Yes, it is possible to untether from your phone. But there are complicating factors. Image: Getty/Archi Banal

SocietyDecember 24, 2021

For three glorious days, I cured my phone addiction – and you can too

Yes, it is possible to untether from your phone. But there are complicating factors. Image: Getty/Archi Banal

A revolution is at your fingertips. It’s as simple as doing … nothing.

For a brief moment, I was free. After five months of lockdown, we left town this past weekend. It was just for a night, but it was necessary. Families reunited, kids seeing cousins, the summer waves beckoned. My phone, a constant companion this year, was firmly by my side. What if there was an omicron outbreak? We’d need to know.

Then it happened. Somewhere along State Highway 2, I streamed too many songs. The music died, so did my data plan. At first it was a hassle. I couldn’t use Google Maps to find my mate’s place. I couldn’t look at reviews for the restaurant we wanted to book for dinner. I couldn’t text or call anyone. My dopamine tap was turned all the way off.

Yet, burnt to a crisp while swimming in the waves at Mount Maunganui, the stank of the past five months slowly disappearing, I found a different kind of pleasure: peace. I no longer wanted my phone, because it was useless to me. No data means no Twitter. No Messenger. No Slack, no emails, no Facebook, no checking the news, no constant information overload.

The only thing washing over me were the waves. It was bliss.

I suddenly understood. Everyone’s tried everything. We’ve gone to extremes. Our phones are invading our lives, and we’re busy fighting back. We’ve left them on silent and turned off our notifications. We’ve cancelled our apps and downgraded our devices. We’ve snuck into our phone’s settings, attempted to hack them into weaning our brains off our addictions. We want out.

Yet we can’t cut the cord. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and a phonedemic. You only have to look at the noddies, heads down, thumbs flying, walking around the streets bashing obliviously into things, or commuters sitting at traffic lights, unable to sit still for a second, filling in time on their phones, to see that.

We need them for news updates, for food deliveries, for paying the bills. We use them for so much more. We turn to them to give us intimate moments, and use them during them. A recent poll found 40% of respondents checked their phones immediately after sex. Numbers went up to 50% for those who admitted to scrolling so long while on the toilet their butts went numb.

What’s the cure for sore thumbs and numb butts? Spinoff founder Duncan Greive made his phone grey and “boring”. Lorde did that too, but took another step, deleting all her posts, giving social media passwords to her friends, then deleting her browser. ““I would see my screen-time go to like, 11 hours and I knew it was just looking at the Daily Mail,” she told the New York Times. “So I just sort of chose.”

Spinoff writer Madeleine Holden tried so many things she ranked 10 of them. Ten! After a decade spent trialling many attempts at recovery, even she admits she’s still “moderately hooked”. What’s the point in fighting the ultimate foe? A phone loaded with apps run by powerful algorithms is as close as we’ve come to a direct portal to our base desires. The human brain wants likes. Then it needs them, and there’s no turning back.

Can anything compete against the ultimate dopamine hit? Possibly. Over the weekend, I think I found a better way. I refused to add more data. I threw my phone to the bottom of my bag. Sure, letting your data plan die isn’t as final as throwing your phone in the bin. Nor is it as cool as deleting your Facebook. But it works. At least, over the weekend, it worked for me.

It’s so simple. You just stop paying your phone bill.

After a full 48 hours outside of the feedback loop, I promised myself this was it. I’d found the answer. It would continue. I made a deal. I swore I could use my phone at home, at work, or wherever I had access to wifi and needed it. But, when I’m out, I’m in the world, exploring and experiencing the things I’m exploring and experiencing.

I’d even write a news story so I stuck to my plan. This is that story.

Then Monday happened. Back in Auckland, many kilometres from home, halfway through a late evening bike ride, a tyre blew out. In the fading light, my transportation now useless, I was stuck. I couldn’t call, couldn’t text, couldn’t ring for help. I also couldn’t add data to my phone. You need an internet connection for that.

No one knew where I was. I barely knew where I was. In fading light, I pounded the pavement on the bike path alongside Auckland’s northwestern motorway while pushing a bike with a flat tyre. I got laughs and strange looks. One kind rider offered me his puncture repair kit. I declined. I can’t fix a puncture at the best of times, let alone in the dark.

It took me more than 90 minutes to walk home. I have data on my phone now. It’s probably going to stay that way. But, next time you stream too many songs, try leaving your data plan dead for a few days and see if it suits you. After all, a little quiet is better than none.

Keep going!