You realize how much you rely on your phone only when you have to shut it off

You hear it all the time: a smartphone is the best way to keep in touch with friends and family, know what's happening in the world, and have a little fun now and then. But I found out that you can come to depend on it being the only way to do these things, and when you can't have it you might feel lost.

I've had a round of doctors probing and poking at my back this winter. That's not something unusual for me, but this go 'round involved three minor surgeries. Ouch. I just had the third (and final, thank heavens) done and unintentionally spent some time cut off from everything because I was without my phone.

I had just finished the thing and was trying to get comfy in an uncomfortable hospital bed. I reached into my little pack (Be prepared; my scoutmaster taught me that!) and grabbed my phone to send a few messages to my people. I had just finished hollering at Daniel and the rest of the crew to let them know I survived, and a nurse with a look on her face that said "don't argue with me" told me to shut it off and give it to my wife to take out of the room. Apparently, my room was part of the intensive care ward and had oxygen lines (or something, I'm no medical technician guy) and electronics were not allowed. No big deal, I was only there for one night so they could watch me sleep or whatever creepy thing they like to do at hospitals. Or so I thought.

Being alone with my thoughts was not nearly as fun as I ever imagined it would be.

My wife made sure I was settled in, then she had to go to work. So it was just me and my thoughts. The book I had planned to read was a Kindle book on my phone. There was no TV, no radio, no anything besides me and the little voice in my head. Normally people slept in this room, I was just in it because scheduling around hospital renovations made it empty and convenient. I literally had nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs until the next morning when I could leave, and it was simply maddening. I could have brought a book or a stack of magazines or something to pass the time, but I didn't because my phone does all that stuff.

I know I'm not alone here. Not in the stuck in a hospital bed way, but in the depending on my phone to be everything way. These little gadgets have worked their way into our lives and replaced so many things like books or music players or even televisions, and I have always taken that for granted — I always have my phone in my pocket. That means I have the news, some music, YouTube and Netflix, plus a way to talk to real people with me all the time and never thought twice about it. At least until it was too late to do anything.

I love having a phone that does it all, but I'm going to start packing a book, too.

It's great that we have these wonderful contraptions and that they can do so many things. But I'm going to make sure I pack a book or two along the next time I'm planning to be away from home for a day or two because without my phone I felt isolated and alone once I got over the boredom. And this was just one day; I don't want to think about being cut off for an extended period of time. Being alone with my thoughts was not nearly as fun as I ever imagined it would be.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • If you rely on your phone that much then maybe that's why some people out work you by leaps and bounds
  • out work me? Not sure what you mean there.
  • Just a troll
  • It’s just a lazy insult.
  • Terrible thing to say when you don't know someone's circumstances
  • Exactly this... Such a mean thing to say to someone you don't know personally, or anyone for that matter.
  • Seems like you're doing okay, Jerry. Glad to hear it.
  • I love my phone. I'd rather be on my phone than hang out with people
  • I hope you are joking.
  • Relationships are so inconvenient. We should all stay away from each other. Who needs friends when we have pets and gadgets to hang out with.
  • Pets are dangerously close to having a actual relationship. I recommend a Furby, instead, to avoid the risk of any sort of emotional response.
  • Makes me glad I won't be around when people like you are in charge!
  • Really interesting article. I love my phone, but sadly we all have to agree that phones are destroying those young peoples minds, they are getting to dependent, I know a lot of people that only express themselves through a phone, when you sit with them to talk they go speechless. Thats what Albert Einstein sad: I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.
  • I totally agree. Just walk around any shopping mall and watch all of the zombie teens strolling with thier heads looking down at thier phones oblivious to everything going on around them. Most teens and early 20's will text entire conversations these days. Thier phone typing skills are off the charts and thier communication skills are off the charts in the other direction. I know a couple that bought thier 8 year old a new iPhone 7 plus last year.
  • You can say the same thing about any new technology. Who is to say that we are not evolving and won't need to speak to each other in person in the future. No one is complaining that people are taking their cars everywhere and not running, walking or riding a horse because this is the new norm. Bottled water is another example of convenience winning over the masses. Just a thought.
  • That's damn right. When printed books came out, then radio, then TV, then mobile phones, the counter argument was always "People will not go outside, will not have 'real' conversations and the like". I beg to differ. If anything, technology is about getting people closer, in regards of having more free time to use, and by making distances short for conversation and socializing.
  • And they spend that time on the phone.
  • We were created for relationship. It's not an evolution thing. Comparing driving a car to constantly being on a phone is at best asinine. Cars made the world open up. Phones close it.
  • Or just disable all internet connectivity.
  • Glad you are doing well. Grumpy is the new normal? The Note to Self podcast had a Bored and Brilliant series last year. That might interest you now that you have your phone back in pocket.
  • I love that podcast. Really made me think.
  • As much as I like my phone(s), I've started putting them away when I'm visiting with people. It's not normal to feel isolated or lonely because an electronic gadget isn't readily available. I'm not picking on you, Jerry. I'm talking about myself. I'm just using your words. I only want one master in my life (Jesus), and phones constantly clamor for my time and allegiance. I didn't realize how hard it would be to make the break initially, but we somehow were able to live life without these things not too long ago.
  • Oh Jesus....(Bill Burr voice)
  • I agree with this, and wish I could say the same
  • Speedy recovery Jerry!! I was in a somewhat similar predicament a while back. Now I bring at least one book with me...otherwise, the small voice in my head doesn't shut up
  • Of course phones have become absolutely must have gadgets for all, young and old. But sadly we've all become too dependant on them. As much as I love my phone, I love putting it to one side at night and being alone with my thoughts as I drift off to sleep. I'm glad I had a phone free childhood... A 'proper' childhood!
  • Agreed man. I had my phone stolen a year ago on vacation and the only thing that pissed me off was thinking of the cost to get a new one, and that I couldn't record any of it because hell if you can find the old windup cameras anymore. I'm bizarre though because I felt a relief not having a phone, not anxiety, but I grew up with no phones. My first phone was my freshman year of college half-way through. I went a month before I even decided to get another one lol
  • Haha... It's amazing how we can adapt! I had to send my phone to get it fixed and 2 days I went without a phone...and I'm happy to say, I was absolutely fine! Definitely a positive sign.
  • 'Proper' is whatevet childhood you had. I do think that being able to verbally communicate is important, and I made sure my son could.
  • Get well soon, Jerry..... And keep well too. How about writing an article to explore if there's any real reason for hospital wards to ban us from having our phone with us, please? If anyone can do it, you're the man. I've never been in that situation, yet, but have visited others in intensive and critical care wards with signs warning No Phones but have seen medical staff frequently using theirs.
    If you can put forward a counter argument you'll be doing us all a favour and be ready yourself if you're ever in that situation again..... Perish the thought!
  • There used to be sold wristbands that would light up or vibrate (I forget which, maybe both) when one got an incoming call on the nearby cell phone, no bluetooth connection needed. If your phone isn't in airplane mode, it could be sending out a signal strong enough to influence highly sensitive circuits. I wonder if wristwatches were banned in this room. Typically, in such areas, one wouldn't get cell coverage due to shielding. Historically, gas stations had signage saying not to use cell phones on premises. I think MythBusters might've had a segment on it. Edit: yes,
  • I'll bet there was electrical lighting in Jerry's room.
  • Hey Jerry, just sending some wishes across to you for a speedy recovery. Take care.
  • Glad to hear you're getting the medical attention needed Jerry, and your recovery is going well. In this digital age it's tough to be separated from our devices, but being away from screens I think helps us remember what life "used to be" before we had them everywhere. Actually reading a physical book or newspaper or even , Heaven forbid, making a call on a landline :) .
  • Jerry, Hope you have a quick and full recovery. While in the hospital you could have kept the cell phone on airplane mode and listened to music. Assuming not all your music is not in a cloud. Two comments:
    1 At family dinners cell phones are banned from the dinner table. 2 When me and my girlfriend are out together we limit our cell phone usage and actually talk to each other face-to-face.
  • My guess is the hospital doesn't want to take the chance of someone having a "brain fart" and "accidentally" taking it out of airplane mode.
  • Get well soon, Jerry. I've missed you on the podcast. I remember life before cell phones. It was a simpler time. I love having my phone, and I know I'm addicted to it. It takes a degree of distraction (work, play, etc.) for me to go without my phone for any significant length of time. Once that distraction ends, I feel the "withdrawal" from my digital "fix". Can I go without it? Sure, if I have to. Do I want to go without it? Hell, no! But, like everything in life, moderation is the key. Being alone with my thoughts is not so scary. Being unable to reach out and really talk to someone (in person) is quite scary, I would imagine. I hope no one, including myself, ever has that problem.
  • One day, try a week. No one would bring me a charger either. So I called my sister and asked for everyone's phone number and I called all my family from the hospital room phone and had whole conversations with them and dared them to hang up on my bored ass. 😂 😁
  • One Sunday when my wife, kids and I we're all home with no school or work, my wife and I gathered every phone, tablet, our internet router, cable boxes, gaming machines and everything that was tech realated except for our house phone (it was like being in the 90's again) and locked it in my wife's office miles away. It was one of the best days I can remember with all of us being trapped in the house due to lousy weather. We actually talked, ate together, stayed in the same room together, I even started reading a Stephen King book I've been wanting to reread taking a dump. The first hour of us just looking at each other was a little strange, but then we created fun and we're social for the whole day. The following Sunday we went back to normal... Kids in their rooms on their ps4's, iPads, Nvidia tablets, I was back to my back porch smoking my cigs and playing on my pixel and my wife playing candy crush and still remaining to be the oak of our household keeping it together. I love tech and always waiting for the next best thing, but that Sunday was magical
  • Lol this was a good read. That was our childhood!
  • I'm the same way. My phone as replaced everything.
  • Jerry, I hope you have a speedy recovery. Get well soon! ☺️
  • If you're trying to carry books around with you, I'd suggest looking into Mouse Books. It's a monthly subscription service that delivers small books about the size of a smartphone to your house. They tend to be from more classical authors, like O. Henry, Oscar Wilde, Kafka, etc., so if you're into that stuff, it's definitely worth a look.
  • Great article, Jerry! I'm making it point to put my phone down (outside of phone calls) at least one day a week. And I wish you a speedy recovery my friend!
  • You forgot about "flight mode"?
  • I learned back in 1993 when I got my first cellphone, McCaw Cellular... fifty bucks for ONLY thirty minutes:
    You either control the phone (To keep the costs down) or the phone will control you.
    Same goes for today... I see folks walking, in the dry sauna, driving, in restaurants, everywhere... their heads are down and they can't put down their phones... now, mostly for the social media.
    You control your own phone, and try putting it down sometimes and enjoy... real life! 😉
  • Yep - it's not just a 'phone' anymore. It has evolved into a very - personal - communication device that I have configured to my personal tastes. It works really well for me. Like a personal assistant. Rest up - get well - and hope to hear more from you soon.
  • Call me old school but I still prefer the feeling of an actual book in my hands. Can't stand reading on a screen (causes my eyes to go all wonky) 
  • Have you tried e-ink?
  • Glad you are ok Jerry, and you are SO preaching to the choir about being without my phone. Think I will follow your lead about taking hard copy to read.
  • Jerry,
    Great article and we wish you well. It makes us more aware of our family and friends by putting our cellphones down and interact with each other. Best to you and your family.
  • My favourite part of this read was the scouter reference. Be prepared! I agree about how vital our devices have become. It's both good and bad.
  • If I leave home and forget my phone. I DO NOT return home to get it. I love having it. But it's not a priority.
  • You didn't tell the nurse about the multitude of electronic equipment and outlets in the room already? I swear, some of these morons making these rules, need a good smack upside the head.