my first phone experiment of 2019

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That phone thing I wrote about last week has been working on me something fierce. Yes, for our daughter. But also for me. And for how I want to feel in my life—how I want to show up. Luckily, my husband was feeling the same way.

We went for a long walk on Sunday, and we came up with the parameters of a phone experiment. It took us a few days to get our shit together to start, and on Thursday, we kicked it off.

Here’s what we came up with:

1: Buy a new alarm clock. Ours broke last year, and using our phones as alarm clocks makes it way too tempting to check email and read news articles on the toilet first thing in the morning. I mean, you’re already holding the phone.

2: Turn off phones at night. BUT WHAT ABOUT EMERGENCIES? Yes, I know. That’s an issue for me, too. We talked about that a lot. For one thing, we’re going to try not to base our decisions for every single day around one very unlikely possibility. This is not easy for me. For a second thing, we have a landline. Do you think I’m 107 years old now that you know that? I insisted that we get a landline back when we moved in here because I really do worry about what mobile phones are doing to our brains with that constant exposure. We haven’t used it very much, to be honest. But if someone in our closest circle has a 3 a.m. emergency, they can wake our asses up with the landline. It’s loud.

3: Turn off wi-fi at night. HOORAY. We finally put wi-fi on a timer. I know there are disagreements about the effects, but just in case: We do not need that EMF action when we’re all sleeping.

4: Turn phones on when we leave the house. This one was originally, “Turn phones on after dropping our daughter off at school.” But my husband drove the keyless-start car to drop our kid off yesterday—and the key was still in my pocket. His phone was still off, so I had to jump in the other car and chase him down. Ah, experiments.

5: When we’re home, phones are on, and they live in their charging spots in the office. Our phones have mostly been in our pockets on on the kitchen counter for easy access and quick dopamine hits when we’re home. And then they’ve been charging right next to us in the bedroom. Again, we’re making it just a little more out of sight, out of mind. Taking it off the pedestal, so to speak. But they’re on, so that if someone calls, we can answer it.

6: Remove article-producing apps like Google Search, Google Chrome, and Google News. Hey, did you know you can hide apps on your phone so you don’t have to uninstall them? I didn’t know that! I basically hid every app that connects me to the internet except You Need a Budget (that’s our family budgeting software) and Google Maps. It took about 10 seconds to hide them all. Now I have less phone distraction sitting in my car between meetings, and my husband has less phone distraction when we’re trying to get breakfast on the table during the week. (I know you’re probably reading this on your phone. My website tells me that 90% of y’all do.)

7: Remove email apps. Oh yes. This was one of my best experiments ever four years ago, and then I had some reason to add it back in for some specific stretch of time, and it never left again. Until now. No more quick email checks while we get ready for the day. Or at the end of the day. Everyone I talk to hates this idea. You probably do, too. Even I hate this idea when I’m anticipating making the move. People say to me, “I need to check first thing in the morning to see if anything has changed for my day” or “I need to check at night in case there’s anything urgent” or “I like to check and then think through my responses so I can have better answers later.” I don’t really believe those things, y’all. Because I think changes to your day can be checked once you’re ready for the day to start, and I think anything that’s truly urgent will get you a phone call, and I think checking email without responding to it just makes us all feel overwhelmed. But we’ll see. Maybe I’m wrong. That’s why I try these experiments. I’ll report back.

8: Set up auto-response for text messages, and turn off text message notifications. Gulp. This is a big one for me. And hard. Because I love hearing from people. I love when my family or a group of friends gets a fun text message thread going. But texts are also hell on focus. You can’t know when they pop up whether they’re You-Need-To-Know-This-Right-Now or I-Need-Help or Smiley-Face-In-Response-To-Something-You-Wrote-Six-Hours-Ago. So you sort of have to check. And then your concentration or your mood is busted again. I also get a lot of work-related texts, and I’m TERRIBLE at answering them. I check when I can’t respond, and then they get buried, and I forget about them. So: auto-response. A little annoying for the recipient, perhaps, but since there is a sort of unwritten expectation that you’ll check your texts in any tiny moment you have when nothing else is happening, we felt it was needed. My auto-response says that I don’t get text notifications on my phone, so I won’t respond right away, and if it’s urgent, call me. So far, in two days, two people have called me. Fourteen other text messages have been fine to wait. We’ll see.

9: Respond to text messages at bedtime. We each take about 5 or 10 minutes away from our kiddo at bedtime to respond to text messages from the day. And when they’re all grouped like that, I’m keeping up with them WAY better than I was before. I mean, it’s only been two days, I know.

10: During the day, call each other; after bedtime, text. So what about Pick-This-Up-At-The-Grocery-Store-Please and I’m-Going-To-Be-Late and How-Did-Your-Big-Meeting-Go? We’re trying this: Call each other for the Pick-This-Up and I’m-Late kind of thing. Save the How-Did-It-Go reports for in person. And if it’s your night out, and you’re going to get home later than you thought., send a text. That way, if the other person wakes up at midnight, and you’re not there, s/he can turn on the phone and check for a text to be sure everything’s okay.

Whew. The number of things we had to talk about to make this plan just underlined how intensely integrated our phones are with our logistics, our work lives, and our relationships. It’s hard to untangle. This is just a first swipe at it. Will we have a trainwreck, or will it be easier than we thought? Will our jobs be a mess, or will we be better at them? Will we be bored silly, or will we wonder how we ever spent all that time on our phones?

We’ll let you know how it goes—and if you’re inspired to jump in for all or part of it, I’d love to know about it.

Because it’s always nice to feel like you’re not alone.

I love you either way.