This post goes out to the kind people over at /r/NoSurf in reply to my post living without a cellphone from 17-22 years old, but also to any of you reading who are trying to reduce screen time.
If you’re reading this then you’re already on a good path – it means you’re ready to integrate further steps and have the desire to change.
Since we’re all very different psycho-physiologically, I’ll give some backstory about myself to set the stage. Skip to the section ‘Getting rid of the phone’ to hop forwards if you like.
Since 6 years old I was gaming – RuneScape in particular. Plenty of PS2, a flip phone in 8th grade, PS3 and PC gaming, and then a smartphone in high school. I really loved the latest and greatest tech be it a 41mp Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone or GTX 680 graphics card. It made consumption all the easier. I was on my phone on every bus ride, lunch break, morning, and evening.
After a series of accidental fortunes, my phone broke and I ended up without one for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into years and subsequent rewiring of my brain (to a degree).
An element of challenge, I actually moved overseas and started living in the Netherlands just 2 months into my no-phone life. Being in a foreign country without a smartphone sounds like lunacy, eh? I’ll cover how I coped for the last handful of years without a smartphone.
Getting rid of the phone
You can either go cold turkey or taper off – there is no best way and I’ll share just the methods which I used or suggest.
Step 1: The dopamine
Obviously, the phone is such a source of dopamine and positive feedback loops. It’s incredible at that – phone in one and hand and dick in the other; the notification dings, vibrational buzzes, and (1) red notification blips are astonishingly good at delivering that subtle yet powerful hit of dopamine. Studies on neurology of addcition prove this too.
Disable notifications! Always set your phone to silent (except for emergency contacts), go into settings, and disable homescreen notifiations. Don’t allow Youtube or Instagram to trigger your pleasure centers on command – do it on your own will!
Greyscale mode! I actually didn’t know about this until a few days ago from the people at /r/NoSurf. Wow how amazing! This helps to create a dull and less enticing environment for our minds and reducing that dopaminergic action. Outbound links on how to greyscale mode Windows 10 and Android/iOS. Thanks /r/NoSurf, this tip is excellent!!
Step 2: Substitute
Okay so my phone disappeared but I remained online with my computer. I still browsed Facebook, still hit up YouTube, and still surfed Reddit. You can still do this if you like, however it’s important to use a new medium to do such.
Doing this will break the mental association of cell phone > browsing > dopamine. Yes, you’re still browsing and wasting time, but you’re importantly and slowly breaking the phone habit itself.
Are there any important applications on your phone which you need? Banking, communication, etc? Load these onto your computer or laptop and begin to use those there. I’ll get into all the intricacies of communication and Google Maps stuff in the later sections.
Step 3: Removal
This is the utmost difficult step. How do you get rid of it? Do you just break it? Maybe sell it. Or keep it with the battery drained in a hard to reach place or at a friends house.
Honestly, this will have to be on your own discretion and free will – your circumstance are different and you need to brainstorm your own idea.
In my case, it was through fortunate mistake. I broke my phone screen and motherboard, waited for parts to arrive to fix it (which never did come), and then accidentally made it a couple months without a phone. I then fell in love with the idea.
What about apps, maps, and communication?
Lets start with maps, shall we? This is a fun one and a bit of a challenge but excellent brain training. Extra challenge: I moved to the Netherlands 2 months in and was in a completely foreign place. If stupid 18 years old me could do this, you definitely can.
Living without Google Maps and navigation
You’re going to be forced to develop better orientation skills and an internal compass. As a result my navigation skills are now above average.
Initially I would screenshot the places where I would need to go on my laptop/tablet. I would find a WiFi network, screenshot the route, and then study/memorize it with 30 seconds of effort.
I would take notes like ‘after 3 blocks turn right, two blocks then left‘. I would short form this and write 3L, 14R, 1R, which translates to 3 blocks then turn left, 14 blocks then turn right, 1 block turn right. This worked surprisingly well and I learnt to trust myself.
Also, just ask someone! Trying to find a nearby store? Find the nearest old person and ask them – they’ve likely lived in that area for a very long time and know it like the back of their hand. They’ll be so glad you asked because no one ever does anymore and they’re happy to share knowledge.
“Excuse me, where is the <store name>?“
It’s really that simple. As someone who literally never talked to strangers, I began developing social skills – something we’re all becoming very bad with as a result of social media. Who knows, they might just offer you a job because you struck up a conversation (true story). Employers are extremely glad to hire someone who won’t be distracted on the clock.
So – take screenshots or write down on a piece of paper where you’re going. Add street names, do a system like 3L, 14R, 1R, and develop your navigation skills. I went from meh to adept in a rather short timeframe.
Living without messaging services
How do you meet your friends? How do you stay in touch? Well, it’s not as easy, but it’s very straightforward.
All my messaging and communication is at home. I still use Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, and e-mail. Necessary evils, I haven’t deleted these apps because that’s how friends and family communicate. If I’m going to meet someone, I tell them the place and time.
You very quickly realize who is flakey and who is real. I always did it akin to this:
“hey I’ll be at this bridge at 3:00, I have no phone or service, here’s a map link: <www.url.map.link2314. See you soon :)> “
If you make plans with someone for 3:00 at the water fountain downtown, they’ll either be there or not. I always expect +- 15 minutes because who knows with traffic and whatnot. If the person doesn’t show up after 30 minutes I hope they’re okay and find out afterwards if they’re a real person or not. This is an excellent ‘filter’ if you will to discover who values you as a friend/partner.
Yes, you’ll sometimes be waiting – this is a good chance to think about your day, look around and observe the environment, and even go into philosophical life thought. These moments of stillness and waiting can be very productive.
To date I’ve met hundreds of people for classifieds, dates, friends, etc. Even travelling around Poland, Denmark, Croatia – this was all without a phone. Just some screenshots, written notes, and in-person communication.
You can do your banking online, do not worry. A camera? Perhaps consider a retro film-roll camera or a pocketable digital camera! These actions will be more meaningful, believe me. Does TikTok or Instagram actually benefit life? I quickly discovered that 95% of people don’t care about you, and that’s okay!
I’m an audio junkie so I always had my own MP3 player for music. Excellent audiophile-grade ones are around $100 (Hidizs AP-80) and good ones less than $50. I like listening to full albums rather than just random suggested songs, though I will agree that Spotify and Soundcloud are pretty great.
Re-integration with a phone
It was a while before I got a phone again. I was in an airport without my laptop and had to get to a CouchSurf in Denmark. I didn’t have the number or directions or screenshots so I bought a cheapo $70 shitbox, which was excellent! It loaded maps, allowed me to send basic messages, and that’s it!
Maybe consider an e-ink phone, flip phone, or half decade old shitbox. I had my airport Archos Neon 8F for a while before getting an LG G5 for $60. It takes amazing photos, is 5 years old, and does anything and everything I could need it to. I hardly use it, don’t bring it shopping or when meeting friends, or any of that.
The long term effects
You’ll very quickly realize when you’re around other people how trained we are towards using these devices. Like clockwork, people in bars, club, café, trains – we’re trapped in this non-stop loop of constant stimulation. Waterproof phones so we can scroll in the shower. Huge batteries and giant 6.5″ 120Hz displays for the perfect dopamine trap. Dick in one hand, phone in the other.
My attention span improved, I began having much healthier self-talk, and delved into many more philosophical ideas. The time spent looking out the window is not time wasted – your mind will develop a stronger imaginations, social skills will improve, and you might get better at navigating!
I became far more confident in myself as a result of not spoiling my mind with highlightgram. Funny enough, I’ve now re-downloaded Instashit but with trying to share, not to enact jealousy.
Go cold turkey or taper off slowly. Disable notifications. Go greyscale on your tech. Start writing notes, screenshotting maps, and learning who values your companionship. Maybe sell your phone or break it symbolically – do whatever floats your gloats.
Long term benefits are amazing and social skills develop slowly. Your physiology will begin to re-wire itself slowly but surely. Less distractions, more thinking, more focus. ADHD is developed via habit rather than innate genetics.
I’m many years down this road and still trying to cut down on social media. I want to consume less and create more, hence this blog which I started a few months ago. A lot of what’s on this site is shitposts and such for search engine optimization, though I’m trying to authentically share life. I will very infrequently send e-mail updates of my thoughts, quality articles, and adventures. You may sign up to receive non-spam updates down below.
Thanks very much for reading and if you have thoughts or criticisms I’m very happy to hear! Peace.