This post is not about farming. It's about focusing on what's important and being productive and mindful and present. All things that are required to succeed at farming and life in general so maybe it is about farming, in an indirect way.
This is also not a New Year's Resolution. Although it started only 10 days into 2018. I did not decide at the end of last year that on day one of 2018 I'd give up using a smartphone. But I did resolve to quit my iPhone not very far into the new year. So it is a resolution of sorts. Maybe I should make it a formal resolution. Maybe that would help solidify my resolve.
"Be it resolved that...
whereas, I have found it increasingly difficult to keep myself free from distraction
and whereas, I would like to have more time to be engaged with my family and friends
and whereas, I am striving to rearrange the neuron chains that have led me down a path of obsessively checking my email, news feed, weather, social media
and whereas, I am trying to be more mindful in all things
and whereas, the phantom phone vibrations I feel in my left leg, near my pants pocket is irritating my to no end,
that I will cease now and forever more to be obliged to carry around, take care of, dutifully keep charged at all times and be responsive to all notifications from my iPhone.
Signed this day....".
Maybe that helps. Time will tell.
This is also not a sermon. We're all adults and have to make our own choices in life. What hasn't worked for me, might be working just fine for you. As adults we have to take stock of our lives from time to time and at present, the stock I have taken is forcing me to make some choices. I'm far from perfect. That's not going to change. But maybe I can make a few changes that will redirect the ship, hopefully towards less unsettled waters. I'm not here to evangelize but maybe some of what I've been thinking about will ring true for you. Maybe it won't....
An Attempted Trip Down Social Media Lane
I know when the resolution to put down my iPhone first took hold. It was January 10. I had been off Facebook for a few years and had been taking a break from Instagram for several months when I accidentally opened the Instagram app on my iPhone. Once opened, I decided to take a look around. It had been a while. Maybe the feelings I had when I was using Instagram daily would have changed. Maybe I would not feel compelled to scroll through the feed multiple times each hour. Maybe I had grown in the time I'd taken off and could easily look at everyone else's posts and not be filled with a mix jealously and mild rage at how tidy, functional and curated everyone else's lives seemed, while I knew that my own real life was messy, unkempt and chaotic? So hopeful was my outlook when I accidentally re-opened the instagram app, that I actually took a few pictures and posted them. Seemed like a good idea. Engage with folks. Share.
Then the first "like" came in... and another one after that. And then a couple more. And before I knew what was happening I had spent the morning hours moving from task to task all the while stopping at 15 to 20 minute intervals to check my feed, see how many likes my pictures had received and who had given me those likes. And while I had the app open, why not get caught up with the feed? See what people are up to... and let the rage, jealousy and emptiness seep back in.
No, nothing had changed. Fear of Missing Out or feelings of inadequacy or just feeling bad, whatever it was, it was still there. I had not somehow evolved in the ensuing months since last using Instagram to be able to handle social media in any kind of productive way. I was still insecure, impulsive and obsessive, unable to moderate my use of the technology. The dopamine rush that social media provides proved all too alluring for me and I quickly realized that despite not being engaged in social media for a number of months, I had been finding other delivery methods for the dopamine rush.
First it was obsessively checking email. But I soon learned that I'm simply not important enough to make my inbox lively enough to provide any great rush. On a busy day I may get 10 emails... most of which do not require a response. But Apple News... now here was a thing that was always updating! Like a great endless dopamine fountain! I could check the headlines any hour of the day or night, close it up and open it again 5 minutes later and read a whole new set of headlines! There was always something new and exciting; a story that would remind me of a friend or family member and to whom I could, at the swipe of a finger, send the story to for their edification. "Saw this, thought of you." The perfect message to accompany a news piece that will likely never get read. And that in all likelihood, I only read the first few lines of anyway because, honestly, who has the time to read an entire news story on a smartphone?! You've got to get back to the headlines because something has surely happened since you were there last.
I started to realize that while I may have taken a break from social media, I had not gotten away from the thing I was really trying to take a break from: my addiction (there, I said it...) to my iPhone.
The TED talk that broke the camel's back
The day after my return to Instagram the elementary school our three kids attend had a two hour delay due to icy roads. After building a fire in the wood stove and brewing some coffee I sat down to enjoy the peace and quiet before the kids would be awake. Of course I turned to my phone to occupy the time. But instead of the emptiness of the Apple News feed, I typed "living without a smartphone" into Safari. The top search results were blog postings by people who had given up their smartphones. I read the top three results and was moved by what each of the stories told. They each described why they gave up their phones (tired of chasing the dopamine, not feeling engaged in their real lives, wanting more time for more meaningful activities, not wanting to be available 24-7, etc). Their stories also told about how they were able to live in the 21st century without a smartphone (dedicating certain specific hours to checking email, using paper day planners and remembering how to use a map or asking for directions when lost). Each story described how giving up a smartphone meant being more self-reliant, having to be better prepared, and being more present in all things. All of these parts of these individual stories (the why, the how and the results) were exactly the things I was looking for.
But it wasn't until I looked at the fourth result in my internet search that the die was truly cast. What finally moved me from idea to action was a YouTube video of a TED talk given by Anastasia Dedyukhina entitled "Could you live without a smartphone?" At over 18 minutes long and with my kids likely to be looking for breakfast at any moment, I was hesitant to start watching but I did anyway.
Her premise, which she lays out in the video in a delightfully heavy eastern European accent, is that we are far more addicted to our devices than we admit. And until we understand this, we can't move beyond them to become more productive and fulfilled. She advocates for keeping our devices out of sacred personal spaces like our bedrooms, bathrooms and diner tables, and for eliminating our use of them entirely if we can.
I won't repeat everything she says but it moved me to take action and if you're interested in cutting your ties with your smartphone (or even reigning in your use), I recommend given Anastasia's TED talk chance.
The Rugby Rises Again
I was able to watch the whole YouTube video before my kids woke up. And with a new sense of purpose and a mission to ditch my iPhone I quickly hatched a plan: I would dig out my 10 year old Samsung Rugby II flip phone, charge it up and see if it still worked. If it did, I'd take it with me when I left to do errands later that day and see if they could reactivate it for me at the AT&T store.
I quickly found the phone and to my great joy, after a minute on the wall charger it started right up! (The mere fact that I still had the phone, the wall charger AND the car charger all these years later and was able to find them within minutes of looking is another story altogether... sometimes it pays to be a packrat.) Later that morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I set out on my errands with my first stop being the AT&T store.
I have often found myself in comical situations with sales clerks. It's something I enjoy. Anytime I can bring a salesperson, what I consider an interesting request, I feel like maybe, in some small way, I've made what might be at times a boring job just a little more enjoyable. That day as I walked through the doors of the AT&T store, ready to start my new life without a smartphone, I felt that sense of joy. I was going to give the kid at the cellphone store something to tell his friends about.
And so I plopped my rugged old Rugby down on the shiny counter, surrounded by the latest in bible sized smartphones, VR glasses and smartwatches and told the kid behind the counter (he was maybe 20... or in other words, he was in 4th grade when my flip phone was born), "I'm done with my iPhone. I want to reactivate my old phone."
"Yup. I can't get anything done anymore and I just want something simple."
"Ok. Well, let's see if it works." He held down the power button and the Rugby chimed to life with a cool 'AT&T 3G' swooping graphic and unobtrusive low-fi sound effects.
"Cool graphics," the kid deadpanned. I wasn't sure if he was being ironic or sincere but the slowly creeping smile on his face gave away his enjoyment of the novelty of this unique sales situation.
Satisfied that it worked, he sold me a $5 SIM card, punched some buttons on his computer which adjusted my cell service agreement down to "basic", took off the insurance I was paying for (we insure our phones... that's how bad it's gotten) and asked me if I was sure about all this?
"I am. I'm done with smartphones," I told him.
"Ok. You're all set then." He smiled and handed me my new old phone.
I thanked him, flipped the phone closed with a satisfying clap and put it my pocket where it easily fit without me really knowing it was even in there. Which is exactly how I wanted my cellphone to be.
In Summing Up the Moral Scene...
There's more to say and I'll do my best to post again on how things are going living a life free of my iPhone. I'm hopeful that taking this step back in tech-time will allow me to have more of my day to dedicate to things that are meaningful. I'm hopeful it allows me the headspace to get real things done and end my days feeling like I've accomplished something and not just spent the hours scrolling and swiping, endlessly updating feeds and turning a never-ending hamster wheel of digital technology. But who knows, maybe in a few days I'll be back at the AT&T store asking the kid to reactivate my iPhone. I hope not.