Breaking up with your smartphone

Courtney Maum
5 min readNov 1, 2017


Photo credit Matthew Hurst — Creative Commons

An illiterate hatemonger is our 45th President. Aghast with the daily headlines and the world’s somnambulance to them, you take to social media looking for meaning, for an answer, for a way out.

Finding only rage and miscomprehension among your various feeds, you announce that “you’re going off of social media for a while.”

8 hours later, you pop back in to say that your debut novel has been rated one of 150 books by Brooklyn authors to look forward to this year. How other than social media can you get this vital information out?

You sit at the wall-mounted drop leaf table in your kitchen, waiting for someone to like the post about your book. Nobody is liking it. Your entire life is worthless. Despite your IPA-fueled defenses of social media as the great connector, it kinda sorta has been about self-promotion this whole time.

You make a concerted decision to be less unbearable. You don’t post another “going dark” announcement, but partly from shame, and partly from boredom, you start checking social media less.

At work, you notice that all the cool kids are showing up with flip phones. You start researching the new versions of these phones. There’s a $300 one designed by Jasper Morrison — it sounds really cool. You remember having a flip phone. Life was beautiful then!

Okay, it’s ridiculous to have a $300 phone that doesn’t do anything but text. You have more self-control than that, right? You are startled by your vanity. You buy the $300 phone.

A couple weeks after the purchase, you notice that the really really cool kids have these senior citizen dumb phones that cost $29 at Target. They have gigantic buttons and they’re ugly in the classic way that has eluded you up until now. Fuck. You could have used that $300 on rent.

But life is getting better, so maybe the expense was worth it? You’ve been hiding your smartphone underneath your therapeutic body pillow and going out with your flip phone. Without the constant pings and notifications from your smartphone, you are a body in the world again, doing bodily things. You cross the streets, but in less danger. You look up. You smell things. You’re learning body language. The other day, someone actually asked you for directions, and you gave them, more or less. Your animal instincts are back!

You get stuck in a subway car for 45 minutes with nothing but your thoughts. You long for your smartphone like a departed lover. You well up, but you don’t cry. You don’t cry until you’re home.

Your friend Beau, whose name and persona you hate being obsessed with, actually cancelled his cell phone contract last week. He literally no longer has a phone. He also does destination half marathons and roasts his own espresso beans. What a fucking jerk.

You start taking your smartphone back out with you again. You check it every three minutes for proof that people like you. You go to a ramen fusion restaurant because your smartphone says to. You order the “Pho King.” You are disgusted with yourself.

While you are eating, your spirits dampen further. You are not in charge. You miss the days, just yesterday, when you were free-wheelin’ around with your expensive dumb phone, deciding where and what to eat all by yourself. The young woman across from you is reading a paperback. You feel conspicuous with your glowing phone. You feel desperate and embarrassed. The young woman looks up from her soup and book combo and smiles. This is the other thing that is making you feel like such a dweeb right now. With so many people ditching their personal devices, eye contact is back. You don’t want to miss out on this hot action. That night, you put your smartphone in a box under your bed with old visitor security badges and expired condoms.

With amazement, you realize that it’s been days since you looked at Facebook. Maybe even a week. You haven’t uploaded a photo to Instagram since the one you took of your new phone. You are achieving something close to social media balance. Your quality of sleep has never been this good. Benevolently, you realize that you miss your old friend, Joseph, who was a really good friend of yours until he made an indecent amount of money from an app that he designed. Your friendship suffered from your jealousy, but you are a bigger person, now. You open your laptop to check his social media but then you remember a new tool at your disposal. You give Joseph a call.

After three weeks of only carrying around a flip phone, you find yourself with a busy and fulfilling social schedule once again. Lots of your friends are also digitally cleansing which means they’re not cancelling plans last minute like they used to, with emoticons of crying cats. People are #showingup. It is a thing that people are doing. It has a hashtag, now.

In the weeks that follow, you do check in on social media from time to time. Mostly, you like to look at photographs of your single friend’s new dog. But you only spend 10 minutes here and there on it — it’s become a gesture that is only vaguely pleasant, like sorting your mail. Which you have a lot of! Your old pen pal from that European bike trip has started writing you again.

Three months into your dumb phone for smartphone swap-out, your energy management is commendable. You are spending time with people you generally enjoy instead of projecting animosity into the cyberspace of those you barely know. You are flossing on Wednesdays and drinking only on the weekends. You threw out some old underwear and bought new ones online.

You decide the $300 flip phone was worth it, after all. Your interpersonal relationships are blossoming, and the battery lasts for weeks! You have never felt this free and this creative and this blissfully uninformed. You consider cancelling your smartphone contract like Beau did, but you know you cannot do this. You are bursting with self-knowledge, including the realization that you will never be Beau.

But you feel deeply comfortable with this modern compromise. You will only use your smartphone when you really need it, like a compass in the woods. For the rest of the time, you will rely on your basic phone to help you be a better human being. Come to think of it, you should probably learn how to use a compass, too.

You can feel that you are on your way to being a whole person. Something frayed has healed. You surface once more to tell your online followers how great it feels to go dark before going dark again.

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Courtney Maum