On a recent podcast interview with Ben Clymer of Hodinkee, Ed Sheeran explained that he hasn’t had a cell phone since 2015. Not an iPhone. Not a Google Pixel. Not even a flip phone, which, yes, if you try hard enough. you can still buy
“It’s remarkable that you can exist in a day like today without a phone,” Clymer said, echoing a thought most of us would probably agree with. Sheeran’s answer, however, displayed a remarkable amount of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
“I got really, really overwhelmed and sad with a phone. I just spent my whole time just in a very low place,” Sheeran responded. “I got rid of it, and it was like a veil just lifted.”
Probably the biggest question most people have immediately is how can someone stay connected in a world where a smartphone is an extension of our personality. For someone like Sheeran, that would seem like a priority considering his schedule. Not having a smartphone, let alone any cell phone, would seem like a big problem.
If you’re like me, the first questions that went through your mind were probably something similar to: How do you respond to text messages without a phone? What about communicating about work projects. How do you post to social media?
“I have an email … and like, every few days, I’ll sit down and open up my laptop and I’ll answer 10 emails at a time,” said Sheeran. “I’ll send them off and close my laptop and then that’ll be it. And then I’ll go back to living life and I don’t feel overwhelmed.”
The key there is the part where he goes back to “living life.” That might be the best email strategy I’ve ever heard, by the way. I have 547 unread emails in my inbox right now and I do my best to delete everything possible by the end of the day. That’s just since this morning. I can’t imagine how many emails a Grammy-award winning musician gets.
The point, however, is that Sheeran doesn’t allow technology to get in the way of living his life. He decided the best way to do that is to not let his smartphone become a distraction–or worse, a source of anxiety.
His explanation of how he got to that point is something I think everyone can relate to if we’re honest enough to admit it:
I could be having a conversation with you over dinner, right? And we’re really getting into it and talking about some serious sh-t. And my phone can vibrate in my pocket. And even I’m not looking at my phone. I go, who is that? I wonder who that was? What was that vibration? Oh, there’s another one. Now I’ve got two texts, maybe that was important. Should I check my phone? No, I’m having a conversation with Ben, I shouldn’t check my phone. And, I’m kind of listening to you, but I’m also thinking that.
I said at the beginning that I thought this was a brilliant example of emotional intelligence, and here’s why. Sheeran not only had enough self-awareness to recognize the effect having a smartphone that made him always available was having on his mental health, but he also used that to make a change.
Sure, some people would consider getting rid of a cell phone dramatic. A lot of people depend on their iPhone or Android device to communicate with the important people in their lives. In many cases, it’s the primary work device people use. Ditching the phone would make it very hard to stay connected.
For Sheeran, however, that’s the point. “The best thing about it is aside from mental health and feeling better about everything, is the moments that I have with the people I love in person, uninterrupted,” Sheehan said.
Being connected all the time isn’t a virtue. It doesn’t make you better at what you do. In many cases, it very well might make you a worse friend, or partner, or employee, or parent if it’s causing you to miss out on the life happening in front of you.
Look, I know most people aren’t going to give up their iPhone. I would, however, suggest that if you find that the device you carry is causing you anxiety, or diminishing the quality of the relationships you have with people who are important to you, it might be worth considering whether you need to make a change.