The day I killed my phone … and got a life

Do you have a mobile phone addiction? How does one cope when a technological limb gets cut off? Sam Leader recently had the pleasure of finding out.


I was out and about one day when I discovered my iPhone in a puddle of water. My reaction was predictable: horror, panic and the need to immediately Google ‘what to do when your phone goes in the drink’. Which, of course, I couldn’t do.

Back home an hour later, I put it into iPhone ICU – namely a bag of rice – where it would stay for the recommended three days.

To say I experienced a range of emotions in that incommunicado period would be an understatement. Initially I was full of shame for possibly trashing a $1,000 piece of equipment. Next came the ‘twitchy phase’ which saw me constantly reaching for the phone – like a ghost limb. Then, frustration. The inconvenience was crushing. I had to email friends to make arrangements. Email! Can you imagine? It was like being cast back to 1995. Finally, boredom hit. The playground, bus stop and supermarket queue are all places where the phone would ordinarily have kept me entertained. Instead, I was left alone with my thoughts.


"Around 36 hours after the calamity, a palpable sense of calm descended. I suddenly stopped caring whether the phone lived or died."

Around 36 hours after the calamity, a palpable sense of calm descended. I suddenly stopped caring whether the phone lived or died.

I’d had the two best nights of sleep in ages (which I put down to not having the phone on my bedside). I also felt more engaged and less distracted with my family. This prompted more shame – appropriate this time –  because it brought into sharp relief how my dramatic response meant I hadn’t been a nice person to live with.

Oh, and I could see! Having initially felt jealous of those walking the street with their head down, I now felt like I’d escaped the zombie apocalypse.

In that short space of time, I’d become that bore of bores: a reformed addict.

Author and researcher Brene Brown talks about numbing, and how we use it to shield our vulnerability. You may think of drug/alcohol/food addictions as numbing behaviours and they are, but this post on the subject cites plenty of others:

“…spending too much time on the internet, endlessly surfing TV channels, Facebook, emails, gossiping, obsessive exercising, work, shopping, the list goes on. Some of the sneakiest forms of numbing can be obsessive thinking, anxiety and worry! How can that be numbing you might ask? Well the thoughts or chitter chatter in our minds often prevent us from dealing with the real underlying emotions like loneliness, low self-worth or grief.”

Without my numbing weapon of choice, I was forced to sit in my discomfort until I got over it. I was helped on my way by this splendid podcast about reconnecting by disconnecting, sent to me by my kind Christian friend. Of course I had to sit tethered to my desktop like a silly chump to listen to it. Plus the irony of going online to find out why to head offline doesn’t escape me.

So what happened to the phone?

Well it worked again, and I felt neutral about it. In the meantime, my relationship to it has forever altered. It now stays plugged in most of the time and so is not always within reach. I use it to stay connected to my colleagues when I’m out, and recreationally I’m making an effort to use it with purpose, and not as a default time-filler.

Being human, I will no doubt, engage in numbing behaviours again, and if I told you I hadn’t spent mindless time on my phone since resuscitating it, I’d be lying. But knowing about numbing, and recognising my tendency to it is a good first step away from the behaviour, don’t you think?

Do you ‘lose it when you lose it?’ Is mobile phone addiction a widespread reality? Does it even matter if it is? Are you hand on heart comfortable with your relationship with your device?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and tsk at John-Paul for taking his phone into bedroom.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.


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