Updated July 2021
If just wondering “how to survive without your smartphone” made your heart leap into your throat… you’re not alone.
Smartphones can be both lifelines AND a soul-suck. Behavior scientists make sure it’s almost impossible to keep your smartphone from getting its grubby hands on your sanity.
Smartphones have become a defacto modern convenience – like dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves, cars, and Keurigs. Many readers own all of the latter and couldn’t imagine being happy without them. Other readers are joyfully:
- washing their small set of dishes by hand
- using time at the laundromat to read a great book
- heating up their food on a stove or in a toaster oven
- getting exercise every time they leave the house, or…
- using commute time to read, think, or listen to new ideas
- making their coffee by boiling water and pouring it over crushed beans
We overvalue convenience, not noticing how it actually robs us of many of the things we most want:
- time for new ideas
- slowing down
- a body that likes and gets regular movement
- habitual gratitude
If you’re serious about getting your time and attention back…
If you’re serious about living without a smartphone in 2020…
…saddle up and read on!
Life without Smartphone:
Step 1 – What is Your Why?
Good luck trying to accomplish anything in life without first knowing why you’re doing it.
If you’re even remotely inspired to figure out how to survive without your smartphone, it’s because you know it’s keeping you from living your values. But what are those values?
There’s an exercise I call “How to Have Time to Do Everything” that helps you identify what the most important things are to you in life.
The prompts will help you get a picture of how you’re budgeting your time. Follow the steps to illuminate what you most want in life. Then you’ll know “why” you’re wondering how to survive without your smartphone.
Go give it a try!
Life without Smartphone:
Step 2 – What are Your Wants?
Now that you’re back, what’s at the top of your list?
Me: friends and family, health, cooking, eating, meditation, yoga, reading, and unstructured time for adventures, wandering, and exploring.
I’m not saying these are the things I’m doing. Just the things I say I most want to do.
How about you? What do you want more time for in your life?
Life without Smartphone:
Step 3 – Substitutions
You should now have a list of the things you most want in life. How many of these things require a smartphone? On my list, not a single thing requires a smartphone. I could certainly find a way to use one, but I can have and I can do all the things I want to have and do using alternatives.
- Friends and Family
Keeping in touch with these folks or making plans requires communicating. I text or call from my little Nokia or from my computer using Google voice.
Instead of using a zillion apps to track my steps, calories, workouts, etc. I use offline techniques. I have a spreadsheet where I write down what I did for exercise each day, so I don’t need to track my steps. Instead of counting calories, I stopped eating fructose to control my appetite and got in on the intermittent fasting health craze. My workouts are a six month program that I have written down on three sheets of paper. I listen to music on an iPod. If I really need to “map my run,” I use google maps on the computer.
When I need a recipe, I crack open a cookbook, call someone, or look it up on the computer.
I manage this without leveraging a smartphone… I bet you do, too!
Instead of an app, I use techniques from a book that I’ve scribbled down on a scrap of paper I’ve been carrying around since 2012. To get me in the headspace to meditate – instead of guided instructions – I do some Wim Hof Breathing.
I really love my yoga videos. I use YouTube on my computer. There are downloadable yoga videos and also yoga cards. Oh, and yoga classes.
I adore having a book in my hands. I love being able to turn back a few pages or several chapters to re-read something that’s suddenly relevant. The batteries never die on my books. I never forget to charge them. When I forget my book on-the-go or think it’s too heavy to carry, I just stare out the window, strike up a conversation, think about my day, pay attention to my posture, or enjoy some people watching.
I love walking, biking, running, driving, or wandering with friends into new territory. I love just turning down a road or path based on intuition. When I’m trying to get to a specific place for an adventure, I will either look up the directions on the computer before leaving home, bring a map, ask someone who knows how to get there, or stop and ask for directions.
Life without Smartphone:
Step 4 – Remember Your Why.
Remember Your Real Wants
Here’s the scary part where you realize that getting what you value and what you want… might mean leaving behind lesser wants that didn’t make the cut in the How to Have Time To Do Everything exercise.
I’m just guessing “spending twenty minutes five times a day mindlessly scrolling Facebook or Instagram looking at pictures of the stuff people you barely know (say they) are doing with their lives” didn’t make it on to your list of wants? What about:
- Taking 400 photos of your cat or every meal you eat?
- Candy Crush?
If the thought of giving up your daily Instagram binges is making you want to withdraw your previous claim that you want to spend more time with friends and family or going on adventures….
If your heart is beating faster at the thought of no longer scrolling your Facebook newsfeed several times a day…
It’s not because you like those activities.
It’s because you’re addicted to them.
Can I challenge you to consider that you don’t even like your Facebook or Instagram binges – you didn’t even put them on the list of things you most want to do with your time. But now that you’re being asked to give them up, are your feelings shifting?
Smartphones make self-defeating behaviors… highly accessible.
In How the Internet Tricks You Into Wasting Your Life, I explain how all these platforms are designed to manipulate you. They know exactly what it takes to trigger the pleasure center in your brain, giving you momentary “highs” that keep you coming back for more… even though using the platforms leaves you vaguely unfulfilled and out of time to do the things you really want to do.
You’ll only miss your addictive platforms for a few weeks… until the dopamine loops fade and are replaced by life’s actual, genuine pleasures.
One mom described watching a smartphone suck away life’s genuine pleasures from her son. She said, “In his [new] phone, Chase had found a place easier to exist in than inside his own skin. That was tragic, because inside the itchiness of our own skin is where we discover who we are. When we are bored, we ask ourselves: What do I want to do with myself? We are guided toward certain things: a pen and paper, a guitar, the forest, a soccer ball, a spatula. Right after itchy boredom is self-discovery.”
That mom is author Glennon Doyle, and she talks about it in her heart-exploding, New York Times Bestseller:
Now that we’ve
- established the way smartphones keep us from knowing ourselves
- addressed the reluctance to break away from addictive platforms & apps
…let’s talk about that final gremlin. Usefulness!
Life without Smartphone:
Step 5 – Go Without
I know. Your smartphone is useful. Hella useful.
Many fear life without a smartphone would mean never getting to check the weather or the time. Never getting to take photos. Never getting to listen to podcasts. Never getting calendar alerts. Not being able to watch YouTube or listen to music. Not being able to take a Lyft or Uber. Not being able to use the maps apps to get places. Not being able to manage your money. Not being able to get your boarding pass at the airport. Not being able to write down every cool idea, book suggestion, or info nugget you come across. Not being able to ask questions of Siri or Shazam.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold. Up. Calm down.
I check the time. I look at clocks on the wall. I glance at the grocery clerk’s computer screen. I ask the person standing next to me. I could get real crazy and buy a watch!
I check the weather when it really matters – planning which day of the week a friend and I are going to go for a hike. I use my computer to do it. But mostly, the weather is going to be what it is, whether I check it or not. I work indoors. And since you’re reading a long form article, demographics say you probably do, too. It’s okay not to have the weather forecast at your fingertips.
I take photos with a camera.
I listen to podcasts with my iPod or on my computer.
I get calendar alerts from an actual calendar that I look at every morning when I get up, every time someone asks me to make plans throughout the day, each time I remember I need to do something or run an errand, and every night before bed.
I listen to music and watch YouTube on my computer or on my iPod.
I take Lyft or Uber when I’m out with my friends. Other times, I build the relationships in my life by succumbing to the vulnerability of asking for help. Other times I use one of these methods for requesting a Lyft or Uber without a smartphone.
I look at a map before I go somewhere new. I write down direction cues on a piece of paper if necessary. I stop and ask for directions along the way. I’m forced to pay attention to my surroundings as I navigate them. Whether it’s a one-mile trip or a several hundred mile journey. Or a city I’ve never been to before.I manage my money with a pretty simple spreadsheet. I could use my bank’s report. I could use a website on my computer. I could use this hilarious lady’s solid advice and Google Docs.
I get my boarding pass from a machine or a human at the airport.
I write down ideas, book suggestions, and other new information on pieces of paper, in a document on my laptop… or… I let them go!
I ask questions of the people around me, of Google if the computer is handy, on the phone with someone I know who might know the answer, or… I let them go!
No, I can’t do these all of things everywhere I want, anytime I want. But that capability is not on my list of things I most want to spend my time doing. It’s probably not on yours either.
Yes. Without a smartphone, you can’t do as much.
But isn’t that what you want?
Don’t you want to stop doing too much? Aren’t you always longing for more time?
Consider that all the things a smartphone allows you to do… take time. All (or most) of the things a smartphone allows you to do were not on your list of things you most want to spend your time doing.
Time is a finite resource.
Consider that a smartphone nudges you toward spending your moments doing what’s convenient instead of doing what’s important to you. A man I deeply respect once said, “How we choose to spend our moments is how we choose to spend our lives.” How are you spending your moments? How are you spending your life?
People ask, “Can we live without smartphones?”
I wonder… can we live – really live – with them?
Here’s to you and your courage to explore this subject.
Update 2021: if you are an American switching to a “dumb” phone – make sure it’s got 4G! All major carriers are phasing out 3G (what many many non-smart phones use) in 2022, and in the lead up – as the infrastructure is removed – service will get slower and slower. Recommendations about who to switch to are coming soon.
You’re also a life hacker? Check out:
Prefer listening? 👂
- Note to Self (WNYC) discusses quandaries facing anyone trying to preserve their humanity in the digital age.
- Your Undivided Attention exposes the hidden software designs that have the power to hijack our attention, manipulate our choices and destabilize our real world communities.
Does this article seem like a game-changer? Share the love! The world could use more people who know how to exist happily without a smartphone.