Last week I slipped back into the 1990s. My phone, my highly smart calendar-clock-camera-email-SMS-social-media lifeline, fell into the sea and shortly afterwards gave its last low battery reminder. Ever since, I've been navigating a life without it, and sometimes losing my cool about the consequences.
As I was holidaying with my husband and father of my kids there were no immediate effects on my love life. Our toddler has made no alarm clock necessary for the past two years, and to begin with it was peaceful not having a phone. Trips to the toilet were immediately shorter, and I used my levels of mothering tiredness to help me gauge the time.
On my return to Melbourne, I continued retro-fabulously. Sure, I checked my email on my computer to see if my husband had messaged me. I focused on one task at a time, instead of multitasking.
Getting my son and daughter ready to leave the house became a simple act of dressing and leaving, or as simple as it should be. I didn’t have to repeat myself as much to my five-year-old, perhaps because I was calmer. Instead of using my phone to arrange a playdate or draft an email, my focus was entirely on them.
I had no messages to reply to, and my social media accounts weren’t in the back of my pocket anymore.
I felt a blissful lack of responsibility with my phone out of action. I had no messages to reply to, and my social media accounts weren’t in the back of my pocket anymore. When I contacted people, it was with a firm purpose, to arrange a meet up in the park, and with a nostalgic approach to timekeeping.
“I might be a bit late,” I said to one mum friend, in case it bothered her not to be able to track our journey via text message.
“That’s ok. I know you’re coming, I’ve baked muffins,” she replied.
This park-based cake eating halcyon summer couldn’t last forever. I needed to be contactable in order to work, in case anything happened to my kids, and to know what the time was without asking a stranger. I went to see the phone people.
It’s one of the great ironies of modern life that while your phone connects you to the world, you’re always seventeen steps away from a resolution with your phone.
It’s one of the great ironies of modern life that while your phone connects you to the world, you’re always seventeen steps away from a resolution with your phone. The guys in the shop were kind and rolled their eyes sympathetically as they put me through to someone in a call centre.
Reading from a script, the lady alternated between “I’m so sorry this has happened to you,” and “What you tell me is legally binding: What precise day did this happen?” Without my phone, I wasn’t too sure what day it had broken.
Could they check when activity had ceased on my account? No, she replied, with a lack of sorry at the end that I will really try to replicate.
It turns out I had insurance, but not the really useful kind. I asked if I would be given a replacement phone while mine was assessed for damage.
“Why?” demanded the call centre dominatrix.
“I’ve got two young children and I’m self-employed,” I said, hopefully.
“I’m so sorry this has happened to you. No,” she served back at me.
Since that fun visit, I’ve checked in with my phone shop friends a few times. I never speak to the same person and they can never tell me when my new phone will arrive. I wonder if the company rotates them so that needy freelancers like me don’t try to bypass the Call Centre Gestapo.
I didn’t want to buy a new phone, on principle. My mobile phone was intended to make my life easier but instead I was tied to a long-term relationship with a company that didn’t treat me kindly.
As this terrible summer has taught us, life is made of much more important things than consumer goods.
When a friend spontaneously lent me a phone, I was touched and grateful.
I don’t download any apps to my temporary phone. This means I check it less and the battery lasts for days.
I don’t download any apps to my temporary phone. This means I check it less and the battery lasts for days. It becomes easier to communicate with my husband and to leave my children at school and day care.
Then I hear from a friend who was worried about me; she’d been sending me messages and getting no reply. Other than a profile update on Facebook and a quick email to a few friends, I hadn’t told people I was going off-grid. I was liberated, but also rude. As a relatively new migrant to Australia (four years this month), it didn’t occur to me that anyone would miss me. To be missed and cared for feels like home, all thanks to a broken phone.
I wanted to start 2020 pretending to go to the gym like everyone else. Instead I put the toddler in the pram, put the dog on a leash, and take a long walk. I enjoy it without taking any photos, and I’ll remember it as an everyday, uninterrupted moment.
Fernanda Fain-Binda is a freelance writer. You can follow Fernanda on Twitter @FernandaChat.