6 lessons from living without a smartphone for a year

6 lessons from living without a smartphone for a year

  • Like many of us, Javier Ortega Arraiza found himself addicted to his phone.
  • So give it a try for two weeks without it. He later extended that trial for an additional year.
  • Oretega-Araiza said not having a phone forced him to learn how to communicate better.

For the past 15 minutes, I’ve been standing at the agreed-upon intersection, wondering if my friend was still coming to pick me up before our tennis match. But I can’t call him or text him – because I no longer have a phone. For now, I wait, trust, and read while the clock is ticking.

While I was thinking if I should walk home, a car honks in the distance, its lights flashing. waving my friend.

As we make our way to the courts, my mind recedes.

A few weeks ago my phone charging port stopped working and as an experiment, I decided to see if I could go without a phone for 2 weeks. When my week ended, I didn’t feel ready to own a phone again. With no particular time frame in mind, I decided to extend the trial and ended up with it for an entire year.

Like many of us, I found that I was spending a lot of time on my phone, and I relied on it a lot.

According to research from Intelligence from withinAmericans spend an average of 4 hours and 31 minutes a day on their phones. Research from a technical care company Assured It found that Americans check their phones an average of 96 times a day, or about once every ten minutes.

Even if you can avoid looking at your phone 96 times a day, research says that just having a phone can negatively affect your cognitive abilities. A 2017 study Published in the Journal of the Consumer Research Association found that “even when people manage to maintain constant attention – as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones – the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive ability.”

Given these negative effects, I wanted to know what would happen if I suddenly gave up my smartphone – would I feel better or worse, more productive or less able to do my job. Like many others, I treated my phone as a crutch – there to entertain me when I was bored, or remind me of a fact or event I had forgotten. I had become so dependent on him that I wasn’t sure who I was without him. But I wanted to know.

I learned to get rid of the anxiety of feeling separated

Javier Ortega Ariza with his girlfriend

Despite living long distances, Ortega Arraiza said that his relationship with his girlfriend has already improved without a phone. “Because I no longer spend time on my phone, the screen time burden was not heavy,” Ortega Arraiza said he values ​​video calls with his girlfriend more.

Javier Ortega Ariza



I’m a writer and content creator, and I found that when I sat down to write, not having my phone next to me allowed me to get into a deeper flow. I also run a business focused on educational travel. But since travel was halted by the pandemic, and we had no groups moving, there was nothing particularly urgent.

I wasn’t a very active social media user when it came to Facebook or Instagram, but I relied a lot on WhatsApp and iMessage for my daily communications, and mostly handled email from my phone. I found that when I checked my emails or messages on the computer after returning from a game of tennis, for example, nothing urgent happened. It took time, but eventually, the anxiety I felt about breaking up started to fade.

Suddenly, I was able to wake up and focus on myself instead of picking up the phone as my first work of the day. Not having a phone allowed me to do some much-needed self-examination. What was I worried about? Why did I feel the need to be immediately available to all people?

I also realized how much I depended on my phone for basic things, like remembering phone numbers.

I knew the phone number of friends I met over ten years ago – a former cell phone – but I couldn’t remember the contact numbers of anyone I met recently. I was relying more on my phone memory rather than my own.

Now I need to type in someone’s phone number and then wait and call them from my landline if I want to reach them, which made my call more intentional. Instead of sending half-hearted texts and fiddling with multiple conversations at once, I had to deal with one person at a time.

I had to face my feelings when I found myself alone

Using the phone, when I needed instant gratification, I would text someone to get validation, but I could no longer do so. With no on-demand apps available, my escape methods were blocked. If I’m in a bar, sitting alone, and start to feel uncomfortable, I can no longer use my phone as a distraction. I had to face my feelings. The same goes for difficult conversations. I noticed how other people looked at their phones, avoided the topic, and tried to sort it out later through the text. But it wasn’t that easy.

Presented some logistical challenges

Of course, there were also logistical issues that I needed to deal with without a phone.

For example, I couldn’t order an Uber unless I borrowed someone’s phone, which I did when I had no other viable option in sight — and in general, things required a bit more logistical planning, at least at first. Some things took longer than originally expected, and I had to do a little more communicating with people directly when it came to making plans.

It has forced me to learn to become a better communicator

I had to learn how to communicate better. I also had to fall back on my default instinct to pull out my phone for directions. I was used to having GPS do the work for me, but without a phone or Google Maps, I had to call for help – to actually talk to other people and ask for directions.

Javier Ortega Ariza in his office

Ortega-Araiza said that living without a phone made him realize it was “more carefully managed than I thought”.

Javier Ortega Ariza



Not always around made my employees more self-reliant

Needing help, and learning how to ask for help has also changed the way I run my business. I realized that colleagues might know better than me when it came to certain topics, and that didn’t make me any less worthy. If we really want to build a team, we need to learn to be open to receiving help along the way.

I prided myself on being so responsive to everyone in my company. Now that this was not an option, people had to adapt and look for their own solutions. Even if it was rough at first – not many people around me liked the change – it led to much needed transformations because I wasn’t always available anymore.

I realized I was a more meticulous manager than I thought. I realized how many problems the employees working with could solve if I trusted them, rather than always trying to be the lifesaver. This helped my business to be less dependent on me, and it also made room for other people to rise to the occasion.

Gradually, I felt a deeper sense of inner peace, which also allowed me to focus more on my work. Instead of getting up and responding right away, and interrupting my flow to respond to all the messages on my phone, I could be fully present with everything I was doing.

I learned that I can have a healthy relationship with my phone

Javier Ortega-Araiza while having lunch with a friend

As his business ramped up after the pandemic, Ortega Arraiza is back to carrying a smartphone.

Javier Ortega Ariza



Prior to that, one of my extensive telephone activities was my educational travel work, which, as I mentioned, halted its terrestrial operations. However, with travel back, I was scheduled to co-lead a program in New York.

I felt like I needed a phone to do my job, so a year into my phone-free trial, I reactivated my mobile contract.

This will be a test of whether or not I will use the device, but I am proud to say that it was the former more than the latter.

As of now, I maintain a “deep work” approach where I reserve office hours to respond to apps like WhatsApp or Telegram but other than that I try to stay away from my phone.

Of course, it’s always flawless. Sometimes the desire for instant gratification comes along, and I turn to my texts. Or there are times when I’m in social groups, and the conversation is boring, and because I don’t want to hurt people by leaving, I turn to my phone to check the latest ATP or Premier League results.

But overall, I feel much better, and my anxiety about feeling connected to the world has diminished over time. My awareness increased, as did my communication skills. I have a phone, but it’s not my life – it’s a tool I use when I need it. One of my proudest accomplishments is that I now have important conversations in person (or via a video call when the person isn’t in the same place as me) rather than trying to escape situations through obscure texts or just ghosting.

Smartphones are neither good nor bad – they simply inflate the awareness of their users. It can make our lives better or worse. Whether we make our phone our ally or our enemy is a choice.

#lessons #living #smartphone #year

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