What I learned from an experiment of not using a phone or tablet device for several days.
Take away my phone. It won't bother me.
In my last column, I wrote about the excessive amount of mobile devices my family and I took on our recent vacation and it got me thinking: what would my life be like without a phone and an iPad for a few days?
Well, I'm writing this column so I obviously survived the experiment. I'm also happy to report that I did not break out into hives, get lost, or forget to do anything more than what I normally forget to do.
There was a funny hiccup though. I don't even own an alarm clock anymore because I have children. With summer here, however, they tend to stay up a little later and sleep in a little longer. So, on the days when I do have to wake up particularly early, I set the alarm on my phone. Not a big deal, but during my "experiment" my wife had an early flight and even if we were able to dig up an old alarm clock, it wouldn't have been much help because a car decided to hit a power pole near our house and took out the neighborhood. My phone was off, but luckily my wife set her phone alarm, otherwise she might have missed her flight.
The biggest issue presented by living without a cellphone, however, was that it killed my planned spontaneity. A total oxymoron, I know, but I've already confessed in a previous column that I'm not a plan-ahead type of guy and my mobile often bails me out. I like to do things like take my daughters to a movie, but tend not to think about it until we are already out of the house. I could, of course, just show up at the theater with my 4- and 6-year-olds and hope there is something appropriate to see, but that is generally a bad idea. I could stop while I'm out and buy a newspaper, but I'm not my father. So, without my phone I really had to plan ahead.
The other planned spontaneity issue was the weather. In Atlanta, we've had a couple weeks of pretty significant rainfall. Lately, the sky goes from being fairly clear one minute and then opens up a deluge the next. So again, I had to have plans with back-up options in case the weather didn't cooperate. While these are hardly insurmountable issues and some of my family and friends would probably encourage a little planning ahead on my part, they are annoyances that modern technology has all but taken away.
All of the pre-planning also caused the realization that I am barely on my computer on the weekends. The combination of my iPad and mobile make it so I often go the entire weekend without ever taking my laptop out of my bag.
Another problem I noticed was actually related to being more fiscally responsible. Without my mobile I wasn't able to tap into Foursquare and Scoutmob deals or compare prices on items I was thinking about purchasing at brick-and-mortar stores.
However, the biggest issue of not having my phone with me was the inability to document and share experiences in real time with family and friends. We have a camera, but these days it is rarely used in favor of our phones, and the majority of my social posting is capturing the moment. Since our immediate families all live 500+ miles away, social networks have allowed us the ability to share our day-to-day lives, but I've found that if I don't post a photo or a comment at the time something is happening I will rarely go back and post something about it later.
Overall, the downsides were not too bad. If I was traveling or had a work emergency I might have had other issues. What I gained from being unplugged, though, far exceeded any of the above drawbacks.
Without my phone I noticed that my technology-induced ADD was placated and I could actually focus on conversations, finish a thought, and just enjoy hanging out. Without the device in my hand I didn't have a constant need to check a score, go on a social network, read email, or play a game. In fact, I did play games, actual board and physical card games, and, even better, my kids didn't argue over who got to play their games on my phone.
This year I made a New Year's resolution to pull myself away from Google Reader and read actual physical books. I started strong, but have quickly fallen off the wagon. The removal of the iPad and phone was a great way to reinvigorate my reading and bring back a little balance.
I love technology (and they will have to rip my mobile phone from my cold, dead hands), but giving it up on my terms, in small doses was very nice - I highly recommend it.
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As digital experience director at JWT Atlanta, Paul drives digital strategy and user experience for clients including U.S. Marine Corps, FEMA, Shell, Jiffy Lube, Transamerica, and U.S. Virgin Islands across the digital spectrum of web, mobile, social, gaming, and media. His passion for the space and his ability to translate current trends into marketing applications helps the brands that he works with stay at the forefront of innovation. His team leads the digital activation process across all clients from inception through the creative execution process to reporting.
Paul is a Chicago native who has led JWT's digital efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Prior to joining JWT he worked with several leading agencies in Southern California where he led digital initiatives for clients including Anheuser-Busch, Sony Pictures, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Sprint/Nextel, and Symantec.
Paul currently lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.
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