The Psychology of Being Without a Cell Phone

picture of an iphoneTwo weeks ago my iphone was stolen (or I might have lost it —  I’m still not sure). I’ve been fascinated by the psychology of what it felt like to not have a cell phone.

Of course, there was a time when no one had cell phones — It’s hard to remember these days, but I actually spent a large part of my life without a cell phone. You would never have known that by my initial reaction. I was in the Schaumburg, Illinois Ikea store when I realized that I didn’t have my phone. I had made a call from the store, so I knew I’d had the phone went I went in, but it was now gone. I searched all over the store to all the places I had been (it’s a big store and I had been in the store for over an hour). I checked with the customer service desk to see if anyone had turned in a phone. No luck.

Panic and powerlessness — As I reluctantly walked out of the store I felt both panicked and powerless. Was my phone in the store somewhere? Had it been stolen? Should I stay until I found it?  I was on my way to someone’s apartment in Chicago, and the plan was that I was supposed to call her when I was close. But now I couldn’t call. What if she wasn’t there, because she was out running errands waiting for my call? Not only could I not call her, I had lost my map app. What if I couldn’t remember how to get to the apartment? What if I had a flat tire (if you read my blog you know that recently happened). I could feel my heart racing. I took a deep breath to calm myself down as I pulled out of the parking lot of Ikea. I had been to the apartment several times, I was fairly confident I could find it. Plus I realized I had my iPad which has the same map app, so I was fine there. And if I had a flat tire or an emergency I’d figure it out at that time. I made it to the apartment, and the person I was meeting was there. First crisis averted.

From panic to peace — What was most interesting, though, was what happened over the next 4 days. I didn’t have a cell phone. I was visiting with family and friends. I relaxed. No one could reach me, no one from work would call while I was with my family. I couldn’t check my emails. I couldn’t call anyone else. I found that I was “in the present’ more. I had to commit to a particular plan of action, and couldn’t change my mind, call someone and change our plans. You would think that all that opportunity to change your mind would put you “in the present”, but I found it was the opposite. I had to commit to a course of action, but once I did that I let go of all the mental chatter about possibilities, changes, decisions, and just experienced the present moment. If I really needed to make a call everyone around me had a phone, but I found that I didn’t even need or want to use anyone’s phone.

I reluctantly buy a temporary phone — I decided that if my iphone wasn’t turned in by Sunday night then I would go buy a no-contract, very inexpensive “temporary” phone (until the new iphones come out.. .a wait of a few weeks). When it was time to go buy this temp phone I found I was reluctant to do so. I didn’t really want a phone, but felt like I should have one for the drive back home from Chicago to Wisconsin. So I purchased a Net 10 no contract service and an LG phone.

Net 10 almost a flawless user experience — To activate the no-contract phone took about 3 minutes and was an easy and usable process and website. Wow, you rarely hear me say that!

(What to do BEFORE you lose or phone or it’s stolen) — Here’s an aside. I found out after I lost the phone that there are simple (and free) things you can do to protect your phone, your email, your passwords, and your data in the event your phone is lost or stolen. I didn’t realize this and I hadn’t done any of those things! Don’t be like me.

New iPhone on its way — Today I (along with probably millions of others) ordered an iPhone4. Everyone is oohing and aahing about this phone, but I am reluctant.  My days of no (or at least, limited), cell phone interruptions will be over. I’m thinking of having some cell phone moratoriums — days when I turn off my cell phone and go back to that living-in-the-present mindset.

————————————————————————————-

Did you find this post interesting? If you did, please consider doing one or more of the following:

add your comment
subscribe to the blog via RSS or email
sign up for the Brain Lady newsletter
share this post

100 Things You Should Know About People: #36 -- People are Inherently Lazy
100 Things You Should Know About People: #35 -- People Make Mistakes

20 Replies to “The Psychology of Being Without a Cell Phone”

  1. I know exactly what you mean. I switch my phone off at the beginning of a holiday and get really nervous the first two days because I could miss out on all kinds of things. But as that feeling slowly fades away, I start relaxing.

    Last time I came back from a holiday without tv, news, pc or phone I even had a little trouble remembering how to do some steps of my everyday technological life. I think of it as a reset button for my mind. I do usability work, so taking a step back every now and then is vital.

    PS: I love your blog, and recommend it to everybody around me!

  2. Just last week my wife and I rode bikes down to the beach. I was 90% sure I put my phone (Verizon Droid) in my pocket, but when we got to the beach my pocket was empty. Same with me, I started to quietly panic. I wasn’t sure if I actually brought the phone or if it fell out of my pocket. On the ride home I was visualizing the phone getting run over by cars, crushed into pieces. There was also the thought of all my information, emails and financial apps being sorted through by anyone who picked up the phone. I started to list all the passwords I’d have to change… No matter though, my phone was on my desk at home.

    @NathanRKing

  3. Isn’t it more important to reach an understanding about oneself and one’s cell phone that you can own a cell phone and make the choice to turn it off or make it unavailable at certain times? Cell phones are pretty damn useful – the point is to be of a mind where you know the situations when its effects are deleterious and counter them.
    .-= Eric Mill´s last blog ..First And Primary =-.

  4. “I found that I was “in the present’ more. I had to commit to a particular plan of action, and couldn’t change my mind, call someone and change our plans. You would think that all that opportunity to change your mind would put you “in the present”, but I found it was the opposite.”

    I’ve also found that severing digital connections strengthens connections to “real” people and to the present.

    Several theories:
    1) People are only capable of a limited number of social connections whether they’re digital or physical.
    2) Being connected to imaginary places is taxing on short term memory and awareness, leading to a diluted sense of present place.
    3) Humans get satisfaction out of mastering a new tool/skill. When old skills (such as actually talking to people to ask for directions) are unused for so long a similar satisfaction is achieved.

    Are you aware of any cognition studies about this type of digital connectedness? It’s a fascinating topic, especially considering how recent the concept is in terms of human evolution.

    I think you have a great idea about taking a “vacation” to the present. Vacations are great for experiencing the world in a different way from our stale (yet comfortable) daily routine. It keeps the mind sharp.

  5. It is during times like these that we realize our dependence on technology. Yesterday there was a thunderstorms in my county and the electricity was flaking; for a moment I was scared that I would be without power and Internet. I had my smartphone, but what if the cell phone tower was knocked out. It made me feel powerless.

    I agree that living without a cellphone would make you feel more present and have a more organized day. I wonder if some of that benefits can be gained by just switching from a smartphone to a “dumb” phone.

  6. “(What to do BEFORE you lose or phone or it’s stolen) — Here’s an aside. I found out after I lost the phone that there are simple (and free) things you can do to protect your phone, your email, your passwords, and your data in the event your phone is lost or stolen. I didn’t realize this and I hadn’t done any of those things! Don’t be like me.”
    What are those thinks you should have done?

  7. Talk about a Love & Hate-relationship! I just recently realised I am a BIG iPhone-addict. And now I am trying to find new ways to relate to my gadget(s). I love the freedom it provides when I can have all this information right in my hand – but I hate that I have become dependent, I feel “naked” if I leave my house without my iPhone!

    I think that in the years to come we will find new ways to coexist with all this technology – and I think personally I will learn to “let go”….

  8. Detailed overview you provide of stages of phone loss crises is valuable: awareness, realization, action steps, reflection and lessons learned, then a bonus for us as you share it. Thanks. I’ve gone through these stages with lost mobile phones, keys, iPods, and you name it with my family members. Interestingly, I find using a mobile device helps me be more effective in the present, because I have access to the past through my directories, calendars, and logs. My mind needs the memory aid. Another thing that gives me peace of mind is to prepare ahead of time with an inexpensive identification and recovery service from imhonest dot com. It’s great for reclaiming lost gadgets, and suffering the disruption of a panicked family member. Works based on honesty.

  9. Hi.

    Nice blog. I am enjoying it.

    I’m in my early to mid-40s and have never owned a mobile phone. I’m looking at purchasing one now simply because job recruiters expect me to be available at all times. That is one of the reasons I’ve resisted purchasing one for so long. I want a clear distinction between myself and other environments such as work, family, and often, time. Of course there are other things that have tipped the cost/benefit balance to the costs side, but the expectation of constantly being available and not being in the present is the biggest issue to me.

    I must definitely be in the minority.

    Thanks again for your blog. I’ll look for your book when I scrape some pennies together.

  10. I think I found your iphone at ikea — found one in the spring of 2010 while I was there and turned it into the lady at the checkout — long time ago, but whatever….

    1. Really? That’s interesting. Do you remember what cover the phone had? do you remember the approximate date?

  11. sorry — haven’t commented back in forever. I found the iphone in the warehouse area in ikea when I was looking for a tabletop I wanted. If I remember correctly, it had a case on it that looked like football or basketball texture.

  12. Now days, no one can live without their cell phones. The most basic benefit of a cell phone for which most of us use it is that we can stay connected with our loved ones in any part of the world and anytime. Gone are the days when we used to stand in queues to make an STD or ISD calls. You can talk to your loved ones staying even seven seas far with cell phones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *