“Dude, this is affecting our friendship. GET A PHONE!”
Alex, one of my best friends, was pissed.
After I almost missed our pre-agreed meeting time at McTeague’s, a local bar, Alex’s frustration began to boil. He wasn’t the only one. My friends, who had previously seen the Alex Gives Up experiment as a humorous endeavor, had reached their breaking point.
But as for me? I couldn’t have been happier.
For June’s resolution, I decided to give up my phone. I got my first cell phone when I was 15 in Ninth Grade. Although my friends were playing Snake on their Nokias in Elementary School, my parents resisted giving their 12 year-old son a cell phone because I was, well, 12. I think they believed (correctly) that a 12 year-old would only use a cell phone to call his parents at work and request more Gushers and Goldfish.
But at 15, I joined the flip phone party with a silver Audiovox equipped with video game poker and Get it Now. And since then, I hadn’t carried out a normal routine sans phone for close to a decade.
So as May was winding down, I considered the prospect of not having a phone and concluded that it might be impossible. Not only is it extremely socially impractical, but at the time, I ran my own business. Without going into details, the organization was complex and required management of a team spread across the U.S. It just didn’t seem doable.
However, in the interest of full disclosure, I cheated in June before starting.
Yeah yeah, I know I blow it every month (as of June, batting a cool .167) but this was slightly different. I had to go on a business trip to Austin, Texas for the first 4 days of June. I was in talks to merge my company with another and it was a huge deal for me. And to be honest, I didn’t want my new potential co-founders, one of whom I had just met, to come to the conclusion that I was completely fucking insane.
Which in light of this blog, I am. But I brought my phone anyway.
Five days later, the experiment began.
On June 5th, stomach full of brisket and head full of Texas hangover, the attendant on the flight back to San Francisco came on the loudspeaker and stated, “At this time, please turn off all electronic devices.”
When the plane landed four hours later, I watched as the tech geeks/cowboy enthusiasts powered up their iPhones. But not me—mine stayed in my pocket. And it remained there until I placed it on my dresser two hours later.
Well I guess that’s that then.
I wish breaking up with my phone was some dramatic Notebook-esque parting—red eyes, solemn goodbyes, and deep reflections—but truth be told, I just sort of chucked it on my dresser like a piece of junk mail.
I didn’t really notice the absence until later. As I walked out the front door, my heart skipped a beat when I checked my pockets and my hand hit thigh instead of a rectangular piece of metal. But a nanosecond later: “oh yeah… I have no phone.”
Not having a phone was immediately apparent in several ways. If your sense of direction is anything like mine (but I doubt it— I once drove 20 miles on the 405-South en route to San Francisco from L. A.), you rely on Google Maps and the blue GPS dot to get anywhere. Or maybe you pull up Facebook/ESPN/Instagram when you’re standing in line, or bored, or feeling uncomfortable at a bar because your friends aren’t showing up for 20 minutes and you’re not drunk and/or confident enough to talk to the mildly cute girl waiting for a drink.
Whatever it is—good luck doing it without a phone. Have fun staring at the wall.
The days piled up, and although I missed my Droid X, I was getting used to June. However, I had an ace up my sleeve.
On June 8th, I went on a 10 day mother-son trip to Barcelona. I’d be lying if I said this was coincidence. I strategically planned no phone for June because it coincided with a trip out of the country. In fact, this wasn’t the first time I did this: for meat, I picked February because it’s the shortest month and I naively thought it would be the hardest (it wasn’t). I strategically picked April for alcohol because it’s an alliteration and I love that shit. And in later months, I would strategically follow similar tactics.
Spain was a great natural deterrent. The sun was out, the sangria was flowing, the paella was broiling, and the only person I knew within a 1000 mile radius was my mom. I barely even noticed–the 10 days literally breezed by.
When I landed back at my apartment in San Francisco, I dropped off my suitcase, flipped open my laptop, and shot off an email to my friends Greg and the aforementioned Alex asking their plans for the night.
And 30 minutes later, after almost missing Alex at McTeague’s, the questions of friendship began to fly.
I gotta be honest: it wasn’t easy being my friend in June. I was literally impossible to reach. Everything needed to be coordinated in advance over Facebook and Gmail. And even then, there were still missed connections. My roommate became my self-proclaimed “secretary,” a role he surprisingly did not enthusiastically embrace (but as he likes to note, “no one wanted to talk to you anyway”). Some people gave up trying to get a hold of me altogether.
But for me, it was absolutely liberating. I was freed from virtually all social obligations. I stopped wasting time dicking around on my phone. And not having to hear the constant chiming and buzzing felt like finally zeroing in on an incessant fly and swatting the absolute shit out of it.
However, vocal communication didn’t stop entirely: it just shifted. Thanks to Skype, my parents and brother were only a monitor away. However, I don’t think they appreciated scheduling these conversations into my calendar like dentist’s appointments.
I did have my slip-ups (which should be no surprise if you’ve read anything else on here). Four infractions to be exact. June 16th is Father’s Day, so I borrowed my roommate’s phone and gave Dad a call. What can I say? I’m a good son.
The other three were phone calls to potential clients. In particular, I had the opportunity to land a huge client—a revered Silicon Valley author—and I wasn’t going to shoot myself in the foot before even speaking with him. So I borrowed a coworker’s phone. Worth it: I closed the deal.
The central point is this: although the Alex Gives Up experiment was literally dominating my life, other things occasionally took priority. Family and work were two of those things.
Or put in more eloquent terms: suck my balls, internet critics.
As June started to wind down, I was excited to get my phone back. Primarily because I wanted to see the level of my social importance: how many text messages, missed calls, and voicemails had I received? I considered this to be a litmus test of my popularity.
When July 1st came, I powered up.
One text message! Then 2! Then 3! Then 4! Then… nothing. “Yeah, my phone’s probably just getting adjusted to having service,” I told my roommate. But an hour later, nothing else.
A whopping 1 text message every 6.5 days. So much for popularity.
There was one big surprise in June. Up to that point, my morning and evening bus commutes consisted of mindlessly scrolling through tech news on my phone. Now, in lieu of TechCrunch and VentureBeat, I brought a book and read.
Those 20-30 minute bus rides added up. By the end of June, I had finished two books that I read exclusively in public transport (including Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, now one of my favorite books).
And what’s more: the habit stuck. The entire year. I was the annoying bus bookworm who stayed in his seat and read while old ladies stood in the aisles (not really—I gave up my seat, but it was begrudgingly). In fact, there were residual effects from each month. I ate the same salad and soy sausage patties from my vegetarian month. My drinking intake was on a downslope. I still checked Facebook, but I felt guilty about it goddamnit. The victories were small, but at the midway point of The Experiment, my life had become noticeably different.
And that change would only accelerate. So far, I had given up things that were in some way detrimental to my well-being—alcohol, Facebook, marijuana—with varying degrees of success. But it was time to take a turn for the truly masochistic. I was worried that next month would be one of the most depressing months of my life.
For in July, I’d unplug my headphones, turn off my speakers, and take a month-long hiatus from music.