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Smartphone Nation: What Happens When You Go 5 Days Without a Smartphone

Running out of good ideas? The key may be leaving your smartphone at home

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BY Lian Kyla Dyogi - 19 May 2017


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

While smartphone ownership in Southeast Asia is still not the norm, it’s gradually becoming so. In a report by International Data Corporation (IDC) last August 2016, shipments of smartphones to Southeast Asia, especially those below the $150 range, have increased incrementally.

These days, it’s common to see smartphone users spend most of their waking hours scrolling, liking, and connecting. With information superhighway right at one’s fingertips, is it fair to say that smartphones are the ultimate cure for boredom? Not quite so. Smartphones may not be causing ennui, keeping its users occupied for hours on end, but they could be feeding it.

“By constantly fighting your boredom with smartphone apps and endless Facebook checks—or, in more extreme cases, by turning to thrill seeking, alcohol, or drugs—you might be making the problem worse,” writes Jessica Stillman in this Inc. article.

This refusal to be bored, as I found out during my no social media experiment, poses a number of problems—including coming up with fewer creative ideas. Desiring a life where creative ideas could spring forth like wild Pokémon, I decided to swap my smartphone for an old fashioned, text with one hand, feature phone: a Cherry Mobile C6i, borrowed from a friend.

Here’s what I learned from my five days without an app-filled device:

1. Ignorance wasn’t bliss, nor good for productivity

When optimizing your life, tracking is the way to go. Before swapping out my smartphone, I wanted to know how much time I actually spent on it. After downloading a tracking app called Moment, I found out I was spending around two to three hours on my phone, give or take a few minutes.

The app also tells you how many times you open your phone, and which apps you spend the most time on. The data-verified truth that I was in fact wasting a lot of time on my phone was slightly shocking (In a I-didn’t-know-I-wasted-that-much-time way) and motivating. I needed to know my actual habits in order to make some changes.

2. We’re becoming cyborgs

I realized this when I was deciding whether it was good to take the bus, taking out my smartphone (still on my person at the time) to use Waze to determine if Manila traffic was intolerable that Friday night. No longer able to use data as I switched out the SIM card, I decided to take the bus anyway.

Over Mother’s Day weekend, I came across a similar issue. I took out my phone to look for a picture for an appropriate Facebook Mother’s Day post. On Saturday, I used my smartphone’s camera to work on a hobby.

I was surprised at how much the phone was integrated into my life—my habits, my way of relating with other people, my decisions.

3. Ideas came with boredom

When was the last time you let yourself be mind-numbingly bored? And because of said boredom, came up with an idea? Can’t remember? I couldn’t either. During the experiment, while taking the train to work, there it came—foreign and unbidden, like an old schoolmate whose face I couldn’t place—an idea.

It was a strange idea, about a spy using fake crutches scenario, but to me it confirmed that if I allowed myself to be bored, ideas would come. If we look at this one study, where participants who were given boring tasks led to an increase in the number of creative ideas, then my theory might be true.

4. Mindfulness of phone usage is key

During the experiment, I realized how much my phone extended my working life to various idle pockets throughout the day, was a source of entertainment (YouTube, Netflix), and connected me with family and friends (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber).

I got few texts during the experiment. I wasn’t filling every moment with stimuli because I couldn’t. Without the constant blaring of message notifications, my life became somewhat peaceful, silent. Did I have a toxic relationship with my phone? Maybe.

Reflecting on whether smartphones are a bane for creativity, Philip Cheang, co-founder of Philippine software development and design firm By Implication, says it goes both ways. “It’s how you use it. I rely on my phone a lot, but my partner tries to make quiet time. I think it’s about recognizing whether your use helps/detracts from productivity,” he says.

Now that the experiment is over, I’m surprised I’m still clinging on to my borrowed phone, hoping to preserve the stimuli-lite environment it affords. I’m even contemplating buying it from my friend. But alas, the call of the smartphone, and its conveniences, is strong. An evaluation is definitely in order.

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