July 13, 2014

Smartphone goes in the wash, and I’m hung out to dry

I have what you’d call a First World problem: I’m stuck with a flip phone for a year because my iPhone drowned in the wash.

I have what you’d call a First World problem: I’m stuck with a flip phone for a year because my iPhone drowned in the wash.

Hello. I’m Lindsay, a former smartphone addict who had to relearn how to use T9, that nearly obsolete nine-key “technology” that requires you to press one button three times to text the letter C.

I used to check my iPhone every 10 minutes or so, up to 100 times a day. Now that I’ve switched, I couldn’t tell you where the new phone is. I’m virtually unplugged.

Almost half the adults in the country have a smartphone, and many of us get jittery without it. According to a recent Harvard Business School survey, 44 percent of professionals and managers said they’d be anxious if they had to go without their phones for a week.

My transition to a year without a smartphone started in a dark bedroom. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed on my phone, I drifted off to sleep reading about the niece and nephew of some high school acquaintance I hadn’t seen in 15 years.

I awoke to see Ozzy, our 6-month-old Cavalier King Charles, sniffing in circles at the foot of our bed. He made eye contact as he lifted his leg.

Incensed and exhausted, my husband, Will, and I wadded up the defiled comforter and stuffed it into the hamper, queuing up for a cleansing the next morning. We refitted the bed with sheets, then slept.

The next morning, I scrunched my nose and loaded the washer. At the end of the spin cycle, I flipped open the hatch and pulled out the comforter. A rectangle glinted from the bottom of the basin.

My iPhone. Sparkling. Forsaken.

I dunked her in a tub of rice and sobbed. She never came back.

I grieved for that stupid phone, and I grieved for my former self because I’d become so pathetic, mourning a paperweight. Over the years I owned a smartphone, I’d become a distracted cliché.

Will tried to persuade me to buy a replacement. “You use that thing all the time,” he said.

True. I was far more active than the average user, who, according to one survey, checks a smartphone 35 times a day. I would look at my phone outside while my kids played. In bed at night. In the grocery line. In the bathroom between brushing my teeth and getting in the shower. I would sneak peeks under the dinner table, breaking my own No Phones at the Table rule.

Losing my extra appendage would be my opportunity to reform. Plus, I couldn’t bring myself to spend the hundreds of dollars to buy a new iPhone before my contract renews in April. I would go without.

Without a smartphone, at least. I have a tablet, so I can check my mail or Facebook or the weather or read my digital books on a handheld device. But here’s the difference: The tablet is too big to tuck into my pocket and carry around. It has its place and stays there. I am not tethered.

So at my son’s gymnastics class, I am cheering his attempt at a tuck on the rings instead of checking my phone. Outside while the kids play in the pool, I’m not leaning against the garage, reading my mail. I’m dunking my feet and splashing, soaking my pants, iPhone pocket and all.

I may go back to a smartphone, but a yearlong recess should be enough time to form a new habit: living crutch-free.

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