Can you survive two hours without your smartphone?

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.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

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).

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 Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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