Cut adrift: two weeks without a smartphone

I didn’t even see them coming.

There I was, taking a break outside the office, engrossed in my Twitter feed. Moments later, my phone had been ripped from my grasp. It took a couple of seconds to register what had happened. As I looked to my left I saw two men make off on a moped. I gave chase, but it was futile. My phone was gone.

Many of you will be lucky enough not to realise that there’s a non-emergency police hotline in the UK. It’s illustrative of our society, and of modern crime, that the operators manning those phones have access to Apple’s “Find my iPhone” software. The police officers I spoke to even had the app on their police-issued iPhones.

The fact that I’d locked all access to my smartphone was of little consolation to me as I faced an indefinite stretch of time without it. I had insurance, but I’d heard more than my fair share of horror stories about dealing with the providers of such cover.

“Embrace it – you’ll reconnect with real life,” some friends told me. “You’ll notice things you missed before as your eyes were glued to your phone. You’ll enjoy real interactions again as you won’t be permanently browsing Facebook.”

Sure, the virtues of putting the technology down and reverting to what some might define as a more “pure” way of life are laudable. But I can confirm that (for me at least), being without my phone was far from a liberating experience.

An extension

Phones are more than just – well – phones, aren’t they? They’re an extension of us. Now, don’t judge me for that comment: hear me out. For many of us – particularly millennials – so many aspects of our lives are defined digitally. We are heavily invested in the services we engage with on a daily basis. Facebook… Twitter… WhatsApp… Take a minute to count how many digital services and brands you use at least once every day. I bet the figure will surprise you. These are more than just fun tools – they’re fast becoming integral parts of our everyday lives.

The rise of the smartphone has been swift. The launch of the iPhone in 2007 lit the touch paper under smartphone popularity and eight years later there are 1.9 billion in use globally. Though it’s been less than a decade, we’ve quickly become used to having access to digital services on our smartphones wherever and whenever we want. And, when that access is revoked, there are inevitable withdrawal symptoms.

Relationship dynamics

Almost straight away I realised I had a number of relationships with brands I hadn’t noticed before. For instance, I run every day and hardly ever set off without my iPhone strapped to my arm and my Nike+ app logging my progress. Racking up my miles and Nike Fuel points is addictive, as is setting challenges against my friends. Being phoneless didn’t stop me exercising, of course, but I felt a niggling anxiety as the days wore on, knowing that my friends were logging their hours and I was being left behind. It’s impressive that Nike, as an apparel brand, can develop such an intimate relationship with consumers through its digital products.

The nature of my relationship with my bank, NatWest, was also brought into focus. Payday arrived last week and I set about paying my monthly bills. But as I went to enter my login details on NatWest’s website, I realised I’d spent so long using my six-digit code or fingerprint to log in on my phone that I’d completely forgotten my web-based login details. It showed me just how comfortable I was conducting any financial transactions on my phone. I’m not alone: 17.8 million of us in the UK alone use mobile banking, and that figure is expected to double in the next five years.

Content discontent

Media consumption on mobile is going through the roof. Be it music, video or text – we can’t get enough of it. So it’s no surprise that without a phone I looked at - and listened to - a lot less of it. Daily commutes on the tube used to be spent trawling Twitter and reading articles on my phone. That was replaced with trying to fold an unwieldy copy of the Metro or Evening Standard, with its inky pages staining my fingers.

My £10 monthly Spotify subscription also went unused. Many times I attempted to immerse myself in the new Brandon Flowers album via my desktop – but I found I couldn’t concentrate on my work, so I quickly abandoned it. Since signing up to Spotify nearly five years ago I’ve listened to more music than ever before. And at least 90% of it I’ve consumed through my mobile.

Perhaps a less obvious side effect is that my content creation also plummeted. I love taking pictures with my iPhone – and with technology better than many standalone cameras, smartphones are fast becoming the kit of choice for the amateur snapper. My frustration at not being able to document a recent weekend away was palpable. Not sharing images through Facebook and Instagram was equally exasperating. Narcissistic? Maybe. But more than 1.4 billion of us collectively share 2 billion photos on Facebook every day, so at least I’m not the only one.

Left behind

Being unable to share images on Facebook is symptomatic of the wider social exclusion I felt. I’d log in to Facebook once or twice a day on my desktop and I’d receive numerous notifications as I tried to catch up on what was going on. With push notifications on your phone you’re essentially in constant contact all day. Friends would participate in group messages – and I would miss out. Yes, it’s a bit “woe is me” and yes, I should make more of an effort to actually see my friends, but time and money often gets in the way. Facebook (and other social networks) has helped alleviate those handicaps during the past decade. The success of its mobile strategy means you’re never more than a tap away from connecting with your friends.

After two arduous weeks of constant phone calls to my network operator and insurance company, a shiny new phone arrived – and I eagerly reconnected my digital IV drip. My return to the real world taught me just how big a role smartphones – and the digital services they offer – play in our lives. But I will be making an effort to stop from time to time to look up and take in the world around me – if only to keep my eye out for any more bloody muggers.

Drew no longer works at The Frameworks


  • iPhone
  • Mobile
  • Social media
  • Smartphones