You’ve got a cell phone and you probably can’t imagine life without it. In fact, you probably have a smartphone and would find the idea of going back to a basic cell phone painful. Our phones have become our digital-life hub. We get email, check the weather, find directions to the meeting, check sports scores and read news, play games, keep tabs on our kids, update social media, take photos and record movies, conduct banking, play music, watch TV and movies,…and make phone calls. But what if you didn’t have a cell phone and didn’t do any of these things?
That’s exactly what Ben Brast-McKie has done.1 Brast-McKie, at 25-years old, is a full-fledged member of the “digital native” generation, yet he eschews cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and the like because he doesn’t “like spending too much time transfixed by a screen; it feels like life is passing me by.” He declared, “I am not some digital profile.”
Brast-McKie isn’t totally unplugged. He has a computer on which he writes and reads papers (he is a tutor), checks email, and uses Google Voice. (He said he also has a landline which is used only a couple times a month.) What he has noticed, though, is that by not having a cell phone when he is on the go, he is “present” wherever he is and that not having a cell phone has taught him to be self-sufficient.
In a previous article, “Squirrel!,” I described research findings that “the presence of the cell phone actually decreased the perceived quality of the relationship and the absence of a phone increased the perceived quality of the relationship!” In other words, cell phones get in the way of relating to others. Brast-McKie’s experience supports this, finding that he is more engaged with others by not having a cell phone.
Brast-McKie also claims to be more self-sufficient without a cell phone. When you need directions today, you grab your smartphone and load Google Maps. In decades past, we thumbed through a map book (I used to buy a new Hudson map book every few years), or (Gasp!) asked someone for directions. The use of a map book actually engages the brain at a deeper level making you more likely to remember how to get back to that same place in the future. It also creates in your mind better understanding of the relationships of one place to another. The act of asking for directions is even more important because you engage in an activity that our Creator built into our being—socializing.
I can personally attest to Brast-McKie’s point about self-sufficiency. Prior to owning a cell phone (that was more than 20 years ago), it was a personal point of pride that I could recite from memory well over 100 phone numbers for various friends, family, and businesses. I’d be hard pressed to come up with 15 or 20 today; I depend on technology to be my surrogate brain. That’s a little scary.
So what? Who cares if we have and even need smartphones?
Will you try an experiment with me? The next time you reach for your phone, stop and ask yourself, “Do I need to do this? If I do, can I do this some other way that engages my brain more and ideally connects me with people?”
- The next time you need directions, ask someone—even if they have to look it up on their phone, that’s fine. You are still engaging a person.
- The next time you want to post an update on Facebook, pick up the phone and call a friend to say Hi! instead. (Yes, you’re using the phone, but for a better purpose.)
- When you want to take a break to play Candy Crush Saga, ask someone to play cribbage with you.
- If you want to watch the latest episode of Big Bang Theory on your smartphone, go find a friend to chat with instead.
- Looking for sports scores and news? Pick up a newspaper. Reading a physical document uses more parts of the brain and helps you make more neural connections.
Don’t let your cell phone insulate you from engaging in life in a deeply meaningful way. Be fully present. Don’t substitute a phone for people.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo by Phil Campbell. Available at Flickr.com.
1: “This 25-Year-Old Hasn’t Owned A Cell Phone In 4 Years, And Loves It” by Megan Rose Dickey, Business Insider, October 6, 2013. http://www.businessinsider.com/why-this-20-something-hasnt-owned-a-cell-phone-in-4-years-2013-10#ixzz2hNyeWl8i