Challenge Accepted: How Jack White Inspired Me to Cut Down My Phone Use

Is it liberating to be away from your phone?
Photo by Hugh Han.

I've been spending extra time lately thinking about my relationship with my phone. These days, I expect that most of us are at least a little bit troubled with how we use these devices and the never-ending pull they have on our minds.

I used to refer to it as an addiction, but I've realized that is the wrong word. It's not an addiction because when I am away from my phone, aside from that initially uncomfortable feeling of "something's missing", I don't feel any kind of withdrawal. Instead, I mostly feel relief. Freedom. I love going places where I can't use my phone - it's so liberating.

So I've been thinking of it more like a compulsion. If my phone is present, I pick it up without even thinking about it. I don't decide to look at my phone, I just find myself doing it, compulsively. If it's not there, I'm free. Sometimes, I don't even miss it at all.

That's why I loved this article about a Jack White concert where people were barred from using their phones in the concert hall.

First of all, the solution to cut people off from their phones was so elegant: each person's phone went into a neoprene pouch that was locked. They kept the pouch and if they ever needed to use their phone, they simply stepped out into the hallway where it could be unlocked, used, and then locked away before re-entering the concert itself.

What a simple solution to remove phones without actually taking them away from people!

While I know that taking photos has been linked with people actually enjoying an experience more, I also know the feeling of wanting to get the best shot of the band I'm seeing: reaching for my phone with a level of franticness with each cool new lighting effect, wondering if somehow this time my plastic rectangle will be able to capture the effect even though every other photo was sub-par.

This kind of photo-taking is part of an overall attempt to optimize everything about an experience that is just exhausting. It's like watching a movie with the person who won't stop fiddling with the sound balance on the TV. At some point, their attempt to make things better is just ruining it. Sit down, watch the movie. Stand there, watch the band.

Of course, the photo-taking isn't really the main problem. The problem is that when you take out your phone to take a photo, you think about where you might post it. You scroll back through and evaluate the quality of your photos, wondering if a different angle would be better. You see that your friend texted and reply. You compulsively open Facebook or Instagram or a news app or your email, not because you chose to, but simply because that's what your hands do when they are holding your phone.

If this only happened in concerts that would be one thing. It happens in life. For me, it's especially a problem when I am only loosely engaged in a thing I'm doing. When I am spending quality time with friends, for example, my phone is almost always out of sight. When I am at work, however, it is right next to me and I pick it up every single time my mind wanders, without even thinking about it.

So here is my challenge to myself: inspired by Jack White, I am going to find ways to make it just a little bit harder to use my phone.

Possible methods include leaving it in my jacket or purse (instead of on the desk next to me) and keeping my phone charger in a different room from where I am working.

Honestly, I only expect this to last for so long, but I am really interested to see how often I decide it's worth it to walk over to my jacket and get my phone out of my pocket. I am also interested to see what I do when my mind wanders instead of looking at my phone.

Let the phone-avoidance challenge begin!

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  1. I can't remember where I read it, but I read an article that suggested if you want to pick up your phone less, put your main apps (especially social media things) on screens where you can't see them right away. So on an iphone, you want to put them into a folder and on the second page, making it take more intention to get to each of them. I tried it and I think maybe it's helping? It's hard to tell since my relationship to my phone is very different when I'm unemployed than it was when I was working.

    1. I have tried that, too! I found it helpful when it comes to thinking twice before I open a social media app, but it doesn't stop my hands from picking up my phone in the first place!