On Tuesday, I traded in my iPhone for a flip phone. Well, technically, I got to keep the iPhone. But when I asked the Verizon employee if the iPhone would be deactivated after he was finished setting up my sturdy new Kyocera, he looked at me gravely and replied, “It’s already deactivated.”
So, yeah, I still have it, but it’s “passed on,” so to speak.
I first had the urge to ditch my smartphone over a year ago, when I realized the first thing I did in the morning — like, as soon as I opened my eyes — was look at Instagram and Twitter. I didn’t like that. And while I wasn’t exactly sure why I didn’t like it, I just knew it didn’t feel right.
Subsequently, I took some pretty heavy social media breaks, mostly due to the divisiveness in the post-election days. After a three to four month hiatus, and a disastrous trip to a Verizon store (where an employee came pretty close to flat out refusing to help me get a basic phone), I was back on social media and back to my old phone habits again — first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, frequently throughout the work day and any time I was standing in line somewhere or riding as a passenger in the car or driving the car, but at a stoplight or … you get the idea.
Then I had my daughter.
Watching Ruby grow and discover the world has been incredible. She is the busiest baby I’ve ever seen. It’s like she wakes up with a to-do list each morning, and she doesn’t stop moving or exploring until she goes to bed for the night. Her main goal in life right now is to make things — all the things! — happen for the sole purpose of experiencing them.
And it didn’t take her long at all to figure out that she wanted eyes and hands on the phones in the house. She’s seen us look at them, definitely. But there also just seems to be something about an iPhone. It fits in your hand. It reacts to your touch and lights up. It talks and sings and the screen moves. It is, for these little humans for whom everything is magic, the most enthralling contraption you could possibly dangle in front of them.
I know, someday, Ruby will want a phone — I’m not naive enough to think getting rid of my smartphone will change that — and we’ll have to figure out how to handle that once we get there. But I already know for a fact that I don’t want my daughter’s closest friend to be a phone. Once I realized that, I had to ask myself: "Do I really want my closest friend to be a phone?"
Our phones have become intimate parts of our lives. We hold them physically close to us all day long. We gaze at them for hours at a time. Some of us even sleep with them. And, in turn, they are pretty dependable companions. They help distract us when we’re bored; they make us feel good about ourselves (the self-facing camera in Instagram takes the best selfies, FYI); they get us out of awkward social situations, like any good friend would.
But honestly, I often use my phone to feed my worst impulses. Don’t get me wrong, I use other things to feed my worst impulses, too. (McDouble from the Dollar Menu, anyone?) But, generally speaking, I don’t have a cheeseburger in my pocket at the ready for the very moment that shameful urge arises.
I still have a computer. I got an iPad for my birthday this year, which has proven really useful for my work and for reading the news. I am not, by any means, unplugged or disconnected. I’m just taking back control of a relationship that took over my life in the quietest of ways, and feeling empowered by this truth: I don’t need that phone. I have everything I need without it.
Katie Reid is director of digital media at The Boys' Latin School of Maryland and an MFA candidate in integrated design at University of Baltimore. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.