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Shannon Casas: This is what happened when I put my smartphone down for a week
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I challenged myself to put down my smartphone for a week. It was great — until I needed to get from here to there and couldn’t pull up Google Maps.

My smartphone-free week began Monday, Sept. 2. I treated my iPhone as a telephone instead of a tiny computer for shopping, conversing, working, reading, route-finding, music-playing and sundry other wonderfully useful functions. 

Before the week began, I tried to determine how to create a text message auto-reply — something harkening to the days of AOL instant messenger auto replies, where those trying to reach me would instead see some pithy paragraph about my smartphone-free week. Heck, maybe I’d even toss in some music lyrics to really solidify the 1990s feel.

Alas, that isn’t really an option on the iPhone. Or if it is, it’s extremely difficult to execute. 

If I didn’t have an Apple computer at home on which I can send and receive text messages, it’s possible I wouldn’t have survived the week. 

I would have showed up to my sister’s baby shower without a cooler, and then where would they have put the bottled water and sodas?

I would have had to call someone and talk to them to reschedule an appointment that was double booked with a baseball game. 

And I wouldn’t have known there would be doughnuts at Sunday school.

OK — I guess I could have survived without some infrequent text messaging, but it turns out that’s really inconvenient, especially for those trying to reach me.

The very first thing I missed, though, was checking the weather. So I assumed it’d be hot and dressed accordingly. It was.

Then I went grocery shopping with a list on paper and a pen to mark out items. Usually I use the reminders list on my phone and tap through the list till it’s complete. This older method was mildly inconvenient.

When I returned home, something strange happened. I had the urge to check the answering machine. I haven’t checked an answering machine since I was living in a dorm room with deep purple carpet and a tube television we lugged up two flights of stairs. 

I’d been away from the computer for about 30 minutes. Disconnection feels odd in 2019.

Later that day, I needed to schedule a couple of appointments for next month. I hadn’t decided whether I’d admit to the woman at the front desk that I’d given up my smartphone for the week or whether I’d just check this one thing on my phone. Just in time, my husband walked up and I asked him to check our calendar.

I also had to ask him to take a photo of the little ones cooking away in their play kitchen, one dressed as Batman. My husband has gotten pretty good at taking photos after years of instruction from me. But he zoomed in, degrading the quality of the photo. And then it was too late; the little ones move fast.

Breaking news also moves fast and happened regardless of my smartphone-free week. I felt pressured to cheat at work; I checked the incoming messages but didn’t respond to them on the phone.

Then I needed to take a child to the doctor and wasn’t sure of the quickest route from school to the pediatrician. So I cheated some more. It wasn’t a huge emergency, but I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to write down or print any directions. I could have gone the long way, but work demands awaited at the office, and the trip was going to take me away for more than an hour already.

A few times I picked my phone up just out of habit — once while making dinner to see what ingredient came next and once to write down notes for a work meeting. Both times I caught myself and put it back down.

Even with a bit of cheating, I felt more present in the moments happening around me — like the pace had slowed even if just a little.

I missed listening to my music and podcasts through Apple Carplay. I didn’t miss mindlessly scrolling through social media.

I’ve picked the phone back up now. My screen time went from 5 minutes Sunday to 2 hours Monday. 

The smartphone makes life vastly more convenient. But I am trying to be mindful about whether I really need to check it every few minutes. It turns out, some of those alerts and messages can wait.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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