The No Phone List: 10 Situations Best Experienced App-less

By now you’ve no doubt seen this viral video go by– called “I Forgot My Phone” and written by Charlene deGuzman, it presents a haunting and disconcertingly accurate portrait of a world in which our life experiences are mediated by tiny glowing screens.

As this article on the New York Times’ blog points out, we may be nearing a cultural come-to-Jesus moment where we decide that while we could bring our smartphones with us everywhere, perhaps we shouldn’t. But until that new standard of appropriateness emerges, we’re left to figure out for ourselves– when is it truly life-enhancing to have one’s phone nearby, and when should we abandon it at home (Or at least in the car? Or at least turn it off? Or put it on vibrate? Or…?)? Here’s a starter list of situations that we hope will eventually be on the no-phone list.

1. In line at the grocery store

Many places have gone so far as to post a sign asking that you not talk on your phone while checking out. But this suggestion has more to do with leaving technology behind when you’re in any kind of a customer service situation. you miss out on those great cashier-customer interactions that can bring a spot of brightness to your day. Yeah, it’s a little thing, but it counts.

2. While driving. 

Yes, even while you’re in traffic. Or at a stoplight. Or stop sign. Or if you’ve driven that particular route 100 times. Don’t believe me? Let Werner Herzog scare the crap out of you.

3. At a restaurant while your date is also fiddling with his/her smartphone

When I waited tables, we had this phrase for non-communicating couples who rarely made eye contact with each other and ate their food silently: ” the dining dead.” I worry we’ve taken this phenomenon to another level with our smartphones– how common it’s become to see a couple simultaneously fiddling with their smart phones (Okay, fine, yes, I’ve done this many times– it’s complicated by the fact that it’s now the way I “read the Sunday paper” which I would argue is somehow less offensive, even if it looks the same.) 

4. On a hiking trip

The birds are singing, the leaves crunching under your feet, and wouldn’t that aspen grove look great with a little sepia filter… BAD HIKER! Don’t do it! I committed this very sin just last weekend (see right). In fact I get two strikes– for taking a picture of my hiking partner taking a picture. (Hanging head in shame.)

5. While bonding with baby

I’m including this one knowing full well that I am likely to break this rule if/when I have kids, and also having heard from friends and colleagues that one’s smartphone can be a lifeline in the haze of early parenthood. Also, I am not judging. I do think though that this question is worthy of conversation– just read this remarkable interview in the Atlantic with technology executive Linda Stone, coiner of the term “continuous partial attention.” The excerpt that has stuck with me:

“We learn by imitation, from the very start. That’s how we’re wired…Children are also cued by where a parent focuses attention. The child’s gaze follows the mother’s gaze. Not long ago, I had brunch with friends who are doctors, and both of them were on call. They were constantly pulling out their smartphones. The focus of their 1-year-old turned to the smartphone: Mommy’s got it, Daddy’s got it. I want it.”

6. While having a one-on-one conversation

Thanks to Facebook follower JoAnn Hawkins for this one. You know those times when someone’s telling you a story and you just need to check something really quick and you’re totally still listening and then you spontaneously burst into laughter because someone posted the funniest thing on your Facebook page, and sorry, what were you saying? Anyway, stop doing that! And I will too.

7. When you’re on a conference call

You’re on a conference call or phone meeting that has long outlasted its usefulness. But rather than saying so, and disconnecting, you begin to multitask. You check your email, and start trying to come up with a funny reply to somebody’s tweet about that legendary #twerkfail, and before you know it, you’re coming across as braindead to the other folks on the line, all of whom are likely doing the very same thing.

8. In the (public) bathroom 

I think we can all agree not to make the line to the ladies room any longer that it already is. (Credit: Kate Burnham McCreight from our Facebook page).

9. In that meeting you called

Theoretically you might be doing something really relevant to the conversation at hand, like taking notes, or making sure your calendar’s clear for a proposed follow-up, or, digging up a related conversation thread. But we all know you’re refreshing your Facebook page to see whether anyone’s commented on your last Facebook status. Busted.

10. In the inbetween moments

Seen one way, the most excusable moments in which to be smartphone-stoned are the seemingly disposable moments– waiting for a bus, or in the security line at the airport. Yet in my experience it’s in these moments of waiting, of inescapable be-here-nowness, that some of my best thinking emerges– and lovely serendipitous interactions take place. Why is it then, that when I find myself in such situations, I feel the irresistible urge to slide that little lock-bar and at the very least tweet about the clever observations I’m having? All part of the mystery, I guess.

So…what are we missing?