Weekly New Thing: Turn off Cell Data

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I finally got on the same phone plan, and soon after, we received multiple messages regarding overage fees and data use. I realized, after some Internet sleuthing and a quick visit to the Verizon store, that my phone accidentally used up the bulk of our joint data because all of my apps had the green "ON" button selected for cellular data when not in the presence of wi-fi.

I promptly turned all of them off with a few exceptions: Google Maps, Gmail/Inbox and Spotify (and I realize that last one can use a ton of data BUT I only listen to Spotify to and from work). No Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. See ya later, AmazonFeedly, Hulu, Google Photos.

This method worked well in terms of getting my data usage back on track, because my phone stopped sucking it all up with a bunch of apps I didn't even use regularly. But you know what else happened?

I used my phone less. A lot less. 

My phone used to be the first thing I looked at after I woke up in the morning and before I went to sleep at night. Then I would drive to work and putz around on my phone at stoplights and while stuck in traffic, which is not only unsafe (yeah, I'm calling myself out) but totally pointless (my only task while driving the car should be . . . driving the car).  Then I worked all day on a computer, often using my phone at the same time. Then I came home, and most days took my dog on a walk (phone in hand, of course, because god forbid I get a little bored going AROUND THE BLOCK) or went to yoga (thankfully, a phone-free zone). Then I usually alternated between watching television, reading on my phone, talking on the phone WHILE looking at some other screen or reading on my Kindle.

So at first, this inability to use my phone felt strange. I kept doing the phantom reach thing where I'd pick up my phone, try to open an app or do something, receive the "cell data is not turned on, go to settings if you'd like to blah blah," and put my phone back down. 95% of the time I did not need to complete the action I set out to take. If I really needed to use my phone, I went into the cell data section and turned it back on for a minute. (Like when I couldn't remember if I was scheduled to sub a yoga class, or whether or not I should throw an umbrella in my purse.)

By turning off cell data, my habits began to change. Because I wasn't constantly reaching for my phone, I multi-tasked less and got more shit done. I also felt better, less distracted and fidgety. I realized how often my eyes are glued to a screen -- computer, phone, television -- and tried to set better limits. For example, I still use my phone as an alarm in the mornings, but I don't fall into the trap of scrolling mindlessly; I just get out of bed and start my day because everything on that phone can wait a little bit. I put on music in the car before I shift out of park, and let it play while driving -- and just as I did at age 16, I listen to a full song or album instead of getting shuffle-happy. My job requires a computer, but my phone stays in my purse all day for the most part. And when I get home, I put my phone on the charger and leave it alone, unless I'm intentionally choosing to make a call or send a text. (Of course, I still fail at these things because I'm definitely not perfect and there are too many good shows on television to cut it out completely, but PROGRESS.)

I'll never be the kind of person to go off the grid completely, but turning off my cell data and limiting phone use led to an unexpected, drastic change in my habits with respect to technology. It may not work for you, but for me, it helped me set better boundaries and break some poor patterns -- which led to more focus, improved mood and reduced stress.

*Note: check out "Removed" by Eric Pickersgill, a disarming series of photos where cell phones have literally been removed from photos of people.