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My Dumbphone: A Brief Lifestyle Manifesto

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I hate my smartphone. I do not think I am alone in this.

I became a smartphone user in--I think--2010. My first one was a Droid, with a Verizon plan that didn't limit me on data. I quickly became an addict.


Wait. This story starts earlier. It goes back to college, at least.

Sophomore year of college, I broke my foot. I was stuck at school on a Sunday in February because it wasn't a normal school and I wasn't a normal student--it was the Naval Academy and I was a midshipman with a duty day (and a bad mood). Stomping over to one of the many gyms, pissed off about I-can't-remember-what, I missed a step and came down hard on the outside edge of my left foot.

It took almost four months for the problem to be diagnosed. The issue didn't really show up on x-rays (which I had every couple of weeks as my foot failed to heal, despite rotating assistance from crutches and a walking boot) because, if I recall all this correctly, it wasn't exactly a break--I had an unfused navicular bone, and I had actually broken the connecting tissues between the two parts of what should, in an adult female, have already been a single bone. When I wasn't using the foot, the swelling would recede and the pain would diminish. As soon as I started to walk on it unassisted, the ligament running from the navicular and up the inside of my calf would start pulling on the bone fragment again and the whole thing would flare up like the National Zoo decked out for Christmas.

Eventually, corrective surgery was completed sometime after finals and I got to spend my summer taking Film and Literature in a cast instead of running around in the mud pretending to be a Marine. But the damage was done: I had become hooked on casual gaming.

Midshipmen don't have a lot of free hours. Classes are mandatory, most meals are mandatory, there are mandatory formations and mandatory inspections and after-class sports and marching drills and lecture series, all mandatory.

Here are the things I couldn't participate in while on crutches: outdoor formations (like the big one at lunch that tourists love), intramural boxing, intramural half marathon, and Highland Dancing. This situation left gaping holes in my schedule, which I filled, not with great literature or even shitty writing, but with COLLAPSE!

I got really, really good at COLLAPSE! I got really, really good grades, too, but my gosh you should have seen me play COLLAPSE!

Five or six years later, my foot was fine but my Droid made it far too easy to waste time--on casual games, on obsessively checking email, on tweeting my thoughts to the few people who cared.

Another couple of years and I was newly home from my last deployment, a humdinger at 322 days at sea. And my husband, sweet man he is, excitedly took me to the Apple store for another even smarter phone: an iPhone. Within a few days, I suggested he write an app that would let me turn it into a dumbphone when I wanted to.

"I want to be able to toggle a switch and only make/receive calls and texts," I told him. "I think people would pay for that."

"It's not possible," he informed me. "Apple would need to make it. It would involve settings developers can't touch."

Alack alack alack.

Another couple of years passing brings us to this week. I read this scary article on Huffington Post and remembered again how gung ho I was before her birth about my kiddo never watching TV or using a dread iThing before she was two, and how lax I've gotten about these rules, and how much of my own life has been taken by Angry Birds and Words With Friends and Draw Something! and Candy Crush and, most recently, Threes.

And, it's Lent. So add in a desire to discipline myself and the existential crisis brought on when you see your child with ashes on her forehead, and realize that yes, we all really are going to die.

"And," I told my husband, "I don't want to be remembered as Jacquelyn Bengfort: Pretty Good at Twitter and a Dab Hand at A Variety of Bubble Shooters."

So here's what I'm doing: a phone diet.

If I were a stronger person and also better at getting places without explicit turn-by-turn directions, I'd give up the smartphone altogether. But I'm not, so I'm self-limiting. For me, this means putting physical space between myself and the phone. We live in a tall skinny row house, and so, for now, my phone stays out of my pocket and remains in one of a few places: on the newel post for the level I am on. On the charger in the kitchen. In the window of my office. On the mantle in the master bedroom.

It's a small change, yes. But guess what: in two days it has already paid dividends. I've spent time outside that I wouldn't have. I've read a third of a way through a (fantastic) book I've been meaning to get to for a few (ahem) years. I started writing a new story.

Maybe I won't be declared the Voice of my Generation just because I started using my mobile device slightly less. But if it comes down to it, I'm ok with being remembered as Jacquelyn Bengfort: A Decent Writer, An Ok Cook, A Fantastic Mom & Wife and Wow She Read a Lot of Books.