Day One of not carrying a cellphone: addiction withdrawal

14 carries at least 3 devices with him: an iPhone for personal use, a crackberry for work, and the device he’s in charge of. His career has been a dream come true for boys who love their stuff. Our home is like a candy store for gadget-happy geeks. I, on the other hand, am what is called a late stage adopter — not because I don’t want a cool new gadget or that I resist change but I actually don’t care too much nor do I prioritize my spending towards that (massages, Marc Jacobs dress, or…).

High school trauma has been lived through, and I no longer need the coolest jeans or gadgets to get friends, get dates, or prove I’m cool because I’m content that I most likely am so not.  I like to be connected to people and events more than to a USB drive.  Or so I thought.

After accidentally leaving my cell at home one day, I saw that almost every pedestrian — and sadly, one too many drivers — was on the phone. That’s when I decided to go once a week without my cell phone.

The level of separation anxiety made me realize I was right in doing this.  Addiction is like a Ninja warrior:  so quickly, quietly and easily does it sneak up on you that by the time you notice, it’s too late.  It’s like the oil dependency. Or dogs or kids but in those two examples, what you get back often outweighs what you’ve given up.

me and my crackberry

I’m like an addict going through withdrawal.  That red blinking light whipped me like Pavlov’s dog.  I keep reaching for it like an amputee scratching a missing limb.  I think random phones ringing, which sound nothing like mine, could be mine.  When a colleague’s phone vibrated happily on her desk, I had what can only be described as a nostalgic pang. My fingers are lonely in my pockets.

I’m not discounting mobile phones for emergency usage: curfews missed, worried parents, worried children over aging parents, accidents on the road. I’m also not a tree hugger nor do I foo-foo technology (hurray for ever medical advancement! hurray for science!).  After all, my sacrifice is only once a week and not even for 24 hours.  I plan which day as per work considerations since on a personal level, anyone can reach me via landlines, Twitter, FB, skype, and one of four email accounts.

But here’s the thing:  it’s not vital; it’s not worth what we give up; and it most definitely is not a deterrant as fear advertising makes us think.  This morning, on public transport, I read a book — a physical book from the library — and stayed reading for the whole ride without having looked up anything on google or Wiki. I had to be prepared — wrote down directions — to go somewhere new.  When I couldn’t quite orient myself, I asked another person (gasp!).  I had to rely on memory (oh no she didn’t!!).

The Youtube Revolution

Societally, although the cell phone can be used effectively, such as in the case of Iran or the Haitian earthquake crisis, it’s another medium rather than a crucial component.  Social media fueled the former and cells were just another fundraising method for the latter.

On personal levels, there hasn’t been some rise in smarter or more well-adjusted teens because their parents knew where and how they were every second.  There has been no dramatic decrease in divorces because spouses are able to stay in touch all the time. Men aren’t suddenly communicating better.  By all studies, happiness in our society has actually gone down rather than up.

Professionally speaking, most people’s jobs, including mine, are not so important that they must always be on call.  Rare are the people who travel extensively or who have responsibilities with such serious consequences that immediate communication is vital, i.e. the Secretary of State.

In terms of social progress, the technology may be progressing but at what cost.  The joys and sorrows of life may be shared faster but the tragedies must still be borne, such as losses, death, regrets, breakups, or failures.  In fact, we may be less able to handle these harsher realities (see: 1993 ABC mini-series “Wild Palms”).  We may be more alienated.  After all, we still crave real connections and our 5,000 Facebook friends cannot replace the loving embrace and comfort of one true friend.  All this digital networking lulls us into thinking that we’re somehow immune to all this because we’re always plugged in.

Sound dramatic? Not if you see your hand quivering without your cell nearby.

A cell society changes society. There are positives, but let’s not brush away the negatives or put cell usage above things like courtesy and real connections and even our health as per this Harper’s article.

We’re paying less attention to the ones we’re with as we text about some later plan with someone else.  Social calendars have suddenly become too full; we’re all far too busy to just spend time with the person in front of us.  Punctuality is no longer a virtue if you can just text or call to explain away tardiness or worse, cancel as someone waits for you (I recall a half hour at a Samovar waiting to meet someone for the first time. Something about a stray cat but minus cell phones, would that have been an option?).

And what are we waiting for when we cling to our cells? A text or call from someone out of the blue to say our lives are to be changed?  How else to explain the compulsive need to constantly look at a cell when one is not expecting a call…nothing so new except the same old human hopes: I got his/her love! I got the job (even if I didn’t apply)! I got money!  Though, it should be pointed out that phones have ringers.

One disadvantage however,  is that on a landline, I can’t disengage from conversations I otherwise don’t want with a good excuse, like “the connection’s bad” or, for those with iPhones, “my call must have dropped!”

Now, I have to go and catch up on some voicemail!



  1. This is genius!!!! Leaving your cell phone at home for one day a week–what a frightfully brilliant idea. I don’t know how you survived. I wouldn’t even know what hour it was without mine, much less where I was going. Technology is making me so dumb! Can’t wait to hear more about your experience with this experiment. I’m so excited to tune in next week!

  2. Good point. I follow Leo Babauta’s blog ( Here’s one I like called “You need less than you think.”

    Another consequence of mobile addiction and (mostly) terrible battery life. Being close to a power outlet now determines (some of) our choices – should we take a car (where there is a power outlet) or public transportation (where there isn’t)? Should we go on that hike where we’ll be out of coverage or should we stay indoors? Should we sit at a restaurant at the airport or should we get some fast food so we can go find a power outlet to plug into?

  3. Anjali Khawaja

    Great points to ponder! Your comment, “That red blinking light whipped me like Pavlov’s dog”, had me laughing – I know EXACTLY what you mean! I have never purposely been without my Blackberry, but when the rare negligence happens and I find myself without my lil loyal gadget, I do get apprehensive because suddenly I remember Murphy’s Law – that anything that could possibly go wrong with work, my family, my friends, my Life, it’ll all happen precisely during the time my Blackberry and I are apart. I then have to remind myself that many moons ago, when I was gadget/mobile free, nothing catastrophic ever happened, all remained suprising well/okay….which makes me wonder whether this 24/7 relationship with my Blackberry isn’t really more about making me feel important/needed/valuable, than any actual necessity that my personal and professional life really demands (note: “demand” as opposed to “preference”, some people have jobs that demand the constant, reliable contact, but I really think for many, it’s not a demand but more just an assumed preference). So, for me, a question that pops up is what human/physiological needs does this act of constant “availablity” feed?

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