Do you own your phone or does it own you?
Have you started thinking about new year's resolutions for 2016? Back to the gym or giving up sugary drinks?
Many new year's resolutions have a health theme. Unless you have a heroin addiction, there may not be anything else in your life that is more addictive and has potentially more impact on your health and quality of life than your mobile phone. Almost every week there is some new report about the negative impact of phone use on rest or leisure time. Children are particularly at risk and evidence strongly suggests their grades at school are tanking as a consequence.
Can you imagine your life changing for the better if you switched off your mobile phone or left it at home for one day per week in 2016? If you have children, can you think of anything more powerful than the example you set yourself to help them stay in control of their phones? Children have a remarkable ability to emulate the bad habits they observe in their parents.
Are you in control?
Turning it off is a powerful act of showing who is in charge. If you feel you can't live without it, then you are putting your life in the hands of the people who expect an immediate answer of their calls, your phone company and the Silicon Valley executives who make all those apps you can't stop using.
As security expert Jacob Appelbaum puts it, cell phones are tracking devices that also happen to make phone calls. Isn't that a chilling thought to reflect on the next time you give one as Christmas gift?
For your health, your children and your bank balance
Not so long ago we were having lunch in a pizza restaurant in Luzern, a picturesque lakeside town at the base of the Swiss Alps. Luzern is a popular first stop for tourists from all around the world.
A Korean family came along and sat at the table next to us. After ordering their food, they all immediately took out their mobile devices and sat there in complete silence, the mother and father, a girl of eight and a boy of five, oblivious to the world around them and even each other, tapping and swiping for the next ten minutes until their food arrived.
We wanted to say hello to them, I joked that I should beep first, initiating communication with the sound of a text message notification.
Is this how all holidays will be in future? Is it how all families will spend time together? Can you imagine your grandchildren and their children sharing a meal like this in the year 2050 or beyond?
Which gadgets does Bond bring to Switzerland?
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the more memorable Bond movies for its spectacular setting in the Swiss Alps, the location now transformed into a mountain-top revolving restaurant visited by thousands of tourists every day with a comfortable cable car service and hiking trails with breathtaking views that never become boring.
Can you imagine Bond leaving behind his gun and his skis and visiting Switzerland with a smartphone instead? Eating a pizza with one hand while using the fingertips of the other to operate an app for making drone strikes on villains, swiping through Tinder for a new girl to replace the one who died (from boredom) in his previous "adventure" and letting his gelati melt while engrossed in a downhill ski or motorcycle game in all the glory of a 5.7" 24-bit colour display?
Of course its absurd. Would you want to live like that yourself? We see more and more of it in people who are supposedly in Switzerland on the trip of a lifetime. Would you tolerate it in a movie? The mobile phone industry has paid big money to have their technology appear on the silver screen but audience feedback shows people are frustrated with movies that plaster the contents of text messages across the screen every few minutes; hopefully Bond movies will continue to plaster bullets and blood across the screen instead.
Time for freedom
How would you live for a day or a weekend or an entire holiday without your mobile phone? There are many small frustrations you may experience but the biggest one and the indirect cause of many other problems you will experience may be the inability to tell the time.
Many people today have stopped wearing a watch, relying instead upon their mobile phone to tell the time.
Without either a phone or a watch, frustration is not far away.
If you feel apprehension just at the thought of leaving your phone at home, the lack of a watch may be a subconcious factor behind your hesitation.
Trying is better than reading
Many articles and blogs give opinions about how to buy a watch, how much to spend and what you can wear it with. Don't spend a lot of time reading any of it, if you don't know where to start, simply go down to the local high street or mall and try them. Start with the most glamorous and expensive models from Swiss manufacturers, as these are what everything else is compared to and then perhaps proceed to look more widely. While Swiss brands tend to sell through the stores, vendors on Amazon and eBay now distribute a range of watches from manufacturers in Japan, China and other locations, such as Orient and Invicta, at a fraction of the price of those in the stores. You still need to try a few first to identify your preferred style and case size though. Google can also turn up many options for different budgets.
Copying or competition? Similarity of Invicta (from Amazon) and Rolex Submariner
You may not know whether you want a watch that is manually wound, automatically wound or battery operated. Buying a low-cost automatic model online could be a good way to familiarize yourself before buying anything serious. Mechanical watches have a smoother and more elegant second-hand movement and will survive the next Carrington event but may come to grief around magnets - a brief encounter with a low-cost de-gausser fixes that.
Is it smart to buy a smart watch?
If you genuinely want to have the feeling of complete freedom and control over technology, you may want to think twice about buying a smart watch. While it may be interesting to own and experiment with it some of the time, being free from your phone means being free from other electronic technology too. If you do go for a smart watch (and there are many valid reasons for trying one some of the time), maybe make it a second (or third) watch.
Smart watches are likely to be controversial for some time to come due to their impact in schools (where mobile phones are usually banned) and various privacy factors.
Help those around you achieve phone freedom in 2016
There will be further blogs on this theme during 2016, each looking at the pressures people face when with or without the mobile phone.
As a developer of communications technology myself, you may be surprised to see me encouraging people not to use it every waking minute. Working on this technology makes me more conscious of its impact on those around me and society in general.
A powerful factor to consider when talking about any communications technology is the presence of peer pressure and the behavior of those around you. Going phone-free may involve helping them to consider taking control too. Helping them out with a new watch as a gift (be careful to seek advice on the style that they are likely to prefer or ensure the purchase can be exchanged) may be an interesting way to help them engage with the idea and every time they look at the time, they may also be reminded of your concern for their freedom.