Law in the Internet Society

Diminishing the Role of my Phone in my Life

-- By GregorySuhr - 02 Jan 2018

Physical Separation

In my previous draft, I discussed how my iPhone had become a mental drain. When it is on my person, I cannot focus in any meaningful way, whether I am actively using it or expending cognitive effort to leave it in my pocket. Professor Moglen suggested that I leave it at home for several days at a time and write this draft from the perspective of someone actively trying to change. That is what I did. From December 1st through December 20th, I left my phone on my desk at home. I left home at roughly 8 AM every morning, and returned at 8 PM at night, all while being at least three blocks separated from my cell phone. Despite a few days of discomfort, it was rather easy to exist without it.

The first three or four days felt like kicking any sort of addiction. Embarrassing as it is to admit, for those first few evenings, I noticed that I walked home at a faster pace than usual; I was racing home to see what I had “missed.” During the day, I noticed that, after many years living with the thing, my brain had been trained to seek phone breaks after very short intervals of work. My mind told my hand to reach for my phone, but it was not there, and that was an uncomfortable feeling, like a pseudo-phantom pain. Friends and family were also a bit annoyed with my virtual absence, but that was a product of upset expectations: they had come to expect immediate responses, and were upset when I reappeared twelve hours later.

Those were my only troubles: feeling like a dork as I raced home to reunite with an inanimate object, reaching (or thinking about reaching) for an object that was not there, and explaining my late replies to somewhat-inconvenienced friends and family. I am confident that those problems will go away as my own expectations and those of my friends and family change. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was operating at a high level: my work flowed uninterrupted, I fully thought through problems, and I was better able to collaborate with those I worked with. For example, while reviewing my criminal procedure notes, if I came across a note that confused me, I would stop to read the corresponding passage from the textbook or read a relevant article online to clarify the concept. Seeking out other sources or thinking longer about a concept in order to better understand it are not novel ideas, but I would never have done that had my phone been with me. That is not because I did not think to do it, but because I did not have the time to do it. Instead, I would write off my confusion as a casualty of inevitable time constraints, replacing extra reading and thinking with phone-time. All of this additional conceptualizing snowballed, and I was in turn able to fluently converse about topics in criminal procedure with classmates when we collaborated.


In the first week of winter break, I relapsed a bit. When school starts back up, or when I begin work during the summer, I am confident my phone will stay at home: the productivity difference was too stark to ignore and go back to the way things were. However, because I did not expect myself to be “productive” during the break, I allowed my iPhone to creep back into my routine. It was frustrating to find myself aimlessly surfing again. I knew I needed to take things a step further and avoid my phone not only during periods of work, but during periods of down-time. It is during periods of time off where deeper thought can take place: planning for my future, strategizing to meet those plans, and thinking of general changes and improvements for my life. During these times, it is just as important that I attain the sort of focus I now know I can achieve in the absence of my cellphone.

Physical separation from my phone assured the success of my previous experiment. However, during winter break, unlike when I am in school, it is not every day that I have somewhere to go. Therefore, to keep my phone off of my mind while I am forced to be near it, I stripped it of all of its “smartness.” By that I mean, the only functions my iPhone now performs are text and call. Thus far, making the phone as irrelevant as possible in terms of information and entertainment has worked quite well. Through force of habit, I still reach for it, but there is simply nothing to do once I open it. I hope that through repeated “let downs,” my brain will be coached out of craving it.

Of course, the only barrier to my phone regaining its previous functions is my accessing the settings and entering a password to remove a restriction, then re-downloading its former features. However, I hope that this layer of conscious action will be enough to stop me. After all, the designers of the iPhone switched from a manually entered passcode, to a thumbprint, to facial recognition to access the home screen. Each of these changes removed any semblance of a conscious effort to access the phone. I seek to add such effort back. I figure that if so much of my interaction with the iPhone was unconscious, mindless, almost reflex-like thumbing, then a conscious obstacle will suffice to relegate my phone to a vastly diminished role in my daily routine.

The obvious response here is that I should ditch the iPhone completely, and get a phone with only the most basic features. I understand that that is the more foolproof way of solving my problem, and perhaps my current solution is only a patch-job, doomed to fail. However, at this point in time, I simply have not gone that far.

Obviously a good revision of the essay, which is the least of it.

You've now realized the intellectual and emotional advantages of doing without the network environment created by the smartphone. The step of removing the smartphone rather than the applications would not yield the same benefit. Your surveillance profile would drastically decrease, which would bring you a feeling of security and satisfaction over the longer term, but it is not the same immediate, substantial reinforcement that you got from changing the mental habits that "behaviorally implanted" the smartphone in your nervous system in the first place.

The victory you have, however, is enormous. Now you are a person changing things, instead of wishing for change you are afraid to make. Now you see it is easier than you thought it would be. In the near future, you want to be a person teaching those realities to others. It only takes imagining how once again, by willingness to experiment. The reinforcement is helping others gain what you have now.

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r4 - 01 Apr 2018 - 16:05:59 - EbenMoglen
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