Information Overload: Quitting A Smartphone Cold Turkey

Smartphones are great. They enable us to communicate quickly, access mountains of information, and enjoy a near endless supply of music, videos, games and other media.

In a sense, they are devices built for immediate engagement. Bored? Grab your iPhone and play Angry Birds. Feeling alone? Pull out your Droid and check Facebook. Can’t remember something? Just Google it on your BlackBerry.

All of this can make smartphones seem mildly addictive, which is exactly what I discovered when I quit mine cold turkey.

For about three years, I used a series of progressively more powerful BlackBerry devices. Granted, they were never as sexy as some of the other smartphones out there. But, they covered the essentials like email, media, and apps.

Best of all, I didn’t have to get a contract for them. Each BlackBerry was assigned by my employer. However, when my line of work changed, so did my status as a smartphone user.

Previous to this, I hadn’t considered what it would be like to live without a smartphone after having used one for so long. Now, here I was quitting cold turkey. It seems almost ridiculous to compare technology to an addiction. But, studies have shown that there are real similarities.

Almost immediately I felt as though I was cut off and isolated. I found myself glancing over and looking for my BlackBerry, even when I knew it wasn’t there. I had developed a real habit of seeking out the device as soon as I felt even the slightest tinge of boredom.

Image Courtesy of Jip Valentijn

This makes perfect sense, though. Compared to the fast-flowing firehose of information available on a smartphone, everyday life can appear pretty dull. Once accustomed to the rush of instant gratification, taking it a bit slower can feel like a complete disconnect.

Eventually, this began to fade, and I readjusted. I started to feel less anxious and found myself able to focus more, taking time to consider things before immediately reacting. I also began using my time on public transportation differently. Besides observing the world around me, I could think, imagine, and brainstorm.

Once again, there is real evidence demonstrating the problems that information overload can cause. It seems like common sense, but when our brains are barraged with too much to process, they can lock and prevent us from making smart decisions.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’ve become a technology Luddite. Quite to the contrary, I probably spend more time than ever interfacing with computers and the Web.

That said, by not having a smartphone, I have created a self imposed boundary that allows me to get away. When I am in front of the computer the firehose is on. But when I step outside, I turn it off and actively engage my brain with the rest of the world.


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