Finding the space to write is something that many of us crave, and yet find very hard to achieve. For some of us it is physical space, for others it is mental or emotional space – not having the headroom or time to devote to writing, even though it is important to us. Recently, after something of a hissy fit, I decided to give up my smart phone. I was fed up of being interrupted by various alerts, of being distracted from the task in hand, or being pulled into text conversations, often with people who – I realised on reflection – I’d had a purely text-based relationship for some time. Does anyone actually CALL for a chat anymore? Anyway, in a quest to create more space in my life, not just for writing, but for a greater sense of peace and calm, I declared myself a no-phone zone. And I like it.
I am less reactive and more productive; I’m calmer and I rarely check social media; I have proper conversations with people on the landline. I feel much more ‘present’ in the moment, as I’m not looking at life through the lens of a camera phone, or thinking about what an online caption to it might say. I post less, and obviously don’t text anymore, which means I’m not wasting time or increasing my levels of anxiety by checking a phone to see if people have replied to me or ‘liked’ something. Ok, so I’ve had to invest in nice little camera to keep on my person, as I do like taking photos, but other than that, it has all been positive.
It seems I’m not alone in reassessing the perceived value of carrying a phone. The Huffington Post recently declared that smartphones are the ‘new cigarettes’ and predicts that, in years to come, we will look back aghast at the ubiquity of their use. In the newspaper supplements last weekend, a whole feature was dedicated to Polly Vernon’s attempts to give up hers for 30 days (she also felt less stressed as a result), and successful entrepreneur and SuperDry founder, Julian Dunkerton, said in an interview for The Times, “I am very focussed. Part of that discipline is not having a smartphone. I watch other people clog up their time with emails and fill their heads with thoughts they don’t need, but I don’t want distractions to affect my ability to do my job. So I keep it simple.”
In the Independent last year, a feature pointed to how researchers are producing more and more evidence that “living completely immersed in the ‘information ecosystem’ of smartphone, internet and social media feed – as billions of people do every day worldwide – is seriously detrimental to one’s mental health and cognitive capacity.” Our anxiety levels rise, we are at more risk of depression or low self-esteem and our memories are being affected but, at a more basic level – it just sucks up time. Time when we could – in the words of a popular children’s programme from the 70s – be switching off and ‘doing something more interesting instead’. Things like talking to our partner, doing some exercise, cooking a meal from scratch rather than calling for a takeaway or, wait for it, WRITING!
A lot of people have asked me why, instead of ditching it, I couldn’t just switch my phone off, or put it in another room on silent. Fair point. But I knew that I would still be thinking about it and wondering if I needed to check it for anything important. I initially put this down to my personal weakness, but in fact scientists have shown that simply turning off our phone isn’t enough – our cognitive resources still get drained by having to activate a resistance to being distracted – especially if your phone is still close to you.
I may get a simple, calls only phone for ‘emergencies’ when I’m out, but 99% of the time, I communicate with people via emails and my landline. I’m hardly out of touch – yet it’s been interesting to see the responses I’ve received from friends when I’ve told told them this. Some have been concerned that I’ve had a breakdown, some have told me I’m mad, some have been convinced that I will soon crack and a few have been irritated that they can’t text me whenever they want (though surely writing an email isn’t any more arduous?). Interestingly though, most of my good friends have responded with a hearty, ‘well done!’ and an indication that they have been wondering if they might do the same.
I feel a trend could be starting here so, why not consider how you might give up or reduce your reliance on your smartphone? If you need any more convincing, here’s why, as a writer, one should consider it:
Four good reasons for writers to ditch their smart phone
- You will have time to sit and do nothing – to stare out of a window, or at the person next to you on the train, and use your imagination, be creative, gather your own thoughts. Who knows, those thoughts might be the inspiration for a short story or even a novel.
- You will have the time to pick up a pen and paper, and play with words. Although we often use it as an excuse, we really don’t need to have three clear hours ahead of us to write – writing in a snatched ten minutes can be remarkably valuable. In just 10 minutes (no doubt less than the time it took you this morning to scan your Facebook feed, ‘like’ a kitten video and check into Instagram) you could do some freewriting to make sense of a problem that has been bothering you, write a poem, or plan and make a start on a short story.
- You will be calmer, less anxious, and not feel guilty about allowing yourself to do something you enjoy ie WRITE.
- Your writing not be interrupted by alerts, by other people’s agendas. You will be able to hold a thought, develop it, and enjoy your own stream of consciousness developing.