THE BLOG

Life Without a Cellphone -- Part 4-A: Um, Okay?

11/22/2013 06:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2014

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So. I had decided to give up on cellphones. Okay. Right. But...um...what exactly was I supposed to do again? I mean, what's the step-by-step here? Was this to be an immediate, bandaid-ripping-type thing or a gradual phaseout? Was I to have no phone at all? A landline? Deposing despots is easier than installing suitable successors. And what would I tell people? How would I deal with their reactions? What would their reactions even be? Would I be ostracized by default? Would people leave me out of get-togethers just to prove my new way of life inappropriate, unsustainable? And would it be unsustainable? Would I soon find myself bowing once more to my calculating overlord, tapping "touché old friend" into its miniature keyboard, watching as it responded with an autocorrected "touch me old friend"?

Contrary to the hyperbolic, reactionary judgments friends would soon squawk and squeal and screech in my direction, I was aiming my retreat towards neither cloister nor cave. I wanted only to regain control of when device was used, to re-render phone as simple tool to be picked up at my discretion, à la hammer (the possession of which does not compel me to pathologically run around my apartment hanging up pictures and knocking down walls), rather than driving force of its own use. I wanted to be the force. And once I was, once impulses originating within the device were no longer dictating when my fingers collapsed around its body--once I wielded it--I could begin to whittle down what I wielded it for. The end goal was to employ phone much like my technophobic father--of my own volition and only when and for what was truly necessary--without succumbing to technophobia.

But how to release the reciprocating grasps of device and hand? After all, before I had the freedom to whittle away at device usage I had to gain control of device. But in order to gain control I needed to first disengage from device. But in order to disengage I had to first whittle down my usage of device, I had to break out of a vicious circuit of usage leading to attachment leading to more usage leading to more attachment. But, hard as I tried, I could neither route myself out, nor discern a path of escape, from the logic of my trap. Even my language was challenged: I used 'device' as a variable, defining it here as my then-current problematic device, there as my as-yet indeterminate replacement device(s), and elsewhere as both present and future at once. Device(s) had confounded me. And so, under the heel of a demigod with no vulnerable heel to strike, I recognized my lack of power and embraced a recognition of weakness as my potential salvation: While there would be no way for me to just change my behavior, perhaps I could enable the behavioral changes I sought through an indirect and passive attack. Perhaps I could gain control by recognizing I had no control, by momentarily thinking of my behavior as a set of instructions operating in accordance with the physics of a given infrastructure. And if I could restore a few newtons of friction into my communications infrastructure...

Let me rephrase: Willpower, deliberate thought processes--mental energies of any kind, in fact--are no match for the device. And, even if they were, even if I could discipline my way to wireless-less glory, why waste these valuable and limited resources? Personal experience and study after study have shown just how exhaustible our mental energies are. Surely, I thought, there were more valuable uses for them than fruitless attempts to control smartphone usage. And surely, I fretted, if I exhausted these precious energies I would leave myself susceptible to all manner of vices, from the crafting of game-changing apps to the crowd-funding of my genre-bending spoken-word e-books.

So, if self-control is a myth--at least for multiple spheres of life concurrently--and if as well we evolved in a past of scarcity to be resource hungry and now in abundance slope precariously towards overconsumption, constraining supply seemed an easier enterprise than reigning in demand. However, as I had no say in the human-contact and digital-data supply-chains, if I wanted to think before using, to pick up device only when it would satisfy a worthy need, obstacles between self and supply would have to be put in place. I would have to channel the dieter who leaves distance and impediments between mouth and cake, turning himself into a hunter/buyer rather than relying on impulse control to keep hand from reaching into cabinet.

By this point in the series you probably think me wistful for the pre-palm-sized-cellphone, pre-widespread-internet, friction-filled-relative-to-today, '90s communications era. I, however, saw no need to simply recreate this past (nor would it have been possible, as I'll get to in the following chapter). The way we used to communicate or communicate now is not based on what is best or most efficient or the pursuit of happiness or any other of the themes of life one might consider desirable. It seems to me mostly a function of technological progress, a mindless acceptance of whatever is newest, superficially most efficient, or overstimulates the brain to the greatest extent. Here I had an opportunity to choose how I would communicate with others, to contemplate the most effective ins and outs, to pick and choose betwixt technologies new and old (taking into account ongoing changes in publicly available infrastructure ((e.g. disappearing pay phones)), in standards of business and personal affairs, and in the behavioral patterns of friends/kin/countrymen) and arrive at a system through deliberation--adapting, rather than just adopting, what is or was once considered acceptable.

Of course, all my decisions were influenced by where I live and by issues of occupation and personal life. But I will ignore these for now and interweave them into the discussion as they are called for in later parts. Otherwise the reader's first instinct will be to shrug off everything I say with, "Ah! but my life is different...etc. etc...I wear brown shoes! ...and therefore everything you say is useless," and I would like to delay this reaction. I would like to delay the I-need-my-phone-because reflex. I would like to manipulate you into having the opportunity to appreciate how your life might be similar to mine, and so see what you can take away from this nonsense, rather than just rabidly search for difference tailgated by dismissal with willful disremembering in piping-hot pursuit. After all, while my solutions are contingent upon my lifestyle, the premises behind them are not and can be prescribed in other manners for other circumstances.

Solutions, however, despite their connotative finality, are nothing more than experiments. And so the "system" I originally constructed, while not haphazardly fabricated, would not prove binding. My shedding would instead turn into an evolving process of addition and subtraction, changing as I learned what worked and what didn't, tweaked as I took note of how I behaved under a given communication constitution, until eventually, after sufficient debugging, a stasis was reached with my current setup, which actually includes two cellphones. You can decide later if you find that last bit hypocritical given, you know, the whole title and theme of this series. For now we will begin at a beginning, with a not completely logically-sound game of "on the one hand..."

Click here for Part 4-B of this series.