Six months without an iPhone: introduction

Last week I bought an iPhone 4S, ending six months without a smartphone of any kind. I didn’t choose to go without an iPhone for that long. Instead, fate made that decision for me. Now that I’m back among the connected, I’ve revised my opinion of the thing and, more importantly, the sense of dependence I had built around it.

This week I’ll describe the experience of losing the iPhone, living without it, lessons learned and finally how I’m using my new one with those experiences in mind. Today I start at the beginning: abruptly saying goodbye to my iPhone 4.

Washington crossed the Delaware, but I didn’t

I’ve got a big, far-flug family. Each member lives in a different state and we only exist under the same roof once a year. Each summer, we rent a huge house somewhere along the US East Coast for a week and spend that time drinking beer, playing Whiffle Ball, exploring whatever hick town we’ve commandeered, drinking beer, playing Yahtzee, grilling, busting balls and drinking beer. It’s hugely fun and I look forward to it all year.

Last summer we were in the middle of no where, New York and towards the beginning of the week, rented canoes to paddle 5 miles along the Delaware [1. For a shorter version of this story, look here.]. It’s something I love to do. I own two kayaks and have been white water rafting countless times. The 13 of us were divided across several canoes and my wife, son (6 years old) and I occupied a canoe of our own. I had my iPhone in my pocket, in case a Kodak Moment presented itself [2. Foreshadowing.].

You see where this is going.

Less than a quarter of a mile into the journey, we hit a fast and completely unexpected rapid. I failed to steer us clear of a rock and our canoe capsized, ejecting me, my wife and my son into the water.


My son cannot swim and is the timid type. I didn’t see him anywhere. Icy, chest-high water rushed past me, pushing me down and under repeatedly. In that moment, I was absolutely positive that my son had drowned. No doubt in my mind. I saw something colorful under the water a few feet upstream and fought against the current to reach it. It was easy to see against the dull, grey rocks but impossible to identify. Finally I reached it and pulled it to the surface.

It was a towel. I had wasted time struggling to reach a towel.

At last, I heard a wail and turned to find my wife, also chest-deep in the water, moving towards me with our son, William. Both were OK, though my son was in a panic. When the canoe capsized, it went over top of him, and that’s why I didn’t see him at first. As I was being pulled along buy the current, she flipped it over and grabbed him.

I took him from her and deposited him on shore. Then I went back in and led her to dry land as well. The rest of the family had safely gathered by then, and decided to continue down the river. William and I would wait in a park I found nearby. Once they got back to the car, someone would return to pick us up.

As we waited in the park, soaked and muddy, I instinctively reached into my pocket where my iPhone was, soaked to the core and unmistakably dead [3. The hilarious irony is that, three years ago, we took my then 5-year-old daughter white water rafting along the Lehigh River, post damn-release, and she remained inside the wildly bucking raft the entire time. I’ve got a great photo her panic-stricken face, taken from shore.].

Of course, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of those you love and I never felt that as strongly as I did that week. As we drove home, I began to wonder about living without an iPhone. How would I collaborate with colleagues? What if I missed something fantastic on Twitter? What about all of the other apps I had grown to love, not to mention the ubiquitous access to the Internet? I went from constantly in touch to all but disconnected. What now?

Tomorrow I’ll explain the first few weeks without an iPhone, and weaning myself from the flow of information.