Can you survive two hours without your smartphone?

Can you survive two hours without your smartphone?

Summary: Last night, our own David Gewirtz left his smartphone in his car. Across the street. Not within handy reach. For two hours. Alone. By itself. Untouched. Unchecked. It's not a pretty story.

TOPICS: Mobility

They say, "Know thyself." Sometimes, that can be a difficult thing to face.

Have you ever had one of those days where your self-perception comes smack up against the reality of who you really are? One of those days where who you choose to believe you are comes into irrefutable conflict with who you actually are?

Yeah. It's disturbing. That's what happened to me last night.

I think of myself as a technologist, a developer and manipulator of technology. I have always believed that technology was something I control, where the power is all (or at least mostly) mine. I'm an engineer and a computer scientist. I write programs. I've designed chips and operating systems, and I am comfortable (or at least conversant) down to the transistor level.

I have not let myself believe that technology has power over me. I've smugly watched the kids these days, with their faces in their smartphones, and thought, "Well, I'm not as bad as them. I haven't let it get its grips into me."

To be fair, there has always been a bit of self-delusion in this perception. I have ten monitors in my living/great room. If you add in all the tablets, phones, and laptops, maybe that's an additional ten screens. Oh, sure. I can make the case that I work from home and my office is in the great room, but the fact is, there are ten monitors and another ten screens. So, I'm not quite as removed from technology as I'd like to think.

In any case, last night I went to a local user group meeting. It was about 15 minutes from home, in downtown Melbourne. I parked across the street from the meeting, in the parking lot of the town hall, adjacent to the police station. I could see my car right outside the window from within the user group meeting.

This is particularly relevant because I left my smartphone in my car. Across the street. Not within handy reach. For two hours. Alone. By itself. Untouched. Unchecked.

There is, sadly, a relevant story behind why it got left in the car. When I left home, I noticed that my Android phone only had 88 percent battery. I was expecting to be away from home for about three or four hours (max), and I was concerned I might drop down to something like sixty percent battery (I know).

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I put the phone on the charger in the car, so by the time I arrived, I was hoping it would be topped off. This so I wouldn't have to use my phone, if I had to use my phone, without it having all the juice Samsung designed it to have.

I arrived a few minutes late and it was raining. I ran across the street (well, I don't run, so technically I strolled purposefully across the street) and joined the meeting. About five minutes in, I realized I didn't have my phone.

Okay. I can handle this. Think, David. Do you need to run across the street in the rain now? Do you need to interrupt the meeting? No. It's just a phone. You'll be fine.

That was five minutes into the meeting. By a half hour into the meeting, I was staring at the glass window on the front of the room, as if expecting text messages and email subject lines to manifest themselves across the panes.

An hour into the meeting, I was convinced everyone knew that I was technologically naked. I had no phone! Others had their MacBooks and their phones and their tablets, but I was unphoned. The meeting broke up and while some decided to visit the local bar, I had plans to meet my wife. By the time I met her, all I could say was "I left my smartphone in my car. I left my smartphone in my car."

My internal perception of being able to use technology but not become emotionally linked to it had shattered. Now, to be fair, my wife would look at that statement with some amusement, because every time a server has ever crashed, or I couldn't get code to work right, or any other time any tech wouldn't give in to my wishes, it usually resulted in a rant of epic proportions. But that's okay. We're all entitled to our delusions.

How could this have happened?

There was a time that I could live without tech. When I was a little boy, I actually did walk miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways. There was a hill between us and school, and you had to walk up one side and down the other. We didn't have phones. We just had mittens.

I was an Eagle Scout, darn it! When I was fourteen or fifteen, I took a Boy Scout survival training course. We were sent out into the woods for a week with just our knives and our training and had to survive. And we did. We didn't take our smartphones with us. There was no such thing.

I was a chubby little bad-ass.

When I was sixteen and seventeen, I spent entire summers in the Adirondack Mountains, living in a tent. No technology at all. For eleven weeks! I didn't have a cellular connection or a laptop or a tablet. Such things didn't exist back then.

When I was eighteen or so, I used to drive from New Jersey to Massachusetts, back and forth to school. It was four hours on the road, often long empty stretches, often very late at night. I didn't have a phone. I had a cassette deck, some tunes, and George Carlin. That was all.

When I graduated college, two buddies and I camped our way across the United States. We had a jeep, some camping gear, and a little cash. We didn't have any technology. We didn't have cell phones. We just had four-wheel drive and a spare tire.

Those were the 1970s and the 1980s. The only mobile phones you'd see would be in Hart to Hart episodes on TV, and that's only because Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers were playing a millionaire power couple with a fancy car, a driver, and a mobile phone.

But now. Now we're here. Now I can barely survive two hours without going through technology withdrawal. I'm never out of reach of the internet. I take my phone to bed with me (my wife once chuckled because she caught me in bed with five or six "tiny computers" — and I wasn't even doing anything dirty).

I even have a Nexus 7 in the bathroom, just in case I can't last a bio break without checking in on my email or reading the latest posts on Flipboard.

So there it is. I have to accept it. I am hooked on tech, strung out on the internet. I can give it up any time I want. But I don't want.

Man, I'm telling you. If we find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic world, the internet better still be working!

What about you? Can you survive two hours without your smartphone? TalkBack and tell your sorry stories below.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at

Topic: Mobility


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • 2 hours, easy - Do more everynight :)

    But seriously, I know it's a bit sad, but I left mine at home yesterday. All Day!
    I did even contemplate driving home to get it............
    Felt a bit like an arm had been cut off.
    Took me back in time to when you only had email on a computer. Getting back to the desk and finding this mass of unread and unseen mails waiting for you........
    I even considered afterwards attaching a post-it to the door with the word "Phone" and "Lunch", just to avoid this situation reoccuring!
    • By the way, it is recurring, not reoccurring. (NT)

    • Every day too

      When I go into meetings I leave my smartphone on my desk. I find it inconsiderate and rude to be constantly ignoring those talking in the meeting, because I have just received an unlrelated email or message.

      If there is something important that needs my immediate attention, somebody will extract me from the meeting and give me the message.

      It is called common courtesy, but it seems not to be so common these days.

      At home, the smartphone gets left on the worktop in the kitchen. If it doesn't ring, I'll check it a couple of hours later when I go to bed - I don't have a signal tone for email set up, it doesn't even vibrate.

      The same at the weekend, if I'm not actually making a call, it sits on the worktop. If I go out, it is 50-50 whether I bother taking the phone with me.
  • Can you survive two hours without your smartphone?

    Yes and I have before. It is nice to have in case of missed calls or txt messages or to find out what time it is but going a few hours without it isn't a big deal for me.
  • Yes, its easy

    Products like OneDrive, Skype, allow you to access your info from anywhere on any device. You can literally borrow someones device and get to your info. The only time it would be a concern is for safety reasons where you may need to make an emergency call.
    Sean Foley
  • Maybe a TA group could help.

    "Hello. My name is David, and I'm a technoholic."
  • A generational dilemma?

    While technology has become a sweet spot in my lifestyle, much like this writer, it hasn't always been so. By the time cell phones became popular and affordable, I was already in my 40's.

    Access to technology for me is more of a hobby on steroids, in that I greatly enjoy the benefits it provides, but can function well without it. It certainly brings the world to me rather than the reverse. I can certainly understand the addictive qualities of technology and have been bit on occasion. It serves to remind me that life can impose its own peculiar set of limitations apon me without bringing my own crutch (tech) with me. And yes, I'll continue to use tech, but I reserve the right to choose......
  • Managed 3 weeks

    Phone died.. sent for repair.. spare phone died.. didn't have a 2nd replacement.

    I thought, a couple of weeks without a phone, easy. I eventually got it back after about 3 weeks. I was mostly fine. I have laptop/desktop and wifi tablet. No withdrawal there.

    The big problem as with other people. "I'll call you", "Call me when you get there", "Let me know when you are waiting in the car".

    The answer to all of these was "Ermm. No!" In the old days before the mobile phone we used to set a time, such as "See you at "8:30". Now its "I'll text you when I leave".

    Also in the old days people used to be (mostly) on time. Now we get a message saying "Sorry. Got held up. See you at 9:00!"
  • Today's luxuries are tomorrow's necessities

  • Hilarious!!

    I grew up before the internet (yes, youngsters there was such a time) and I can certainly go days without a phone. But, I understand the feeling David. When you have access to information at a moments notice it can seem an eternity to go an hour without.
  • No worries.

    I installed Pushbullet on my phone, tablet and computer. All notifications and alerts from my devices are sent to my computer so I never have to look at my phone or tablet while I'm using my computer. You can disable mirroring of individual alerts and notifications that you do not want to display on your computer screen.

    This keeps me from having a panic attack if I ever forget to bring my phone to work.
  • Ask yourself why you need that technology right there 24/7

    Is it because you are accustomed to having the answer "right now"?
    Is it because you need the answer (work) "right now"?
    Or is it because you don't want to offend the person at the other end by not getting to them "right now"?

    Trust me, they'll get over it.
    • "Trust me, they'll get over it."

      Totally agree.

      I don't "text"...don't use Farcebook, Twitter, LinkedIn...or any other of these lame social networking sites. There is no one I "need" to be in 24/7 contact with. Not even my wife of 40 years.

      My feeling is that if people can't CALL me on the phone...and yes...I actually use my smartphone as a TELEPHONE...or at the very least e-mail me...then I really probably don't need to hear from them anyway.

      And one other "feature" the escapes many users of portable electronic devices these days is the fact that you can...and I am not making this up...TURN THEM OFF. Really. I do so every night.
  • Smartphones are a social crutch, far more addictive than anything the phone

    itself actually does. People reach for their phones to have "something to do" riding a long elevator alongside other captives, it is a water cooler ice-breaker with co-workers or in those awkward silences during social occasions. Especially for accomplished, hyper-focused "geeks" who are not by and large very graceful or comfortable in company, a smartphone is an instant diversion or hiding place. When the social going gets tough, the tough get swiping.
  • I know this is probably heresy, but ...

    I don't even own a smartphone! I have a phone that simply makes and receives phone calls. And I don't always carry it with me. Sometimes, I don't want to answer the phone. There's no emergency that could come up that can't wait for 30 minutes or so for me to deal with. I'm not a doctor. I spend the time that I'm not on the phone looking around, talking with people, enjoying the fresh air, thinking about things, making plans - all things I wouldn't do if I was on the Internet.
  • Re: Smartphones

    I agree it's a crutch. I'll often pull my phone out of my pocket and wake it up, only to realize I wasn't really planning to do anything with it. But I've always had a bit of ADD.

    As an aside, I couldn't help but chuckle at your Hart to Hart reference. Apparently that was on TV in the hospital room after my mom delivered my older brother (in 1982), and that's the reason he was named Jonathan.