6 lessons learned giving up my smart phone for Lent

My husband jokingly issued me a challenge a little over 6 weeks ago: Could I give up my smart phone for lent? He gave me 5 days notice, and I thought hard about it. He’s told me before that he felt it sometimes got in the way of our relationship, so I figured out how I could work on his challenge. As I went through all the apps on the phone, I was amazed how integrated my phone was in my life. I also realized there would never be another time to try it, since I was on maternity leave.

Prior to the journey I settled on 2 caveats. First, I would still treat my phone as a ‘dumb’ phone. Taking care of our 6-7 month old meant that I could keep my cell phone handy a lot easier than keeping the house phone. So I could use text messages, actual phone calls, and photographs.

Second, I have a tracking app that I use for all our child’s days, and it helps me see if he’s getting enough sleep, food, etc. I couldn’t give that up. I don’t want to carry a separate camera to take oodles of baby photos, so that and dropbox have to be used. My husband agreed, so I posted the challenge on Facebook just to warn people and started my journey the day after fat Tuesday.

Applications. Image by Heather Button. Copyright © http://atomic-temporary-30814180.wpcomstaging.com

Applications. Image by Heather Button. Copyright © http://atomic-temporary-30814180.wpcomstaging.com

Here’s what I learned about myself over Lent:

1. I am more connected to others than I ever thought I was. I have a ton of chat apps on my phone. Aside from email and text messages, there are 8 applications dedicated to connecting me with others, including social media. I had to turn them all off* just to stop being so connected. It occurred to me that while I bought my smart phone to make it more convenient for me, it’s really just been more convenient for everyone else to get ahold of me. Though it makes me feel important to be so reachable, it makes my family feel less important. If I added my work email into the mix, I can only imagine how much more chaotic it would be.

The one social application that I reinstalled was one my husband used to get a hold of me. Half way through lent we got sick and I lost my voice. Calling me wouldn’t work for my husband, so we had to communicate that way.

*Some applications are really insidious. You can’t just disable notifications, you have to sign out of them. Some you can’t even sign out of directly, but you have to uninstall them completely. It took a few days to actually sign out of most of these apps, as I don’t use them all the time, but the odd notification would surface.

2. I need my mind occupied. I failed my ultimate challenge numerous times. By that I mean, I uninstalled all my games, only to find myself bored, so I cheated for a few days by installing another game. Then I would uninstall that one. I did it three times before ultimately deciding that I didn’t really need to engage that part of my brain, and I finally my imagination take over.

But it’s not just games. I have 2 e-reader applications on my phone, and am addicted to the one. I download free books incessantly, and admit I bought far more books in the last year digitally than I have in the last 5 years of any kind. I returned to reading a few of my physical books, and turned to my e-reader proper. I just can’t give up the escape reading gives me.

3. I didn’t miss the noise. I am compulsive. I can’t stand it when that little blue / red / green light notifies me that there is a message to deal with. I have to check. I may push it out of the way if it’s not urgent, but when it’s a friend I want to respond immediately because it makes me feel important. It’s not a great attitude when raising an infant. I thought I would feel adrift turning off the notifications, but I didn’t miss the noise. It was actually liberating. I checked my social media when I had time. Infant napping? Great, 30 minutes to eat and check my computer for social networks and email! This leads me to the next 2 points.

4. I subscribed to a lot of emails. I have 3 private emails. 1 for junk, one pre-marriage, and one post-marriage. The junk email is a way to get junk mail out of my personal accounts. Since it’s a joint email with my husband, we also use it for items we both need access to. I used to think I subscribed to items for sales, but it’s all just noise. More often than not, I skim through all the email headings, and if they don’t apply, I just delete. If I don’t get to it within the 30 minute break time, I will never get to read them. It’s all just noise.

5. I’m interested in way too much that doesn’t pertain to my life. Both my RSS feed and my personal emails follow a lot of topics. Some of these topics I’m no longer interested in, and some of the topics are just too many voices instead of focusing on the experts. Worse, my pre-marriage email is my initial with a very common last name, so it gets used by others who don’t want to use their own email to subscribe for things. I need to unsubscribe to a number of these posts, especially with my pre-marriage email.

6. I’ve refocused my energies on what’s important. When my baby naps for longer than 30 minutes, or goes to bed at night, I consider that ‘bonus’ time. I have prioritized what I need to get done in that time: food, laundry, dishes, and manuscript. Amazingly, despite reading in the evenings, I’ve gotten quite a bit done in my manuscript, without sacrificing time with my family.

So with all these lessons, how will I use my phone now?

1. I’ve turned back on the social networks and chat applications, but I’ve turned off most of the notifications. I rarely get the little blinking lights any more, unless it’s for my primary email. My phone is for my convenience, not for everyone else’s.

2. I won’t use my phone for books or games. I have an e-reader, and it’s way more comfortable on the eyes any way. In the quiet times, I’m going back to basics: praying, reading, talking, and letting my imagination run free.

3. I will continue to check my social applications when I choose to. This will likely only happen during my little one’s naps.

4. I will unsubscribe from emails that are just noise. I will also no longer give out my email to companies that ask “What’s your email for our records?” My answer will always be: “You don’t need it.”

5. I will remember to focus on my priorities: my child, my husband, my life. And if I start to drift into the self-importance of staying connected with my phone? Then my husband can and should remind me to sign out again. It’s something I don’t want to lose.

In the end, it wasn’t really about warning others that I would be less available, it was more about reframing my need to be available to everyone else. It’s something that I need to keep working on.

What about You?

Would you or have you given up your connectedness? Do you think it’s brave or social media suicide? You can comment below, or find me on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn. Plus, sign up for free e-mail updates from this blog in the top right-hand corner of the page.

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