What if you turned off your smartphone today?

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

I like smartphones as much as the next person. But I also know there’s a good time to turn off your smartphone….

When my brother-in-law comes to our house for dinner he knows I’ll require him to step away from the table if he wants to check his smartphone. He likes to tease me about my rule but he mostly abides by it, if somewhat grudgingly. 

Even though I LOVE technology, I have never been convinced that it has no downside.

Sure, I like the way Microsoft Word allows me to move text easily and delete errant words with the click of a button. Yeah, I find my pedometer (which syncs with my phone) helps keep me more active and allows me to track my exercise with ease. And, yes, I adore listening to podcasts when I go out for walks.

But I will not allow my smartphone to take over my life. In fact, when I examined a Pew Research Center report on how Americans use text messaging, I could see that I fall into the “light user” category. I usually don’t send more than five texts a day (almost never more than 10) when the average is closer to 41.5. And young adults — 18- to 24-year-olds— send or receive an average of 109.5 texts per day. Yikes!

When researching this topic, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to discover a post headlined: “A Writer’s Greatest Tool: The Smartphone.”  I checked the photo of author David Pierce, and I pegged him to be in his early 20s. His enthusiasm for smartphones is also very young. “I’m a writer, and I don’t carry a notebook around with me,” he wrote. “Heck, I don’t even carry a pen. Do people even use those anymore? Pens. So old school. Instead, I just use my cell phone. In my life as a writer, there’s been no tool more useful or worth the investment than a smartphone. I’m convinced that it’s a writer’s greatest tool!”

Here are the five reasons Pierce cites for his affection for smartphones. He likes that they allow writers to:

  • Remember everything
  • Write when it strikes
  • Read
  • Get instant feedback
  • Never stop learning

While I value the handiness of smartphones, I don’t welcome their ubiquity in all parts of our lives. So, let me ask David Pierce this:

When is it ever a good idea to write on a phone? The idea of using my fat thumbs to do anything more than send a quick text message to one of my kids makes me feel tired and nauseated. I can’t envision writing a blog post that way and certainly not any words for my next book. Ditto for editing. Why would I want to create that sort of headache for myself?

Why read on a phone? I always have a book with me and when I’m wanting to be au courant (or if my purse is too full of other stuff), I carry my Kindle.

Why do you need instant feedback? Now, you’re just sounding impatient and jejune. I understand the benefits of Facebook and Twitter. I just don’t think anyone needs them 24/7 except perhaps the American president.

Do you really need to be learning all the time? I’m a big believer in continuing education, but I think there also needs to be a time when we can let our minds wander.

In fact, it’s during the mind-wandering times we’ll get the ideas about what we want to say. If we’re constantly trying to stay connected and cram our brains full of information, we’ll never have the time or the space to think. Having something worthwhile to say, takes thought. And if we’re constantly creating or digesting, we don’t have time for that.

But I’m not going to tell you to give up your smartphone. Instead, I suggest you think more wisely about when and how you use it. Set some times of day when it will be off limits. (Mealtimes and writing times are good places to begin. Ditto for time with friends.) Make sure you have some regular interactions with real people, not their avatars or digital selves. Get yourself outside more often so that you can get exercise and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world.

And if you want to start all this by turning off your smartphone for just one a day, I think that would be a great way to launch 2018.


My video podcast last week aimed to help readers to improve their LinkedIn networks. See it here and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.  If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


How much do you depend on your smartphone?  We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/18, will be put in a draw for a copy of Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted January 9th, 2018 in Power Writing

  • Hoka Dell Hambleton

    This is sage advice. However… I will say that I ran across this post and then read it on my Smartphone.

    • KW

      This is so funny!

    • Charles Broming

      Hilarious! of course someone did…

    • That’s very funny! I know that many people read my blog on their phones but I’ve never been able to develop a taste for doing that. But, I do read the NY Times on my smartphone just about every day….

  • I agree there is a huge downside to being too connected via smartphone, and I love your dinner rule, but I do write lengthy notes to myself when ideas pop into my head via the Notes app, and I do most of my reading on the Kindle app on my iPhone. Why? because it’s always with me so I don’t need to carry another device/item, I rarely carry a bag big enough to stick a book in it, lose every pen I touch, and I can adjust the type size when I don’t have reading glasses handy.

    I likely can’t go phone-free unless I’m on vacation but going on a trip last year where I was out of cell/wifi service for a week was a wonderful feeling – I still had my phone because it’s also my camera and library, but it’s freeing not to feel like you have to be on top of emails/news/social media. I’d like to work harder to get that feeling when it’s a choice, not because I’m out of range, though 🙂

    • That “free” feeling associated with being out of cell-wifi range should tell you something about the benefits of doing without your smartphone – at least periodically.

  • Tom Morrisey

    Daphne, regarding your statement: “Now, you’re just sounding impatient and jejune” — do you seriously expect anyone who HAS to write on a smartphone to have the foggiest idea what “jejune” means? Even if you use the 25-cent alternative (“naive”), you still might be driving that reader straight to Google (the smartphone app version).

    • Good point, Tom. I used to chastize writers who liked to send readers scurrying for their dictionaries. Now, I fear I’ve become such a writer!

  • KW

    I love this advice, D. I am on call for psychiatric emergencies — but I do agree with your advice, if possible. I am working on ‘batching’ my email checking to three times a day, and I am trying to limit my reliance/checking tendencies. This is very hard for me, and I am not very successful yet. Almost none of email in 2018 so far has been a 911 (mostly 411s), but I cannot shake the “feeling” that I need to check email… To give up my device all day! AH!

    • I feel the same way about email, I’m afraid. Although that seldom becomes a need to check it on my phone….

  • Antony Porcino

    Thanks Daphne, I mostly agree. I do use my smart phone for writing though: I love walks, including to and from work and during dawn/dusk, and will *dictate* ruminations, letters, sections of discussions in my medical research manuscripts, poems. Open up my computer later, and they are there, ready for *editing*, a concept definitely unaccounted for in Pierce’s points, and persnickety on smartphones). Cheers!

    • Using it as a dictation device is rather smart, I think! Thanks for sharing that idea.

  • Alison

    I agree the world is being taken over by Smartphones, and everyone assumes you have one! I had to begrudgingly get a smartphone in November when they turned off the 2G network that I was using for my 10 year old phone! I do NOT use it for internet though. Rarely make or receive calls on it and hate sending text msgs as I have trouble with the keys and my fingers……..I don’t know how anyone manages to use a keypad that tiny!

    • I mostly text message my kids and I find it useful for that. (It’s the only way to reach them quite frequently.) And I like reading the NY Times on it. But that’s about it!

  • George Hume

    I must admit that I am part of the holdout brigade. I do have a cellphone, have had one for 20 years. My provider last year phased out the service on my old phone but I convinced them to give me a new one just like the old flip-phone. I turn it on when I want to call someone or when someone makes an appointment to reach me. Bliss. I can send and receive texts. I look at them when I turn the phone on, every day or three.
    Calvin Trillin had an amusing column recently about thumbing your way through life. (See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/books/review/idioms-language-smartphone.html)
    Life can be as simple as you want to make it.

    • Thanks for the Calvin Trillin link. I’ve always enjoyed his writing!

  • Charles Broming

    “jejune” indeed! Exactly right.

    That fool, Pierce, seems to believe that writing and speaking are the same thing done with different parts of the body.

    The science is clear on this matter: to do anything substantial you need time, space and singular focus. “instant” = “ordinary” or “mundane” or “banal” (or all of the above).

    • I think Pierce is just way too young…

      • Charles Broming

        I dunno. I knew better by the age of 18.

  • Hi Daphne,
    Add me to the list of late adopters as free as smartphones are concerned. I switched to a smartphone only because my service provider stopped CDMA service and I use it as little as possible –
    mainly for incoming calls and almost never for texting. I text less than five times a week.

    As you say, why use only “my fat thumbs” when I can use all ten fingers on my computer keyboard?

    And one of the simple joys of my life is switching off my smartphone or leaving it behind when I go out for a stroll. I do take a small notepad and pen though. 🙂

  • Jagadish Kumar

    Thanks Daphne. Your suggestion served as a launch pad for launching 2018!

  • CalWriter

    Brava, Daphne! I’m with you. Mobile or “smart” phones are valuable tools for emergencies, not appendages. I rarely turned mine on until recently. Now it seems wise to have it on a little more — but never while driving or spending time with others, in-person.

    I would feel better about them if people weren’t so rude when using them in public places. Strangers don’t want to hear your phone conversations, especially in theaters. Loud arguments are particularly annoying and in some cases, intimidating.

    One must be horribly insecure to feel s/he needs to be in constant contact with others.

    • Yes, I get particularly irritated in movie theatres where people are texting (shedding extra light all over the place) when I’d rather be watching the movie…

  • Felipe Nascimento

    First of all, I would like to congratulate you on this post because I believe that talking about it in today’s world is very important.

    I’m not a fan of smartphones, either, and I’m only 21 years old (laughs). I think it’s a very advanced technology and important these days, though, I find it a waste of people devoting so much to an electronic device.

    Here in Brazil, people are crazy about Apple Iphones, this brand has become a “social status” where anyone who owns iPhones deserves differentiated attention among people (If you own an iPhone, you’re fashionable and you’re rich) . And that makes people stop living to simply “live by status.”

    My dependence on using my smartphone occurs mainly during the day of my work because I need to send information to the company where I work and so I need to use this technology. But when I’m not working, I try to avoid using my smartphone.

    For me, I would not have a smartphone and would love to trade it for thousands of books (laughs).

    To conclude, I would like to see people enjoying life more, interacting and learning with people, enjoying nature and exploring what they have given us. Life is so short for such an infinite technology. Is it then that she overcame us? We can still change the game! Nothing is impossible

    “I Fear the Day That Technology Will Surpass Our Human Interaction.” – Albert Einstein

    Video: Are you lost in the world like me?

    • Thanks for sharing that Einstein quote, Filipe. I’d never heard it before and it’s such a powerful one! Good for you for being mindful about your smartphone use.

  • Alexander Poise

    Daphne, somehow, it has never become an issue for me. Maybe because I never signed up for a data plan—either for my iPhone or iPad.

    I turn on the iPhone only a couple of days a week and only for a very short time when I need to make a call, send a text, or expect a call/text from someone else. And that someone else is one of only a handful of people who have my number.

    However, I always carry the iPhone with me and use it for both “writing when it strikes” and reading when there’s unexpected downtime. As Diane said, it is my library.

    However, my primary eBook library resides on my iPad. It’s also easier and more fun to type on. So when I anticipate some downtime or an opportunity for writing outside home, then I do bring the iPad with me.

    In addition to the opportune use of the iPhone for writing and reading, I grab it when my night muse occasionally visits me. Then I fire up Scrivener, Outline, or Notebooks to jot down whatever I need to, and voila, I can access everything from my PC or MacBook in the morning (thanks to Dropbox).

    And I never developed a “fat thumbs” syndrome—got to use my “slim” index finger, I guess. 🙂

    • Your approach sounds very disciplined, Alexander and I’m so glad it works for you.