Written by Sally Coffey

Voices

Phoneless or phonefree?

When her mobile went for a Burton, Sally Coffey decided to embrace time without her handheld device. For a while, anyway…

woman looking at phone
It was a day like any other. As I scrambled to get the kids and all their paraphernalia from car to house, I dropped something in the mist – my phone.

Said phone had survived many previous scrapes unscathed, but this time was different. This was more like the time my brother and I returned shamefaced and empty-handed from the shop, the loaves of bread my poor mum had sent us to buy lying scattered on the pavement following an ill-advised bread fight.

My phone was smashed, and although I tried to pretend nothing had happened, carrying on with a screen held together with strategically placed Sellotape (my boyfriend’s handiwork, not my own), eventually I had to admit defeat. Off it went to be mended, while I decided to go without a handheld device for a week.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a phone addict, but five months in to my maternity leave I had become somewhat attached to mine, regularly checking to see if anyone needed me. Hoping beyond hope that the world I had carefully crafted for myself over the last few years wouldn’t just go on turning faultlessly now I’d taken some time out. Still, ego aside, I’m old enough to remember a world when most people didn’t own a mobile phone (it was called the 90s), so I reasoned it wouldn’t involve too much upheaval.

Back in the 90s, we didn’t have Google to fill in the memory blanks, a satnav on tap, access to whatever music took our fancy and round-the-clock contact with the wider world. We made do with minidisc playlists (if we were lucky), a paper map and one slightly cool friend whose boyfriend had bought her a pager (now I think of it, that’s a bit creepy, no?).

My first day without a phone felt almost serene. Admittedly, I did check in on Facebook mid-morning to let the world know how to contact me (via boyfriend and Facebook – look, no one mentioned living without a computer too) and then I was… free?

“Two days in and I was getting cocky. Who needs a phone? I was liberated, free from the shackles of social media alerts and my dirty addiction to the Daily Fail’s sidebar of shame.”

What’s the first thing someone who has no access to mobile technology does? You take your young baby on a walk in a nearby cemetery and proceed to get lost down an unmarked path amid the uneven headstones, just as the gatekeeper is getting ready to lock up for the night, that’s what.

At first I had a little joke to myself: “Oh wouldn’t it be funny if I got locked in and had to scream for help… hahaha…” But as the minutes went by and I still couldn’t find the fucking exit, I started to panic. “What if I get locked in? Will anyone hear my cries?”

Then the earth mother/drama queen in me arose from the flames of fear: “I have milk to feed my baby and it’s a warm night; if I wrap him in my clothes we will survive.” Jesus. Thankfully I didn’t have to put my survival skills to the test; instead, I found the gate and thoughts of what might have been soon evaporated.

The next day I’d arranged to meet a friend who I’ve known for decades, in a park neither of us had been to for a very long time. It was a bit like meeting up when we were teenagers, only with a lot fewer drugs and a lot more children. We dutifully arranged a time, she sent me a map of the park and I chose a meeting place.

It all felt very exciting. Packing the kids into the car and setting off without the comfort of Google Maps to guide me was nerve-wracking, but by following my mental map and, er, the road signs, I made it without any glitches.

Two days in and I was getting cocky. Who needs a phone? I was liberated, free from the shackles of social media alerts and my dirty addiction to the Daily Fail’s sidebar of shame. I checked Facebook and my email for *coughs* ‘correspondence’ twice a day and felt much calmer as a result.

person looking at phone
No longer were my days out with the kids spent frantically checking emails; now I could engage in that age-old pastime of people-watching and inventing back stories for the unsuspecting strangers who roused my interest (and playing with my kids, of course).

Sure, it irked me a little that I couldn’t document all the cute things my four-month-old did, and many profound conversations with my four-year-old went unrecorded, but I embraced this lack of media and instead found myself enjoying the moment a little more.

In the end, it was for that most basic of uses that I missed my phone – to make a bleeding phone call. I don’t own a home phone, so long chats with my mum and daytime chinwags with my boyfriend to break the monotony of my child-filled days were sorely missed.

I’m now reunited with my mobile, but I hereby make this promise to myself: to use it primarily to phone people and to limit my mindless scrolling. I also promise to stay out of cemeteries late in the day.

@Travelwrit

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Written by Sally Coffey

Sally is an editor and writer from south London. She is mum to two boys, which she can't quite believe as she doesn't consider herself a grown up yet.