch, periodically looking away, so as to not creep them out.
I begun seeing a new reality where I didn't need a phone. After all, I can do most of my digital stuff on my laptop. It was much easier to “live in the moment”.
My idealistic vision of a phone-less future was soon crushed. I realized I needed my phone for many of the two-factor authentications I have in place. I also needed a phone to make and receive calls. Unfortunately, in Japan where many interactions will default to a phone call, the cost of not owning one is simply too great.
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Convenience controls you
Tim Wu wrote a particularly cogent piece for the New York Times on the tyranny of convenience. “Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational”, he writes.
But the presumption that one should always default to convenience is a slippery slope.
You pull out your phone the moment you have something that needs an answer. Who needs to think for themselves? Why risk awkward social interactions when you can just swipe for dates? You can buy almost anything and have it sent to you within the day.
As a generation of control freaks trying to gain a leg up with the latest productivity hack, we fall into the trap of letting convenience dictate our actions. The convenience gives you an illusion of control, which ironically limits you, as the best ideas manifest for most people when relaxed into a state of flow.
Opting for inconvenience is counterintuitive, so instead, I choose inaction. There is something magical about simply doing nothing. I don't need to respond to that email right now. I don't need to keep up with the lives of my so-called friends on Facebook. I don't need to know what happens if you fall into a black hole right before I sleep.
Instead of trying to control everything, I step back and observe the world without my interference. Instead of doing, I was simply “being”.
Not having a phone gave me more time alone. Time alone gives me time to think and reflect. It makes me more intentional with my thoughts and actions, which makes me more calm and centered. I didn't have a phone to steal me away from the moment.
The experience was a revelation. While I still needed a phone eventually, I knew that my approach would be different from before.
I designed a thing.
I found a 100 year old company that would create these heirloom quality canisters for me. They are handmade and will keep your tea leaves, coffee beans or anything that you need dry for years to come.
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I decided to get the second-generation iPhone SE. The latest iPhone SE is arguably the best perfect for minimalists who still want to be part of Apple's addictive ecosystem, according to this article.
The smaller screen size will deter me from binge watching YouTube. The entry-level camera will discourage impulsive photo taking sessions, from which photos will be forever neglected anyway. The shorter battery life will put me off from mobile gaming. These are activities that contribute nothing to personal development but take away time and energy.
James Clear describes in his book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits, that the best way to break a bad habit, like your impulsivity to pick up your phone, is to put as many barriers between yourself and the trigger.
While an iPhone SE isn't exactly a dumb phone, it's certainly less inviting than the iPhone XS Max. It was a downgrade to upgrade.
This time, I left out social media apps when setting up my phone, even my favorite Reddit. I didn't want for there to be a reason that I would pick up my phone just to find something to do.
I would pick up my phone when I had something I needed to do and put it away right after. In fact, I put it into a Pelican case up in a shelf to make it harder to pick up.
For the first time in a long time, my phone was a tool, nothing more. The urge to quench the twitch that arise during periods of boredom felt negligible. It was liberating.
I started noticing all the little details of my environment. I felt more present when having a conversation with another. It feels like I am living once again, and not vicariously through social media.
While not owning a phone or even downgrading one might seem like an odd choice, bordering on eccentricity, I suggest you try it for just 30 days. I think you'll find it more doable than you think. At least, I did.