I lost my smartphone two weeks ago. That means I’ve been without a smartphone for two weeks. Against my better judgment, I had volunteered to take all three of my girls with me to pick up my stepdaughter’s voluntary pre-Kindergarten certificate. Our county has several VPK roundup events every year where you bring proof of age for the child and proof of residency for at least one parent to get enrolled in the statewide free preschool program for 4 year olds. I knew there would be a line. I knew my timing was dangerously close to my baby’s afternoon nap time and I’d be cutting it close to be back in the car before she totally melted down. My husband was home and there was really no reason to take any of my kids with me — let alone three. But I did anyway.
I walked into the roundup with my hands full of forms, and a baby on my hip. The VPK worker handed me a folder filled with even more paperwork to fill out in line. I wondered if I’d have enough time to juggle the baby AND fill out the forms before I got to the front of the line. Then I peeked my head into the large, gymnasium-style church sanctuary where the event was being held. There were literally 60 families ahead of me in line. I counted five VPK workers, moving quickly but having to take turns at a copier to get all of the needed information.
The baby started to fuss. She can’t quite walk just yet, so setting her down on the ground as I stood in line led to her clinging to my legs — sobbing. My other girls were being good but as I did the math in my head, I knew I couldn’t handle this line with a screaming baby the whole time, two others to monitor and a stack of paperwork to complete. I stepped out of line, handed back the folder, and managed to reach into my purse for my cell phone to text my husband these words: “We’re pleaving.” He’d figure it out.
At some point between that text and three girls buckled into car seats, I lost my phone. I’ve retraced those steps now several times, including right when I realized the phone was missing, and have not found it. I left messages with the VPK coordinating group and the church office. I texted my phone number from my husband’s and asked anyone who found it to please call his number. I dumped my purse, tore apart our family vehicle and even asked my cell phone provider to use GPS to tell me where it was located.
“Well you don’t have the Family Locator plan, so we can’t track it for you,” said the customer service rep that was so lucky she wasn’t talking to me in person.
“Well can I pay for that now, and use it?” I asked, desperately. The answer was no, of course. We had plans to visit a friend that afternoon but I wanted to go back and register my stepdaughter (alone) and look for my phone (again). I had no way to call my friend and cancel because my husband didn’t have her number and the contact list I could usually find online was nowhere to be found. I got hold of her eventually but felt completely and immediately helpless without my smartphone in palm.
My Life Without A Smartphone
Rather than run out and replace it right away, I decided to wait a few days to see if it turned up. Perhaps a churchgoer would find it on Sunday morning and then the office would call me. Maybe someone who had picked it up on the sidewalk would look up “mom” and call mine in Indiana to tell her he or she had my phone. Maybe my lost smartphone really was tucked away in some undiscovered crevice of the car and one of the kids would be at just the right height to see if from his or her car seat. Maybe, but my husband felt like it was unlikely. In the end, he was right — though I held out hope for a few days.
The first night without a smartphone, wondering where she could be out there in the darkness, was troubling. I was bothered by how quickly it had disappeared and how I had no recollection of where I had set it. I worried that whoever picked it up could see pictures of my kids. Browse old emails. Open up my Facebook account with a single touch. I thought about how severely inconvenienced I was going to be until it was found or replaced. I didn’t read a single email that night in bed. I didn’t play even one round of Candy Crush Saga. Facebook was not the last thing I saw before my eyes snapped shut for the night. It was weird and unsettling.
And then I woke up the next morning. Without a smartphone next to my bed, I had nothing better to do than get up and head for the kitchen. It was too much of a pain to fire up my laptop before making breakfast and getting my stepson ready for school, so I just chatted with him while I made him a PB&J before school. I had no phone to look at before hopping out of the car in the parking lot, or when I got back in after I walked him to his classroom. I jammed to a really inappropriate rap song from the early 2000s as I drove home alone. My two older girls greeted me when I got back with the news that they were hungry and daddy was asleep (he works until 1 or 2 a.m. on weeknights). So I made some more PB&Js and grabbed the baby from her crib when she started her morning babble.
Duties around the house kept popping up, and it was nearly lunchtime before I finally sat down at my laptop. I had a few emails and a few Facebook notifications that I addressed in a matter of minutes. I let a few additional people know that I was temporarily without a smartphone and to send me emails or Facebook messages if they needed me. I made some work arrangements and walked away from my desk. That evening I logged back in and answered the few messages that had accumulated during the day and got organized for work for the next day. I felt like I must be missing something. A whole day with no constant email access and I managed to handle everything in a few minutes’ time? It seemed unlikely. Until the same thing happened the next day. And the one after that.
It really made no sense. The whole reason I had decided to give in and get a smartphone at my last upgrade was to improve my efficiency — as a business owner and a mom. Answering emails at a moment’s notice seemed like a good idea at the time and having other convenient applications in hand was a bonus. What ended up happening though, in retrospect, was that I became a slave to my phone in many ways — answering work emails instantaneously that really could have waited an hour or five and jumping to answer the blinking notification light on the phone only to discover it was a piece of junk email. Again. I had also completely forgotten to respond to emails I had received late at night or in the middle of it when I was still waking with my youngest. I’d open the message and decide it could wait until morning for a reply…. except oftentimes, I never sent a reply at all and had to apologize later to clients for the oversight.
I had inadvertently turned myself into an open-all-hours communicator. By having no boundaries, the rest of my life was always doing battle with my phone. Not so smart, after all.
Before being without a smartphone, my husband and I had talked about modifying our home life this summer to accommodate shorter, but more focused, work hours for me. I went out and bought all new office organization items to kick off the new initiative and handed my husband my “schedule” so we were on the same page. We both agreed that while the flexibility of my work life is wonderful, taking advantage of some office hours when our family could pull it off was really the way to go instead. After a few smartphone-less days, I realized the same concept was true of my phone. Sure, it was nice to have access to so many things around the clock — but since there really is no emergency reason for me to always be “on call,” it makes more sense to segment my communication too.
So I bought a non-smart (stupid?) basic phone to replace my state-of-the-art, sleek lost smartphone that is never coming home. It’s been really, really nice actually to be without a smartphone. I’m not a fan of the text messaging feature but I’m learning to love the communication solitude it affords. I never knew I could be so happy with so very little (in cell phone terms… it’s all relative). Maybe I will replace my lost smartphone with another one down the road but for now, I’m blissfully less attached and feeling more grounded than ever without a smartphone to hold me down.
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