5 Big Secrets to Limiting Your SmartPhone Use

There’s no shortage of real-life accounts of people giving up their phones. Some give them up for Lent, some mimic intermittent fasting and give them up for a prescribed number of hours per day. I’ve been taking a more Princely approach, which is to avoid doing what the crowd does. When they scroll through their feeds, I’m laying some cards on the dining room table and re-learning solitaire. Here are 5 secrets I’ve learned about limiting your smartphone use:

  1. Don’t worry about limiting your accessibility. Limiting my smartphone use means I’ve been less available on an “anytime, anywhere” basis. While removing myself from constant accessibility caused some angst at first, as days pass, I’ve been surprised to discover that no one requires it of me. What a relief! For years, I’d put pressure on myself to reply promptly to texts and emails, imagining that’s what was expected. Plus, being less accessible gives you that aura of aloofness that is so very Princely. Now, it’s common for me to reply to a Facebook or text message hours after it was sent. Not once has anyone complained. The need to be available 24/7 was all in my head. Freeing!
  2. Connect your text messages to your laptop. I have an iPhone and MacBook Air, and the ability to see my texts on my laptop has been life-changing. Now, I check texts when I sit down to work, and not when I’m standing in the kitchen with pasta simmering on the stove. Only once has this strategy backfired, and it resulted in my decision to invoke the “I’m not a rock star” clause. I messed up a time zone difference on my calendar, and as a result, missed a work meeting. My colleague texted me but I didn’t see it, as I wasn’t on my laptop (I’m a contractor and work a few hours each day). It was only when I logged on an hour later that I saw my colleague’s text and realized my mistake. Now, on the weekdays, if I’m not at my laptop for a long stretch of time, quickly scan my phone for urgent texts.
  3. Put your phone to bed early. Think of your smartphone as a particularly demanding and grouchy toddler: It needs to go to bed early. The *one* thing I was doing right even before this month started was charging my phone in the kitchen each evening. Normally, I’ve got it plugged in on the kitchen counter by 7 p.m. and I don’t check it unless I hear the “bing” of a notification. Along the way, I missed some DMs and group conversations, but honestly, that never bothered me. I go to bed early, and my sleep is sacrosanct!
  4. Investigate alternative methods for listening to music and podcasts. Not streaming music or podcasts using my phone and beloved Bose speaker has been the thing I’ve missed most — by far! The ability to carry my music anywhere, in the car, my office, out on the back porch — I MISS IT. I miss The Purple Current. I miss Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast. Heck, I even miss The Dave Ramsey Show, a finance-oriented podcast I got temporarily hooked on, which generally features Dave yelling at people about how stupid they are to have credit cards. I miss you, Dave! While we have a stereo in our family room, and I’ve used it to play CDs, it’s not the same. (I keep forgetting to load up my car with CDs, which is highly annoying). When I move down to my office, I can’t hear the stereo. If I was going to commit to this long-term, I’d definitely investigate other ways to stream music and podcasts. (Are speakers for laptops still a thing?).
  5. Keep your brain engaged in other ways. There are lots of ways to relax and pass the time that aren’t phone-driven. (Really! There are! Remember the 70s? 80s? 90s? Aughties?). This month, I’ve relaxed with a coloring book. I’ve walked the dog. I’ve taken baths. I’ve read a book (printed on paper, no less!). I’ve started a puzzle on the dining room table (will I finish? That is the question!). And I’ve played solitaire with real, printed cards. Each and every one of them has been satisfying. Not a single one of them gave me Instagram-envy of someone else’s house or clothing. And that my friends, is the real victory of being untethered from your smartphone. You get to focus on being utterly YOU, unencumbered by comparisons and concerns about what others think of you, or what others are wearing or achieving. It’s a Princely victory, indeed.

Don’t Let Your Cell Phone Boss You Around

Dear Cell Phone: You’re no longer the boss of me!

Given that freedom-loving Prince advocated for partying when facing the very-real-in-the-1980s threat of nuclear war, it might seem counterintuitive to assert that Living Like Prince is about restraint. After all, the title track to 1982’s “1999” has Prince hedonistically declaring that if he’s going to be vaporized via nuclear annihilation, his top priority is to “listen to my body tonight.”

But yet — practicing restraint is exactly how I’ve spent a good portion of these first seven-plus months. Living Like Prince is about what I don’t do as much as what I do: Not eating every other day during January; not wearing sweats on a Target run in February; not using my given name in April; not acquiescing to things that deep down, I know aren’t right for me, in June.

August is no exception. Saying no to my cell phone is a “no” to the constant distraction (“bing!”) of notifications. By practicing restraint, I’m making room for something else to take the place of those minutes (hours?) of mindless scrolling.

Prince prioritized music-making. And as such, he had to show restraint in other areas. No device was going to rob him of his creative time or suck the life out of his creativity with its constant, mindless distractions.

As a recovering people pleaser and over-accommodator, I respect the way Prince stood firm on not having a phone, even if (especially if?) it inconvenienced others. (People are resourceful! If they need to reach you, I can assure you, they’ll find a way. They’ll figure out who’s with you and call that person). My first thought, which was that Prince was paranoid about his privacy, might be partially true, but it’s not the whole story. Prince was a rebel and his rebel nature expressed itself by being fiercely protective of his creativity and his dedication to making music in the face of any societal expectations. Could Prince’s lack of a phone at least partially account for his continued creativity and work ethic up to the very end? That might be stretching it a bit far, but it’s hard to deny that when you’re in “consuming content” mode — and consuming is exactly what mindlessly scrolling Instagram or binge-watching YouTube is — you’re not creating.

In a 2013 interview with V Magazine, writer Vanessa Grigoriadis says of interviewing Prince, “I ask how tech-averse he really is; does he have an iPhone? `Are you serious?’ he says. `Hell, no.’ He mimics a high-voiced woman. `Where is my phone? Can you call my phone? Oh, I can’t find it.’”

No, Prince wasn’t going to let some device run his life. Prince was notorious for denying his audiences their cell phones as well. You pull out a cell phone at a Prince concert, and you risk being unceremoniously removed from the show, end of story. But hey — he wasn’t asking anything of others that he wasn’t asking of himself. Grigoriadis describes a tense moment when entering the theater for the Prince and 3rdEyeGirl concert she attended in California:

“Both shows stretch to a delicious two hours, as the crowd, in blowouts and Vegas-style cocktail dresses (it’s worth dressing up for Prince, even in California), screams and sings along with glee. The only tense moment comes when we file into the theater and a security guard says, `No cameras, no cellphones—don’t even take them out of your pocket. Tonight, we’re not asking, we’re just escorting.’ I ask her what that means. `If we see you with your phone out, we’re not going to ask what you’re doing—you’re just gone.'”

I really need to implement this with my kids.

Grigoriadis goes on to share a moment at the end of the concert that’s especially poignant.

“At the end of the show he says, `Thank each and every one of you for leaving your cell phones in your pocket. I can’t see your face when you’ve got technology in front of it.'”

That, my friends, is the rationale for this month in a Princely nutshell. With a phone in front of your face, I can’t see you. I can’t connect with you. Disconnection, I believe, is at the heart of what ails our society. (Relatedly, if you have a child who’s even vaguely interested in medicine, point her/him toward orthopedics as there will be a heck of a lot of people with neck problems as the first crop of “digital natives” begins to age).

Will you let an electronic device boss you around?

Some 13 days into the month of August, and I already know my answer. In Prince’s immortal words: Hell no.

My Cell Phone and I Are Breaking Up in August

Good-bye, sweet phone. See you in September. *Sob!*

Good-bye, sweet cell phone.

This month’s theme has me quaking (and not “Housequake”-ing), in my boots (or sandals, since it’s high summer). In August, I’m giving up my cell phone.

Dammit, Prince. Why couldn’t you have carried a cell phone like the rest of us?

Yes, it’s true, Prince had no cell phone, a fact that he discussed with Arsenio Hall in an interview on the Arsenio Hall Show in 2014. I debated whether or not the lack of a cell phone was part of Prince’s success, or simply a quirk of his personality or even paranoia about privacy. There’s an argument to be made either way. Certainly, security must have been part of the reason, as celebrity phones do get hacked with some frequency. I don’t have the same public pressures on me, and security and privacy are not of the same level of concern. I shouldn’t have to give up my cell phone, right?

On the other side is a simple truth: One of Prince’s defining qualities was his ability to be in the moment. And, he famously (notoriously) refused to allow phones at his parties at Paisley Park. He wanted people to be fully present for the event, not viewing it through a phone. What better way is there to stay in the moment than to keep the phone screen at bay?

I have to do it. The fact that it scares me definitely means I have to do it — this much I’ve learned from seven months of living like Prince.

Should this month end badly, thankfully, there is a villain to blame. Dear friend and fellow Prince fan Christine Trejo suggested this month’s idea after the experience she had when her son needed a cell phone and she needed to go away for a weekend. She left it behind with her son.

“I felt a bit lost without it at first but then it felt really freeing,” she told me.

Her story made me think of Prince’s 2014 interview with Arsenio Hall. Arsenio asked Prince how he managed without a cell phone, and Prince said simply, “Everyone around me has one.”

My friend Christine experienced the exact same phenomenon.

“I was surprised when my friend’s phone rang with my mom on the phone,” Christine told me. “She called my cell and was given my friend’s number. This happened several times over the weekend. It made me realize people are resourceful if they really need to get a hold of you.”

Despite my fear and trepidation at the prospect, I know that Christine is right: It’s Princely to be cell-phone-free. And, it’s a way to make Prince’s ability to stay in the moment concrete and practicable, something I’ve been struggling to figure out how to implement. Thanks for solving my dilemma, Christine. I’ll text you in September!

Fun for the Sake of Fun Wraps Up a Playful July

You sure are pretty, Apollonia-ized friends!

In the pursuit of living like Prince, I knew that I couldn’t end July’s month of play without hosting a gathering. Prince was an inveterate party-thrower who loved to bring people together, whether that was at the open-to-the-public parties he threw at Paisley Park or the celebs-only bashes he’d host at his rented home in Los Angeles. While I thoroughly enjoy getting together with friends over a glass of wine and talking jobs and kids, I wanted to come up with a party idea that was unexpected, a little bit silly and guaranteed to take us all outside our comfort zones. Simply put, I wanted to have fun for the sake of having fun.

When I was reading Meredith Sinclair’s excellent book Well Played, which is chock-full of practical ideas for bringing playfulness into your life, I hit upon the idea of hosting a movie night and showing “Purple Rain,” which had the built-in benefit of not only giving everyone something fun to do together, but would also provide a playful theme. But, I knew I had to take it one step further if I wanted to make the evening something outside the ordinary. To amp up the frivolity, I enlisted the services of a friend who’s also a talented hairstylist and makeup artist to transform any guest who was willing into Apollonia, Prince’s stunning co-star.

As part of stepping out of a comfort zone, I didn’t want to invite a group of people who all knew each other. While I made sure that everyone had at least one connection, I wanted to give my guests the fun of meeting new people and making new connections. Guestlist made, I finished the Evite and hit “send.” To be honest, I was anxious about how the guests I’d invited would respond. Movie night is one thing, but once you’re out of college, an invitation to come over and get your hair and makeup done like an 80s movie star is quite another! Much to my relief, when the rsvp’s came in, eight people responded “yes.” The party was on!

That day, I dusted off my cocktail shaker and whipped up a batch of Purpletinis (blue Curacao + red cranberry juice + sour mix + vodka + 7-Up = purple deliciousness). Then, I popped up a bunch of Orville Redenbacher’s finest and scattered some Milk Duds over the top, a combo that was reportedly Prince’s favorite movie snack. (Consider yourself warned: when they hit the warm popcorn, the Milk Duds get melty and gooey and combined with the salty, crunchy popcorn, and you will be HOOKED!). I scattered purple candles around the room, bought a giant bunch of purple gladiolas and decorated with whimsical Prince artifacts like my Prince Funko Pop dolls.

The eight guests arrived, all flying the purple flag by wearing their purple best. They looked amazing! As it turned out, the date I’d picked for movie night turned out to be the 35th anniversary of the opening night of “Purple Rain,” a happy coincidence that bonded us right off the bat. Once everyone had gathered, I asked each person to introduce herself and tell how she was connected to me, or to Prince. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories!

A few guests brought playful additions to the party. One offered artist-made, Prince-inspired loungewear which guests could purchase, a second the Prince-inspired bracelets she makes and a third contributed her talents by offering up acupuncture ear seeds and placing them on each guest for whatever ailed us. The seeds were blinged out with crystals and looked cute on everyone’s ears.

We settled in to watch the movie while everyone took turns getting glammed up. My guests were great sports and everyone happily jumped in and got their hair and makeup done. It was great that everybody got into the spirit! Whenever someone’s transformation into fabulous Apollonia circa 1984 was complete, the others would cheer their approval. And naturally, we were enthralled by the real Apollonia’s performance of “Sex Shooter.”

Embed from Getty Images

I’m happy to report that the proverbial good time was had by all. Today, in the warm violet afterglow of last night’s party, I’m reminded that it’s always a good thing to bring people together for laughs, a dash of glam and a Purpletini.