It's been two years since my husband and I got rid of our smartphones. Two. Years. We've gotten used to using T9 for texting again, and trying to word replies without the use of emojis (still typing LOL over here).
It's amazing how easy it was to go back to dumbphone status, all that muscle memory from the early 2000s was ready to go as soon as we flipped (or in my case slid) open our new/old phones. My husband has a flip phone. I opted for an old favorite—the slide-out keyboard version. The keys stick sometimes, but I like the satisfying click they make under my fingers as I type.
Ditching our smartphones has given us the freedom to be more present in our lives, and in our parenting. Which is why we made the decision in the first place.
It's been absolutely liberating to remove the world from our pockets. Checking our phones fills way less space in our days than it used to. And I am always aware of the absence of the internet in my daily life. When I'm waiting in line, or stopped at a traffic light, or sitting in a waiting room, or out with friends and family, I spend time just… looking around.
When my daughter was around 18 months old, my husband and I realized she was taking in way more than we had given her credit for. One day I looked up from mindlessly scrolling to see her eyes on me, looking for interaction and a deeper understanding of how her world worked. She was curious about this little glowing rectangle taking up so much of my attention. And rightfully so.
Our eyes were often on our smartphones. A quick email check while fixing a snack. A peek at Instagram while waiting in line at the grocery store. Scrolling through the news during bathtime. Group texting at the traffic light.
My husband and I began to wonder how we would explain moderation in technology to her when she entered her tween and teenage years. We agreed we would set limits to foster a healthy relationship with such a powerful tool. But then we felt like hypocrites: How could we enforce screen time limits and rules about when and where to use a smartphone when we, ourselves, were glued to our screens all the time throughout the day?
It was a problem for us.
And as we read more and more about the insidious side of tech, the apps that are subtly designed to reward us whenever we check-in, the addictive-by-design aspect of so much of what we were using our smartphones for, we decided we would do something a little radical and straight-up opt-out.
It was weird at first, but novel. Our phones felt funny. And we would instinctively check them out of habit for some kind of update. But they just sat there, dark and boring. Eventually, they just lived on the kitchen counter, as we went about our chores, internet-free unless we made the conscious decision to get out our laptops.
I did buy an iPod touch (remember those?) to use as a camera, and for being able to group text pictures and videos of the kids to our family with iPhones. But the iPod only works with wifi, it lives at home, and all the apps (along with my social media accounts) were deleted off it, making it too, pretty boring.
I don't know what we'll do when our kids come of age and start asking for a smartphone of their own. But as a parent, I feel in a better position to say "no" if I'm modeling the behavior myself. After all, for my husband and me, that's what parenting is. Deciding what we value, and passing that onto our kids in the best way we know how.
It's not for everyone. And our kids will definitely think we're weird. My husband is a teacher, and his students literally laugh out loud when they see his phone, asking if it's real. But I will be the weird parent any day if it means I get to experience more minutes present with my kids.