This is a small reprise and rewrite of an earlier piece, but with all the smart phone articles coming out, it’s worth some more thought.
“Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper” John Prine famously sang in 1971. Instead of following his advice, we created devices that could be our papers, our televisions, our offices, and our brains, all-in-one. And we found a way for those all-in-one devices to fit into our pockets so we could have them with us everywhere. While not as lyrical, today Prine could sing, “Blow up your smart phone.”
That’s what I did. (Metaphorically. Please don’t blow anything up).
As someone who works remotely from home, from coffee shops, from lobbies, and from a myriad of other places with decent internet, the single best decision I’ve made to be productive and keep my cutting-edge creativity, was to never buy a smart phone.
In the time it’s taken me to write these two paragraphs, I’ve received a half-dozen emails, and twice as many alerts from LinkedIn and Facebook. Without a smart phone, I don’t get those constant beeps letting me know some mildly important task needs my attention. My mind is free to think, work, and focus on the most important task at-hand.
Why don’t I just shut my alerts off?
That piece of advice is written into every article published in every major news publication about our bad habits with smart phones: Breaking Up With Your Phone
The concept of “shutting it off when I want,” is similar to my high school friends who started smoking and then were in a constant, “I’m quitting” cycle. Despite the warnings, they kept buying cigarettes and kept smoking. Smart phones are the new cigarettes: irrefutable evidence that they cause addiction and anxiety, yet we are still attached to them constantly, often unconsciously.
Instead of ‘just trying it once,” I never started smoking, and I never started using a smart phone.
But what about checking for traffic? Or email access when there’s no internet?
Neither of these have every really been an issue. I am generally able to check for traffic before leaving for an appointment or the best route between meetings before the travel day starts. Remember that most necessary apps on your phone were originally a program on a desktop that you can still access on a website. And if your phone works, there’s likely internet available in a 5-minute radius. If there’s not, kudos to you, you’ve found a place to truly disconnect and experience the world.
I’m not meaning to be self-righteous, that’s not the point of this piece.
My single most important creative tool as a writer, designer, strategist, and leader is the ability to observe my surroundings. If I’m distracted and staring down at a 3″ screen, texting, looking up an obscure question I randomly thought about, or responding to emails that continually come in, I would miss the world around me. My work depends on seeing the world, making connections, identifying opportunities, and catching those glimmers of innovation and creativity in the everyday.
Like me, maybe something that everyone is doing is actually something you don’t need. Maybe it’s time to blow up your smart phone, or some other courageous action that will make your creative life even better.