“I’m not trying to start shit,” a fellow party guest says to me after I reveal that I’ve turned off my cellular data for the last 16 days, “but I have an unlimited data plan and I love it.”
On February 7th 2014 I went into my iPhone settings and turned off cellular data. I did so to avoid obscene overages after receiving a text message from Verizon informing me that I had used over 90% of my allotment within the first 8 days of my current period. This had been by no means a month long digital detox of no phone or internet usage. However, my lacking the ability to post my latest Flappy Bird high score (55), flip through my network’s latest instant grams, or stress about my job on the way to work by pushing out emails “Sent from my iPhone” had drastically changed my day to day routine. Especially given our data-centric 2014 lifestyles.
Using all my data that quickly was no easy feat. I’m only a little bit ashamed to admit that I’m still on my parent’s family plan. Neither of them use any data, leaving my cap at 6 gigabytes instead of the standard 2 associated with most Verizon accounts. This means running the well dry took some serious streaming and swiping.
Over half of the damage was done using Spotify in the comfort of my own home. Victor has written about the terrible router we live with, but our network, affectionately titled “Scrundle”, went from constantly buffering during critical moments of Game of Thrones to flat out lacking the range to deliver WiFi to our living room. I also lost over a gig to my newly realized habit of sending cinematic video Snapchats along with a bit less than a gig each to the standard vices of Instagram and and Facebook. I’m not going to state exactly how much was lost to flipping through potential loves on Tinder, but let’s just say my overall MPW (Matches Per Week) dropped significantly during my sort-of-not-really offline period.
This data-drought affected my life most in the preparations I took before before leaving the house. Refreshing my Twitter and Instagram feeds via wifi before a trip outside was as much a part of my routine as grabbing my keys and wallet. My current Spotify playlists had to be stored permanently on my phone as the only thing I listened to aside from Arcade Fire albums in the form of strange files called “mp3s.” I opened articles in Chrome so they were waiting for me before I left because the Safari app thinks its a good idea to refresh a page every time you open it. Prepping my phone took longer than picking an outfit.
Another change, an obvious one, was the general functionality of my phone. My selection of games was seeing much more action, although I’d been ignoring the social implications of QuizUp for the solo time wasting I got from brick breaking in Anodia. Furthermore, No Data left me out of many iMessage conversations. Did you know you can’t group message or iMessage with data turned off? I’d often arrive to my saved WiFi networks at home and work to discover I’d missed out on important conversations from hours or even days earlier. It’s weird to write out “Just saw this” and not be lying but at least I had a new item to add to the list of reasons why no one texts me.
Truthfully this issue did not dramatically affect my alone time for the worse. I was much more observant of those around me on public transport, imagining their lives and the people they must share them with. I stepped into crosswalks when the walky man appeared and not when I looked up from a feed to see a flashing orange hand. The time spent looking down at my phone wasn’t ruined either. I enjoyed being forced to re-listen to the Arc-Fi catalogue before seeing them twice this summer, my return to touch-screen gaming was a triumphant one, and I even wrote most of this piece in my notes app.
The downside was the effect of seeing those around me use data so freely. I found myself enviously eyeing strangers’ Instagram feeds and growing annoyed when friends freely browsed Facebook in my presence. I finally felt the righteous need to tell everyone to get off their phones and interact with the world; but it’s not because I wanted them to join me in the visceral reality we so frequently avoid. In a much less noble fashion, I felt this way because I was trapped outside of the matrix without them.
I’ve since returned to the data-driven world and am able to snap, tweet and just plain text to my hearts content. It’s not the same though. Since I realized there’s more to the world than what @ZachLowe_NBA has tweeted within the last 3 minutes, such things no longer appeal to me as they once did. If you’d like to join me in the real world, just flip the switch on your data and smell the subway seat upholstery roses.