The $11 BlackBerry That Changed My Life
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On March 13th 2016, I placed a winning bid on a seven year old dumb phone from eBay.
At the time I had no idea that this one small action would mark the beginning of the rest of my life. But first, the back story.
Nearly two years ago from today, I was in the deepest stages of an internet addiction. It all started when my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. Saying I took it hard is an understatement: I was devastated.
Not knowing how to handle the situation, I started going on Reddit more often to take my mind off of things. One thing led to another and before you know it I’d gone from an hour a day of use to over five hours a day. I would lay in bed all day with my phone just scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling.
The scary part was that even after succeeding in reigning in my depression and establishing a positive outlook about the future, I still couldn’t quit. I WANTED to quit. I burned with desire. I was trying my hardest. But nothing was working. I would have a few days of success and then it would be back to square one. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.
Then the fear set in. Fear that there was something wrong with me. Fear that I wasn’t going to be able to overcome this. Fear that this was what the rest of my life was going to look like. In desperation I started researching internet addiction online. The first place I turned to was my homepage which was, you guessed it: Reddit.
I still vividly remember the moment I typed “internet addiction” into the search box and saw NoSurf for the first time. The subreddit had just over 3,000 subscribers and was averaging about one post a week. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Here were a few thousand other people just like me. I was not alone.
I started devouring NoSurf related content. I read through every submission and comment on the entire subreddit. I read The Shallows twice from cover to cover. The more I read and understood what had happened to my brain, the more I grew inspired to try harder. I knew the stakes were high, and that gaining control over my internet use was critically important for my lasting health and happiness.
I accepted that I was going to have to step even further outside of my comfort zone than I already had.
You see I thought I’d tried it all. I had tried uninstalling apps on my smartphone. I had tried removing wifi access. I had tried different blocker apps. But I always found myself back on my smartphone. One thing I hadn’t tried, however, was getting rid of my smartphone altogether…
I saw a front page post made by a guy asking if anyone had ever used a dumbphone, and one of the commenters mentioned that they had great success with a pre-owned Blackberry. I decided it was now or never.
Off to eBay I went on a quest to find my very own dumbphone. I finally settled on a 2009 Blackberry Curve 9360. It could make calls, had a keyboard for texting, had email capability, and technically had a browser but it was something you would never ever dream of using in a million years. Reddit took over two minutes to load a page and the weird thumb scrolling cursor was awful to use. It was perfect for me.
I paid $9 for the phone and then $2 on Amazon for a replacement battery. One week later I was on my way to the wireless shack, 2009 BlackBerry in my left hand, and my iPhone 5 in my right.
15 minutes later I was opening the door of the store and walking up to the counter. It was my turn next and I mentally prepared myself with answers to any questions I might get asked.
When the guy asked me how he could help me, I told him that I’m here to downgrade from my iPhone 5 to the BlackBerry Curve 9360. He started laughing. I started laughing. The coworkers came over to see what all of the fuss was about. He asked me if I was sure I didn’t have the order mixed up and that I wasn’t trying to go FROM the BlackBerry TO the iPhone. More laughing ensued. I said I was sure, and the wireless shack worker got to work.
While he worked the worker told me that swapping phone service onto a new phone was free and that I could back anytime I wanted to register my iPhone again free of charge.
15 minutes later I walked out and had a hilarious realization. I had NO IDEA how to get home. I used the GPS on my iPhone to get to the shack and now that my iPhone was cut off, I was out of luck. I somehow made it home using the highway signs and the first thing I did was buy a dedicated GPS unit.
The first few weeks were fascinating. Some of my friends and family thought it was a great idea, some thought I was nuts, and some were oddly resistant to the idea, even after I explained why I was doing this.
Previously Reddit was my go to for long bus rides as a way to pass the time. Now it was Texas Hold ‘Em and Brick Breaker, the only two things you can do on a BlackBerry for entertainment. However, that got boring very quickly.
I started to just sit and BE during my bus rides and when I would wait in lines. Sometimes I would think, sometimes I would practice mindfulness.
As the days and weeks went on it was fascinating to see how pretty soon this became my new “normal,” and how I started looking at all of the faces basked in blue light as “strange.”
I started noticing how many people would spend lecture time browsing Reddit instead of paying attention to lectures they had paid a ton of money for.
I started noticing how my friends would pick up their phones the second there was a lull in the conversation. Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat would be fired up and they would sign out of the real world for a few minutes before coming back while I waited.
I started noticing how everything had to be shared on a SnapChat story. The second something cool happened all of the phones would be pulled out and people would look at the event through their screens and miss it with their eyes.
It wasn’t long before I made the connection that I used to behave in the exact same way as everyone else, just that I couldn’t grasp how weird it all was until I took a giant step back by switching to a dumb phone.
Fast forward a few months and believe it or not I was back to a smartphone, but not of my own choice. My family had switched to a family plan with a different service provider and this meant my blackberry was no longer compatible. The plan came with four free smartphones and out of curiosity, I decided to try the smartphone out for a while before ordering another compatible BlackBerry.
I was overjoyed by what I found. The time away from my smartphone completely changed my relationship with the phone. I was able to use it normally again as a tool that enhanced my life, rather than as something altogether different that took away from it.
The numerous months away from my smartphone literally rewired my brain and made me able to once again own one without it sucking away hours and hours of my life. I’m obviously still very cautious given that I used to have an issue with the internet. I don’t have social media on my phone, I don’t have any games on my phone, and I don’t even use the browser on my phone. Just things like GPS, email, banking, and productivity tools.
But truthfully, it comes more from a place of realizing I don’t need to be constantly connected rather than from a place of being afraid I could get addicted one day again. Unplugging for all of those months I owned a blackberry taught me that life was just as good, if not actually better, without all of the extra frills on my phone I used to believe I couldn’t live without.
Now I don’t want to make getting a dumb phone out to be some magic pill that instantly solved all of my problems. I continued to struggle in other areas and took a ton of other drastic measures during this time that also contributed to my NoSurf success. Example: I removed home wifi access on my laptop on more than one occasion so that I could only use wifi at the library.
The significance of the BlackBerry is that it represents the first giant step I took out of my comfort zone. THAT is the true takeaway or secret if you will. The willingness to step out of my comfort zone and to partake in relentless, creative experimentation to see what worked for me on my NoSurf journey.
And now to fast forward to the present day…
It’s been over two years since I’ve discovered NoSurf and I have a ton to show for it. My mind is clear and healthy. I’m happy and fulfilled. I waste zero time. I’ve developed a ridiculous work ethic. I have an incredible woman I’m honored to call my girlfriend. I have a blue belt in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu that I received after more than a year of hard work/discipline. I’ve achieved laser like focus and become an incredible software engineer (way better than I ever thought I could become).
I don’t say any of this to brag or gloat. I would describe myself as humble and actually shy away from attention over accomplishments. I only share them with you with the hope that it can inspire you and help show you whats possible with a lot of hard work, persistence, and time devoted to NoSurf.
I would like to take this time in closing to share some brief words with anyone who is committed to pursuing their very own NoSurf journey:
It is important to understand that you will try and fail. You will get frustrated and you will feel like giving up. But it’s all part of the process.
With each passing day your brain grows healthier. Your focus sharpens. Your
I don’t believe anyone achieves anything worthwhile with only one foot in and the other out. You’ve got to give it your all. This means embracing discomfort and inconvenience even when it isn’t the easy or normal thing to do.
It’s not easy to switch from an iPhone to a 7 year old BlackBerry. It’s not easy to deactivate social media. It’s not easy to set up web filtering. It’s not easy to rely on the library for wifi access.
And that is the whole point. If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth posting about. A story of adventure in which the characters reach their destination in the first chapter wouldn’t be worth reading.
The difficulty involved in an achievement is the very thing that gives the achievement meaning. The struggle and the numerous failures are what make me proud to share this story with you today, and makes me overjoyed for every success story I see posted by fellow NoSurfers.