Last month, I was heading to the airport and my taxi hit a severe spot of traffic. My mind was entirely focused on making my flight, and I imagined the upset faces of my family members should I have missed my cousin’s wedding! As I raced out of the taxi upon arriving to the terminal, my phone slipped out of my pocket and I was blissfully unaware of it, until I searched for it to send a text to my girlfriend.
I filed a report, called it numerous times, tried the “Find Your iPhone” app, essentially everything, to no avail. Needless to say, I enjoyed my phone-free weekend in the Norwegian woods, but now, how was I going to come back to the madness of NYC, meetings and all, without my mobile?
Before this all happened, I had read about the harmful Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s) emitted from mobile phones, and how these impulses may affect our well-being. In fact, there have been done a lot of studies around this subject and according to World Health Organization, “the electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Since we only have had mobile phones around for, say 15 years, we have not really known the long term effects of habitual mobile phone usage, until now. Recently a research about the short and longterm effects of habitual EMF exposure from mobile phones was conducted by the Southwest University in China and Department of Neurology at Harvard Medical School – WHAT EXACTLY DID THEY FIND?
Taking it a step further, our phones, and specifically “smart” phones, are filled with various social media apps – designed to stay connected, but at the same time, these bite-sized bits of information and insta-gratification has led to habitual usage, consequently causing the gray matter in our brains to shrink! This gray matter is what converts information back and forth in the nervous system (almost like the wires between your TV and stereo speaker system). Smart phones may mean stupid(er) people.
Let’s take a moment here to let that sink in.
As that reality soaks in and I think of the incessant and permeative nature of phones, I can’t help but think about how I curbed my addiction to… coffee! Being a hospital doctor, and working long, hectic nightshifts, coffee is one thing that you rely on significantly. So, I decided to try and experiment and see how long I could go without coffee. Now this proved to be tougher than expect, and I often experienced headaches and fatigue at first, but soon enough my body got used to this change. I will occasionally drink a cup of good quality espresso, especially when we are traveling to places like Puerto Rico and Italy, when we get to try some local, specific flavors, and I have also switched over to tea, mostly caffeine-free.
In general, I believe that if you think you absolutely can’t live without something, then you should actually challenge it and see if and how you can do it.
Let’s go back to cell phones.
While I am an MD, as I mentioned, I am also a Qi Gong master. My extensive practice has made me quite sensitive to the various electromagnetic pulses that surround me, and I do try and moderate my usage of my laptop, TV and cell phone.
But now, I was totally phone-less… so how long could I possibly make this last?
At first, I thought of running to the first mobile shop to buy the latest iPhone (pre X), but then I paused for a moment, and applied that same challenge in this case. I decided that I would do this for an entire month!
The first day of being phone-less, I had a realization while taking the subway. Although, most of the people there were on their phones, I really got to pay attention to the people around me. My memory raced back to my first trip to New York, when I was about 16. We were taking the subway to head over to Times Square to see a Broadway show. There was bustle and chatter amongst the passengers. The man next to me was the chattiest of the lot and asked me questions on where I was from, my trip and such, and soon more people joined in the conversation. I thought that New Yorkers were the warmest, most curious people I had ever encountered!
Back to 2017. As the train stalled between stations, without an announcement, people started to look up from their screens, but their faces were shrouded in annoyance. After five minutes of uncomfortable shifting, the train lurched forward, and people, like clockwork, looked down at their phones and their thumbs were back at work. I felt a small knot of sadness; that technology while it’s incredibly important and ubiquitous, and has allowed us to be more efficient, has also taken away a piece of our offline human connections.
While I didn’t have a phone, I did rely on my laptop. I could still email, send iMessages and make local and international phone calls. I created my own phone-free plan for the day: Before I left for meetings, I would have to Google the best route, and map it out on a Post-It, and then I would write down the phone numbers of who I needed to meet, just in case. I would send them a text that I was on my way, with an approximate time, and then I would set off. Now if my train was running late, or my Uber was in traffic, well, there was nothing I could really do about it. Perhaps it’s a good thing I tend to leave quite early!
This is how we used to live in the 80s, even the 90s, I thought. It made me actually appreciate the time I was growing up, where we didn’t have technology all around us, and this is what the month felt like to me. While phones do allow us to be accessible, we take it a step further and expect quick responses. We all know the predicament of the three dots that imply that someone is responding, and that moment of doubt and strangeness when nothing comes through.
Without my phone, I found myself adopting a more advanced state of being present, understanding people and culture in an observational way, and also feeling secure in my own ability to entertain myself. I was surprised that I didn’t feel bored. I could observe the sky, passing cars, find music in the cacophony of New York, and find comfort in plans with people who wouldn’t change them.
After one month, I decided to get an iPhone. To be honest, I was tempted to get a flip-phone, and maybe I’ll go back to this. But what I did decide to do is keep the bedroom phone-free. Our phones tend to be the first and last thing we touch when we wake up and as we go to bed, and a recent research by Murdock University in Perth shows how detrimental it was for mental health to have mobile phone inside the bedroom.
Now, what about an alarm? Well, get an actually alarm clock or consider a waking lamp. We have electronic renditions of birds on our phone alarms, but perhaps we could actually wake up to the sounds outside our apartments.
So there, I survived. And I’m better for it, and I would say that while it was indeed a challenge, especially in a city like New York, where we are bombarded with meetings and plans for dinner, that it made me learn more about myself than I expected. And I actually got to learn more about New York in the process.