Living without a smartphone

Fitzroy resident Sam Chalmers hasn’t owned a smartphone for three years. “I was kind of fed up they were always breaking on me,” he says. The 22-year-old now owns a $7 flip phone that has lasted since he gave up smartphones completely.

Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

“I just bought one from Coles,” Chalmers says. “It’s sort of just made my life I think a bit more cruisy.

“I didn’t really read at all when I had my phone but now I read quite a bit.”

He tells me he feels more connected to his day, which is one of the reasons he continues to go without one.

Smartphones are still a relatively new technology, and behavioural researchers are investigating the long term effects they have on wellbeing.

A recent Deakin University study found students had negative emotions, lack of control and a reduced sense of purpose in life when using smartphones.

Lead researcher Sharon Horwood says using phones to relax and pass time often resulted in lower wellbeing. “While we found that smartphone use is unrelated to people’s overall life satisfaction, it is associated with mood,” she says.

Chalmers says he felt a bit strange and disconnected without social media or a smartphone at first. “After I got rid of it I kind of went through this cynical kind of phase. Like there was a few moments where I was looking around, looking at everyone on their phone and I was like kind of confronted.

 “I don’t feel like some kind of different person, it’s just like I have more time to do things with probably less stress,” Chalmers says.

Musician Trinity Jean gave up smartphones for six months after she felt she was becoming addicted, but says the convenience of organising gigs and events wasn’t the same without social media. “I used a landline but no one called me,” she says laughing.

The inconvenience brought her back to using smartphones. Today, she’s strolling through Melbourne with her friend Mia Lorne after deleting social media in the morning.

Lorne says they both deleted the apps to “have a good day” before coming out and exploring the markets. “It’s not real life and it doesn’t feel genuine,” Jean says. They’re not sure if they will download the apps again. “I think I’m going to keep a lot of them off my phone because I realise I don’t really use it, I only have it because other friends have it,” Lorne says.

After talking to other young adults about giving up Facebook, the consensus was the same: There was a fear of missing out, especially when it came to parties and events. But there was also a feeling of fakeness that came with posting on social media. So how much should we be using smartphones?

Horwood includes tips to limit smartphone use, like turning off notifications and allocating screen time. She also mentions improving sleep quality by removing phones from bedside tables.

While no iOS app can lock your smartphone from being used, there’s a whole genre of apps that aims to reduce time spent on phones:

1. OffTime

Sets a timer that limits phone use, and sends notifications if the user breaks their self-control.

2. Freedom

A free app that blocks distracting websites and apps such as Facebook, YouTube and Reddit.

3. iOS Settings

Turn off push notifications and set parental controls to limit screen time.

Or if you’re feeling courageous, you could just delete social media…

But Horwood notes that phone use is not all bad, using them for communication has slightly positive associations with wellbeing. “Using phones to facilitate a direct connection with people seems to be good, as opposed to passively looking at what people are doing on social media,” she says.

And is living without Google Maps even possible these days?

Chalmers says it’s a little bit annoying sometimes, but he still owns a laptop and searches a route before he leaves anywhere. “The other thing is there’s always someone within ten meters of you with a f**king smartphone,” he says.

“Melbourne’s pretty straight forward so it’s not too bad but other places, yeah we rely on it a lot,” says Jean.

Lorne says travelling without a phone would be too much of a safety risk. “Travelling I thought maybe I wouldn’t take one but I think it is a bit worrisome being a female especially like I want to travel by myself,” says Lorne.

There’s no question we’re increasingly living in a digital age, it’s becoming harder to escape technology.

University lecturer Danielle Teychenné uses Twitter as a learning tool in her classes. “It would really be discounting students to teach without mobile phones or without devices considering the workforce that they’re going to go into,” she says.

Services like Twitter play an important role in some workplaces, especially digital media jobs that Teychenné teaches. “I use twitter like a learning management system in a way, so when I was running in-class activities I could actually be aware of where the class was up to in terms of completing the tasks.”

Teychenné says students need to find a balance between “mindlessly wading through this digital sea of information” and going without a phone. “Not using a smartphone at all I think you are possibly robbing yourself of the wondrous digital experiences.”

Teychenné says she has also thought about giving them up after watching a friendlyjordies video, but after thinking about it, she says her mindset has changed.

“I try to be at least a little bit goal-oriented when I pick up my smartphone,” Teychenné says.


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