The trials and tribulations of giving up your smartphone

Nelson Del Tufo

When I told an old friend from high school that I was giving up my smartphone for Lent this year, her response — delivered over the Messages app — read: “Oh wow! How simultaneously masochistic and inconvenient for everyone around you!” 

“Funny!” I thought to myself, before ignoring the jab and going on to tell her about my weekend. 

In many ways, she was right to point out the absurdity of my choice. First of all, Lent is a largely Catholic ritual, involving the sacrifice of a worldly pleasure for greater spiritual fulfillment, and I am notably neither Catholic nor especially spiritual. In fact, I am likely the first person in my family to be able to say that since the Middle Ages. Both of my parents were baptized and confirmed, as were each of their parents before them. My older brother was, if family lore can be believed, stolen from his crib by my grandfather and baptized against my mother’s wishes early into his infancy. 

Additionally, living without a smartphone by choice is outwardly annoying. It is the sort of thing that people with utterly contrived personalities do to say, “Look at me! I am different!” Getting rid of your smartphone means disrupting not just your own social life, but the social lives of those who have the misfortune of knowing you, too. It is quixotic at best and hopelessly narcissistic at worst.

I hope that by giving up my smartphone, I am only tangentially fitting into the above stereotype. I would like to say that my principles set me apart from others, but I am sure that everyone who chooses to performatively get rid of their smartphone, such as the recently viral “Luddite teens” of Brooklyn, are motivated by similar principles.

I, like many, feel rather disillusioned with the world wrought by mass communication and modern consumer electronics. I communicate constantly with my friends via text; I use Spotify to listen to music during every free moment; and I scroll through Twitter endlessly throughout the day, but for all the endless entertainment provided by my phone, none of it ever seems to make me happier. I am often disgusted by my reliance on social media for constant stimulation and by the sheer amount of time I devote to absent-minded scrolling, time which could be devoted to doing something productive, or at least pleasant. I am saddened that my relationships with the people in my life are completely mediated by my smartphone, whether via our modes of communication or via the social-media-inflected nature of our in-person interactions. I am constantly nagged by the feeling that I have surrendered control of my life to a technology I neither appreciate nor fully understand.

Lent has provided me with an opportunity to address my dissatisfaction directly. Beginning last week on Ash Wednesday and continuing through April 6 during Holy Week, I will be seeing for myself if unplugging makes my life better — and if it is even possible.

So far, the extent to which my life has been affected one way or another remains unclear. There are some ways that I can blunt the effects of not having a smartphone. For instance, I use my laptop to text people from my Apple ID and to listen to music at the gym. Also, according to many Catholics, I could use my phone on Sundays because they are considered separate from the 40 days of Lent. So far, however, I have neglected to so. Additionally, I am not yet sure what the consequences of giving up my phone are because most of the time I don’t really think about not having it: The most obvious effects of its absence thus far have been to make physically finding my friends frustratingly difficult and to make outdoor runs tediously boring.

Nevertheless, I will stick as closely with my Lenten sacrifice as I can over the course of the next several weeks — partially out of stubbornness and partially out of a genuine desire to experience life without the constant stimulation of internet accessibility. We live in a world increasingly defined by easily accessible entertainment, to the point where simply existing without the aid of technology becomes sometimes displeasing. Even if I do find it hard to make dinner plans or to see in the morning what the day’s weather will be, I think the minor inconveniences of life without my smartphone are worth it so long as I can learn, in some small way, to be more satisfied with the mundanity of life. 

On Good Friday, I will undoubtedly be happy to have my phone back, but until then, I will make a concerted effort to listen to the sounds and to see the sights that the world offers to me. For a time, I will force myself to appreciate the sound of the wind in the trees, and the sight of the clouds on the mountains, because I will give myself nothing better to do. 

Nelson Del Tufo ’25 is from Big Indian, N.Y.