Taking It In (and Not Tweeting About It)

 

One of the most difficult parts of my exile was leaving my beloved iPhone behind.

My iPhone came with me everywhere…it was always at my side.

When I needed to make a connection, bam, it was there to help me make a call.

When I wanted to listen to some music, zing, it would flip out a record from my collection and lay down some B-sides.

When all I desired was to snap a quick photo or check my email, whiz-bang, it became what I needed it to be. The perfect relationship.

Or so I thought. Like with so many things, I was a bit too close to the situation to realize what I was giving up in exchange for constant access to just about everything and everyone in the world.

I sold my iPhone for many reasons; partially because I didn’t want to worry about finicky data plans when I traveled, partially because using it in public would make me a tempting target for crime in certain parts of the world, and partially because it wouldn’t work on a goodly number of mobile networks in certain countries.

The final nail in the coffin was that I realized I was developing a dependency. I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to operate without it, and that was a scary thought. I sold it as soon as I could.

Since then, I’ve found that I was even more dependent than I imagined.

For a long time I didn’t need to know where anything was; I could just look it up on my iPhone! I’d hit a button and it would tell me where I was. I’d hit another and it would tell me how to get where I wanted to go, step-by-step. Like magic!

I could translate any language into any other language with little or no effort on my part.

I could convert one currency to another with gusto.

I had all of my contact names and numbers and email addresses, all in one place, easily searchable and sendable.

I was making myself ignorant, pushing all of that information out of my mind and into this tiny little device.

I was building a crutch out of bits, bytes and sexy hardware.

It’s called distributed memory. It usually occurs when two people start a relationship and information acquired by the couple is subconsciously divided between them.

One person might remember dates and times and how to cook that meal they had at their friend’s house that one time, while the other remembers where the bills are, when they need to be paid, which key goes to the mailbox and how much they need to save every month to take that ski trip later in the year.

It happens to every couple to one degree or another, and I was developing – nay, deep into – this kind of relationship with my iPhone. Yikes.

So now, half a year later, I am finally back to my pre-iPhone condition. My info is retained mostly within my brain (except for the bits that just pass on through) and the responsibility for knowing what goes where and who’s who is mine and mine alone.

I am also much more in the moment than I was before.

Look around any social situation and you’ll see most people are engrossed 10-70% of the time in their mobile device. They might have gotten dressed up for the party, but part of their minds are on Twitter or Facebook or FourSquare or texting or in their inbox.

They might be taking a photo of a beautiful sunset or telling a friend about something funny that just happened, but are they really experiencing the sunset? Are they taking every bit of the funniness in? Not really. Usually they snap a photo and then turn around and walk away. They see something funny, laugh inwardly – face unmoving – and then ‘lol’ to their Twitter followers.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. I’ve been the same, and likely will be again as soon as I decide to get a smart phone once more (it will happen).

The relationship that I have with my device WILL be different this time around, though. Now that I’ve had a pure experience again – really stopped and focused and taken it all in – I won’t be able to live without it.

This may mean that I take fewer photographs and don’t Tweet as frequently, but I can always tell people about my experiences later. I can always take a photograph the next time I see something similar, or just tell people about it after the fact.

Sharing is great, but if you give away your life before taking the time to experience it yourself, you’re missing out on everything.

37 comments

  1. Hi Colin,

    I am taking my phone on my 9 month backpacking trip as well, but I am afraid the same will happen to me. Most of the downsizes of carrying the iPhone while traveling the world are clear. You also covered the advantages well (maps, translation, currency, web)

    Another problem is keeping the thing charged.

    I wonder if there is a middle ground, where one can have access to that stuff when needed but not have to be attached to the phone every second of the day.

  2. Hi Colin,

    I am taking my phone on my 9 month backpacking trip as well, but I am afraid the same will happen to me. Most of the downsizes of carrying the iPhone while traveling the world are clear. You also covered the advantages well (maps, translation, currency, web)

    Another problem is keeping the thing charged.

    I wonder if there is a middle ground, where one can have access to that stuff when needed but not have to be attached to the phone every second of the day.

  3. hey colin,

    i know waht you mean. technology is replacing a lot of our brain/memory and if you actually start thinking about what we had to remember a century ago then you feel you are getting a bit stupid/lazy/dependent…

    BUT – you ARE freeing up a lot of space in your “internal hard drive”. this means you can fit more challenging thoughts into your brain, now that you don’t have to remember 25 phone numbers or spend 10 minutes trying to call the airport to confirm your flight reservations. now you can think about more important stuff that’s happening in your life – or simply choose to leave the resources unused and relaaaaaaax for a while.

    but i agree with you – you should still be aware enough to find your way through a new city without google maps and have a general clue about how much the euro is worth compared to the us dollar.

    PS. Love my iPhone for combining Phone, Ipod & Camera (though a shitty one) in one device – less to carry around when you’re on the road :) Never got the “There’s an app for that” fever…

  4. hey colin,

    i know waht you mean. technology is replacing a lot of our brain/memory and if you actually start thinking about what we had to remember a century ago then you feel you are getting a bit stupid/lazy/dependent…

    BUT – you ARE freeing up a lot of space in your “internal hard drive”. this means you can fit more challenging thoughts into your brain, now that you don’t have to remember 25 phone numbers or spend 10 minutes trying to call the airport to confirm your flight reservations. now you can think about more important stuff that’s happening in your life – or simply choose to leave the resources unused and relaaaaaaax for a while.

    but i agree with you – you should still be aware enough to find your way through a new city without google maps and have a general clue about how much the euro is worth compared to the us dollar.

    PS. Love my iPhone for combining Phone, Ipod & Camera (though a shitty one) in one device – less to carry around when you’re on the road :) Never got the “There’s an app for that” fever…

  5. This is exactly why I think everyday about going back to the *gasp* Razr. That thing is like a cockroach. Totally indestructible. And it can’t do all the fancy things the iPhone can. And it might cure me of my current slave to my inbox condition. And: boobs. Yeah. That’s right. I just made that joke on your blog. Yuck. Inside jokes in the comments. Who’s monitoring this crap?

  6. This is exactly why I think everyday about going back to the *gasp* Razr. That thing is like a cockroach. Totally indestructible. And it can’t do all the fancy things the iPhone can. And it might cure me of my current slave to my inbox condition. And: boobs. Yeah. That’s right. I just made that joke on your blog. Yuck. Inside jokes in the comments. Who’s monitoring this crap?

  7. Hey Colin!

    I can definitely relate. Today, while driving to work I realized that I left my cell phone at home (not a smart phone – I can only make/receive calls/text messages). But now I feel so disconnected from the world and instead of enjoying the quiet day, I’m worried I might miss that *important* call (although I’ve never had one, so I suppose, statistically, I’ve nothing to worry about). We really do develop a dependency on these things, not just for communication and instant information – but as a replacement for socially connecting to people in person.

  8. Hey Colin!

    I can definitely relate. Today, while driving to work I realized that I left my cell phone at home (not a smart phone – I can only make/receive calls/text messages). But now I feel so disconnected from the world and instead of enjoying the quiet day, I’m worried I might miss that *important* call (although I’ve never had one, so I suppose, statistically, I’ve nothing to worry about). We really do develop a dependency on these things, not just for communication and instant information – but as a replacement for socially connecting to people in person.

  9. Hey Colin,

    I’m not traveling the world like you, but when I really need to focus I often will put my phone on vibrate and toss it in another room. Or when I’m out with friends, if someone is not present (and are constantly tweeting etc) we’ll sometimes physically take their phone away ;)

    Although very often, I am almost ashamed to admit, whenever I have a spare minute or two I will open my iphone and try to read a couple blog posts or reply to some comments to make the best use of that time ;)

  10. Hey Colin,

    I’m not traveling the world like you, but when I really need to focus I often will put my phone on vibrate and toss it in another room. Or when I’m out with friends, if someone is not present (and are constantly tweeting etc) we’ll sometimes physically take their phone away ;)

    Although very often, I am almost ashamed to admit, whenever I have a spare minute or two I will open my iphone and try to read a couple blog posts or reply to some comments to make the best use of that time ;)

  11. I’m with you on the technology replacing brainpower thing; part of the problem is that we start taking technology for granted, instead of respecting it by learning to understand how it works.

    On the other hand, I’m on the opposite slope from you at the moment. I’m learning to come out of my shell, so to speak, and embrace sharing and communication through technology. It’s interesting to see the different stages of life we’re in.

  12. I’m with you on the technology replacing brainpower thing; part of the problem is that we start taking technology for granted, instead of respecting it by learning to understand how it works.

    On the other hand, I’m on the opposite slope from you at the moment. I’m learning to come out of my shell, so to speak, and embrace sharing and communication through technology. It’s interesting to see the different stages of life we’re in.

  13. Im glad you ended you long term relationship with your phone…now if only we could get more people to do that? I do not think that is the future though, as time goes on I believe we will only become more ingraned into our technology, it will become more apart of us, but i think it will allow us to connect in new and different ways.

  14. Im glad you ended you long term relationship with your phone…now if only we could get more people to do that? I do not think that is the future though, as time goes on I believe we will only become more ingraned into our technology, it will become more apart of us, but i think it will allow us to connect in new and different ways.

  15. Very thought provoking, as a user of the iPhone and someone who all too often does do that (get stuck in my phone in social engagements if I’m akward or waiting) this really made me think.

    Thanks

  16. Very thought provoking, as a user of the iPhone and someone who all too often does do that (get stuck in my phone in social engagements if I’m akward or waiting) this really made me think.

    Thanks

  17. Great post, and I understand your points. But I actually find my iPhone to be a simplifying tool in my life. I think its capacity to consolidate and remember things for me frees my mind and allows me to focus on other things. After all, the distributed memory that happens in relations tends to be a positive thing. However, I agree that these devices are usually abused and consume too much of the user’s attention. That’s just taking it too far.

  18. Great post, and I understand your points. But I actually find my iPhone to be a simplifying tool in my life. I think its capacity to consolidate and remember things for me frees my mind and allows me to focus on other things. After all, the distributed memory that happens in relations tends to be a positive thing. However, I agree that these devices are usually abused and consume too much of the user’s attention. That’s just taking it too far.

  19. Good point. Especially when traveling, people seem to focus on taking pictures instead of experiencing things. As if the final target of the trip would be to have a collection of photos. Travel photos are great, but I think they should be such that you can look on them and remember how you felt like in the situation – not such that you can see that “Oh, I have been there too!”

    Live, don’t record.

  20. Good point. Especially when traveling, people seem to focus on taking pictures instead of experiencing things. As if the final target of the trip would be to have a collection of photos. Travel photos are great, but I think they should be such that you can look on them and remember how you felt like in the situation – not such that you can see that “Oh, I have been there too!”

    Live, don’t record.

  21. @Bruno: Yeah, I’ve attempted to have a middle ground by carrying around an iPod Touch (which allows me many of the same advantages as the iPhone), but I’ve found that in places without a lot of public WiFi (like NZ), a lot of those advantages drift away. Let me know if you figure something else out!

    @gnarlee: Very true, and the iPhone definitely helps with that kind of freeing up more than most devices! On the other hand, it’s been nice to have to memorize again. You don’t realize how many parts of your brain you shut off by having someone/something else keep track of all that information until you try to start doing so by yourself again. Yeesh, takes some time! And I tend to want to keep the ol’ brain in tip-top shape!

    @Kristin: Wow, you totally just referenced boobs on this very serious blog. What if there are children reading? Children who don’t know what boobs are?

    @Richard: Yeah, the dependency issue is HUGE. I can’t tell you how much less stress I’ve had to deal with since I started moving. Since most people CAN’T call me at all times (I kindly request that anyone who wants to call me leaves a voicemail, since my numbers all forward to my Skype phone number), I don’t have to worry about it. I carry my phone for emergencies, as a ‘just in case I get stuck in an elevator’ kind of thing. It’s helpful instead of a lead weight on my shoulders!

    @Sid: Haha, no reason to be ashamed; that’s just doing what you enjoy! And honestly, I did exactly the same, and if I had an iPhone now, I would do it too. There’s nothing innately wrong with these activities, it’s just that sometimes we miss out on other things as a tradeoff, and it can be very difficult not to develop a reflexive habit toward being engaged in the digital world over the real world when the opportunity is there.

    @Jeffrey: Absolutely. Different strokes for different folks at different points in their life. Good luck with your digital emergence, Jeffrey!

    @David: I think you’re right. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind becoming a cyborg and being constantly connected to the Internet in some kind of overlay-on-life fashion. Getting all those additional benefits while still being engaged in the real world? Perrrrrrrfect!

    @Maren: My pleasure! I aim to provide alternative viewpoints!

    @Lissa: Haha, well, I would say give it a shot if you can…they’re excellent devices…but if you think you’ll get hooked and use it to replace real-world experiences, then yeah, maybe avoid it for now.

    @James: Yeah, it can go either way, depending on what kind of personality you have (or what circumstance you find yourself in). My iPhone helped me immensely with organization and consolidation, but at the end it didn’t seem worth the tradeoff. Others will definitely see it differently, though, as all the variables are different for each person.

    @Timo: “Live, don’t record.” Love. It.

  22. @Bruno: Yeah, I’ve attempted to have a middle ground by carrying around an iPod Touch (which allows me many of the same advantages as the iPhone), but I’ve found that in places without a lot of public WiFi (like NZ), a lot of those advantages drift away. Let me know if you figure something else out!

    @gnarlee: Very true, and the iPhone definitely helps with that kind of freeing up more than most devices! On the other hand, it’s been nice to have to memorize again. You don’t realize how many parts of your brain you shut off by having someone/something else keep track of all that information until you try to start doing so by yourself again. Yeesh, takes some time! And I tend to want to keep the ol’ brain in tip-top shape!

    @Kristin: Wow, you totally just referenced boobs on this very serious blog. What if there are children reading? Children who don’t know what boobs are?

    @Richard: Yeah, the dependency issue is HUGE. I can’t tell you how much less stress I’ve had to deal with since I started moving. Since most people CAN’T call me at all times (I kindly request that anyone who wants to call me leaves a voicemail, since my numbers all forward to my Skype phone number), I don’t have to worry about it. I carry my phone for emergencies, as a ‘just in case I get stuck in an elevator’ kind of thing. It’s helpful instead of a lead weight on my shoulders!

    @Sid: Haha, no reason to be ashamed; that’s just doing what you enjoy! And honestly, I did exactly the same, and if I had an iPhone now, I would do it too. There’s nothing innately wrong with these activities, it’s just that sometimes we miss out on other things as a tradeoff, and it can be very difficult not to develop a reflexive habit toward being engaged in the digital world over the real world when the opportunity is there.

    @Jeffrey: Absolutely. Different strokes for different folks at different points in their life. Good luck with your digital emergence, Jeffrey!

    @David: I think you’re right. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind becoming a cyborg and being constantly connected to the Internet in some kind of overlay-on-life fashion. Getting all those additional benefits while still being engaged in the real world? Perrrrrrrfect!

    @Maren: My pleasure! I aim to provide alternative viewpoints!

    @Lissa: Haha, well, I would say give it a shot if you can…they’re excellent devices…but if you think you’ll get hooked and use it to replace real-world experiences, then yeah, maybe avoid it for now.

    @James: Yeah, it can go either way, depending on what kind of personality you have (or what circumstance you find yourself in). My iPhone helped me immensely with organization and consolidation, but at the end it didn’t seem worth the tradeoff. Others will definitely see it differently, though, as all the variables are different for each person.

    @Timo: “Live, don’t record.” Love. It.

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  24. Wouldn’t you say the same applies to the net? I know a lot of people need it for work (obviously yourself included), but in some cases it is a significant procrastination and real-world-blocking tool. I could definitely stand to spend less time online: it’s hard not to cross that line into mindless distraction.

  25. Wouldn’t you say the same applies to the net? I know a lot of people need it for work (obviously yourself included), but in some cases it is a significant procrastination and real-world-blocking tool. I could definitely stand to spend less time online: it’s hard not to cross that line into mindless distraction.

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  27. When I was backpacking I sold my phone before leaving and used a $40 brick for the year. Whilst I didn’t feel a great loss at most things, many times I missed the camera even whilst travelling with a proper camera. I still managed to batch upload photos from my real camera to FB every couple of weeks and kept a sporadicly updated blog for the folks back home. I got through the year just fine and even managed to come back with hundreds of photos from my camera which were eventually whittled down to a couple hundred that I truly like and view every now and then. Here’s what I’d say is great for someone entering a similar situation…

    Requirements for a backpacking/adventure trip phone:
    - Long Battery Life
    - Good (Great) Network Coverage
    - Durability

    Optional Perks
    - Cross Country Compatability
    - Lots of Contact Storage

    Pushing the Boat Out
    - Camera for those once in lifetime opportunities
    - Notes app for those pesky reservation references
    - Email for references, digital tickets and cheap long distance contact

    Maps should be forbidden for exploration, local travel unless you need to meet an appointment (and even then it’s avoidable).

  28. When I was backpacking I sold my phone before leaving and used a $40 brick for the year. Whilst I didn’t feel a great loss at most things, many times I missed the camera even whilst travelling with a proper camera. I still managed to batch upload photos from my real camera to FB every couple of weeks and kept a sporadicly updated blog for the folks back home. I got through the year just fine and even managed to come back with hundreds of photos from my camera which were eventually whittled down to a couple hundred that I truly like and view every now and then. Here’s what I’d say is great for someone entering a similar situation…

    Requirements for a backpacking/adventure trip phone:
    - Long Battery Life
    - Good (Great) Network Coverage
    - Durability

    Optional Perks
    - Cross Country Compatability
    - Lots of Contact Storage

    Pushing the Boat Out
    - Camera for those once in lifetime opportunities
    - Notes app for those pesky reservation references
    - Email for references, digital tickets and cheap long distance contact

    Maps should be forbidden for exploration, local travel unless you need to meet an appointment (and even then it’s avoidable).

  29. I’ve been nodding my head all the time I was reading this. This reminds us of how we are getting so attached to tangible things. Another would be having a watch. We take so much time noticing the minutes passed only to find out we wasted time counting instead of living. Smart phones, watches, internet, and others can really be useful. I think we should just be more conscious of how we utilize (and get attached to) them. All in all, this was a nice read. :)

  30. It’s amazing how hard this can be! I catch myself thinking about pulling out my phone when I’m having conversations with people, but I realize how rude it would look, and it would distract me from paying attention to what they are saying. It’s about respect for the people and the world around you!

  31. I never bought an iphone, blackberry or anything smart like that, cause I was afraid to develop this dependency.

    At the moment I’m still walking around with a good old sms/call cellphone. Though I start feeling like I missed some ‘development’. I don’t know how to handle these things and it makes me feel I’m behind on everybody else.

    I think sooner or later I’m gonna buy one to see how the relationship turns out :)

  32. This blog has legs! Nothing has changed in a year. Every point made is still quite valid. My cell phone is merely that, a cell phone. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  33. I 100% agree, not only are they viewing the world through a lens, they are allowing the lens to view the world for them.

    I think this is the final argument in persuading myself not to get a smartphone, as awesome as they may be.

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