I’ve Flipped

October 30, 2017 § 49 Comments

fullsizeoutput_7dbBy Amy Collini

A month ago, I did something drastic: I replaced my iPhone with a flip phone.

The woman at the Verizon store thought I was crazy. Her eyes went wide as she gasped, “Why?” as if I’d told her I was leaving my newborn there in the store. I answered with the truth: my phone was running my life. I couldn’t concentrate, I was texting all day and ignoring my kids, I was checking my email two dozen times before noon. The final straw came that very morning, when I put an app on my phone to track my usage. By 11:00 a.m., when I’d only been awake for four hours, I’d already logged a full hour of phone time doing nothing but texting friends and checking email repeatedly. If you had asked me to guess how long I’d spent on the phone, I would have said fifteen minutes.

I didn’t even engage in some of the behaviors I viewed as the worst. I didn’t sleep with my phone, I didn’t play games, I didn’t do social media on my phone. I most definitely wasn’t like the guy my husband and I call Phone Man, who watches videos while he walks his terriers and never looks up. I refused to be the mom at the the pumpkin patch or the playground zoned out in front of a screen. But the reality was that I used it constantly when I was at home (ignoring my kids in private rather than in public), and it was destroying my concentration and my productivity.

Being a writer means I happily steep myself in words all day, but I realized I was gorging on language in a variety of ways; the problem wasn’t limited to my phone. I was listening to NPR on the kitchen radio while I cooked and I was flipping through the New York Times on Sunday mornings at the table. Of course I listened to music in the car and I was reading thirty or forty picture books a week to my sons. I was making my way through the New Yorker and piles of literary journals all week long … and that was in addition to my daily consumption of novels, memoirs and how-to books on everything from toddler behavior to xeriscaping.  And it’s not as if any of this was new. When I was a kid, my word-gorging got me in trouble. When my mother announced it was time to clean up, my eyeballs were drawn to the heap of magazines, coupons and advertisements slaloming off the coffee table. I read whatever I found in my hand. My mother, who otherwise encouraged my reading habit, lost her temper. “Get away from the newspaper, Amy!” she’d yell, and I’d scurry off.

Two years ago, after publishing an essay in a well-respected literary magazine, I was contacted by three agents who asked to see my novel manuscript. One wanted it, and I spent ten months revising per her instructions; she took it to publishers last summer. She worked hard on my behalf, but in the end, she told me in November that the book hadn’t sold; nineteen publishers passed, even as many had offered praise for my writing. The disappointment of No Novel—after 5 ½ years of work—left me in a terrible funk.

As the months passed, it became easier to fall under the seductive spell of words in their many guises and to avoid finishing my second novel manuscript, which my agent was waiting for. I sat in the library, staring at the shelves of New Fiction, then grabbed my phone to see if the babysitter had texted. From there I checked my email. And then I checked the Times website to see what fresh hell Trump was up to that hour, followed by the funny parenting tweets my sister sent. I put the phone down, stared at the page, then grabbed it again two minutes later and repeated the whole cycle. Writing time would end and I hadn’t written a word.

An entire summer disappeared this way.


I thought I’d miss my smartphone. I don’t, not even a little. The first 24 hours were unnerving, but after that, it was as if I’d never had one. I told my friends no more texting, only phone calls or emails. I cut way back on NPR and I keep the radio off in the car. I need fewer words in my life if I’m going to be able to write. (I did not give up the Times or the New Yorker. Because hey, not going there).

I had to come to grips with the fact that I was avoiding finishing my second novel for fear of suffering another round of en masse rejection. But there are no guarantees, and what am I going to do, quit writing altogether?

I think not.

My ability to focus has returned, and with it, I’m nearing completion on the second novel. The second draft is at 72,000 words right now; I’m probably 10K from the finish line. I think I can finish it in a month, maybe less.

You can call me if you want to talk about it.


Amy Collini’s work has appeared in Slice, Southern Indiana Review, Baltimore Review, Indiana Review, Redivider, Tahoma Literary Reviewand elsewhere. She’s currently at work on a novel about an accidental suffragist, set in 1913. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two young sons, and everyone is happier that they don’t have to compete with a screen for her attention any more.

§ 49 Responses to I’ve Flipped

  • C.G. Garcia says:

    You did it! I have been toying with this idea for a few months. Thanks for your bravery, I am newly inspired.

  • Super congrats for finishing the second book, Amy. I am struggling with my first and haven’t done half way of the first draft. You words are so motivating and gotta give to you for leaving the iphone for it demands so much of courage.

    • Amy Collini says:

      Thank you…and keep at it, you will get through that draft!

      • Thanks so much Amy. What is the advice to beat procrastination and block?

      • Amy Collini says:

        I’ve found, for me, the best way around it is to cut all the thinking, fretting and worrying about it…I used to waste so much time just thinking about writing. One of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg, says, “Just put your body there.” So that’s what I do: I just put my body there, in front of my journal and with a pen in hand, and make the pen move. The trick is to cut out the thinking about it. Hope that helps.

      • Yes, it’s this thinking which is holding me back and will try to practice that way in a day or two. Thank you for this!

  • Congratulations on your books! And, even more kudos for being brave enough in this electronic world of ours, to make the change. Funny, my husband and I were just talking about a flip phone yesterday. I’m not there yet, but getting close. These wonderful devices have been a blessing but for us a freinds, families, and a nation – a curse. WE’ve lost the ability to have a conversation. We’ve lost our words unless the come in acroymns or 140 characters. Best of luck on your second book !

    • Amy Collini says:

      I completely agree. I had lost so much of the richness of interpersonal communication by being so dependent on texting. Which seems crazy, considering I only had an iPhone for 5 years…and yet it felt strange to call people on the phone just to talk. I don’t think that’s heading anywhere good for us as a society and culture.

  • I will share this. I have been asked, on occasion, how I get so much done. The reason is not because I ignore the TV (I watch) or never leave the house (I walk each day) or ignore reading (serious time with newspapers, nonfiction, and novels) or remain on task 100% of the time (yes, I squander). I have a flip phone, and that only because one of my sons was concerned about being able to get ahold of me when we still had only dial-up. I taught teenagers for a long time and I watched their lives become centered on their devices. Not mine.

  • Amy Collini says:

    Thank you for sharing it, Jan! We are members of the Flip Phone Sisterhood, apparently. 😀

  • Jim says:

    I think I could write the exact same piece as you have, Amy… except I haven’t shed my iPhone yet. Check back with me in, oh, say, five years and see if I’ve found the courage!

    • Amy Collini says:

      Jim, the scary thing is that one impetus for this change in my life was finding an old journal from 2013 in which I was complaining about how much I was on my phone. Realizing it had been four years of living like this–and thinking about the frightening amount of time I’ve wasted anesthetizing myself with it–really sobered me. So when you do get rid of it, come find me and I will cheer with you! 🙂

  • Leslie says:

    What’s your number?😉
    Thank you for a great post and congratulations on returning to work on your second novel!

  • Lisa Taylor says:

    I’m inspired. I was remembering my flip phone with fondness just the other day (honest.) Even more, I was remembering the days before my kids had phones. We all seemed to have more time then, and I know why! Smartphones can be such a convenience if used properly, but… Sigh. I don’t think I’ll ever get my husband and older sons to give theirs up, and granted they do use them for their businesses. Still, I’d like a lockbox to trap those phones in during “family time”. (Though I think my family fears if I get my hands on them, their “rectangular devices” will meet an untimely and violent end 😉

    • Amy Collini says:

      Smartphones really have changed family life, haven’t they? My kids are too young for phones (6 and 2) but I’m already dreading it. And a lockbox is not a bad idea at all!

  • Liz says:

    I’ve been debating methods of disconnection to reconnect with myself and loved one’s and distance myself from the temptation, thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Amy Collini says:

    Good for you! I tried every manner of moderating phone usage that I could think of…putting it out of sight above the fridge, using the Do Not Disturb setting, turning it off. Nothing worked for longer than a day or so. I’m glad to hear other people out there feel the need to disconnect too. Good luck with your process!

  • Yes! I have the same disease. If we fill our heads with everybody else’s words, how are we going to find our own? You inspire me to try to disconnect, too.

  • Good for you and congrats on the progress on the second novel!
    I was a long time holdout on giving up my flip phone for a ‘smart phone’ and only did so a little over 3 years ago. I loved my flip phone. It accepted texts but they were difficult enough to type to keep my texting to a minimum. Though it had the potential to go online it had no real screen so I wasn’t tempted, let alone when it didn’t have a camera. I told anyone who’d tried to convince me to ‘modernize’ that I don’t need a phone to be anything but a phone. I accepted being teased and called a “dinosaur.” I didn’t give in even when teens told me they would not be seen in public with me if I carried “that thing.”
    The only reason I’d finally relented was that my large and delightfully close extended family — most of whom live overseas and who seemingly all use WhatsApp group communications for anything from important announcements to hilarious photos of this-kid’s-turn-to-get-into-the-diaper-rash-cream — let me know in no uncertain terms that they will no longer send me said photos by email. I love them too much and I missed too many funny videos and melt-worthy photos to stick to my guns.
    I have a smart phone now. … It didn’t take long for me to relax into the cushions of the ability to connect across thousands of miles in an instant. It doesn’t hurt that there’s something to do in doctors offices or while waiting on line someplace. I probably don’t use my phone as much as some might (I’m a pro at wasting time on my computer…), but I certainly spend more time on the phone than necessary.
    And … I still miss my flip phone.
    Then again, there is that newborn grand-niece I’m waiting for more photos of … and the niece in Greece, and the very entertaining (if at times exasperating) planning for a family get together …
    Oh well. Can you perhaps just send me a photo of your flip phone?

    • Amy Collini says:

      Thank you! It does make it hard when everyone else has one…and demands that you have one, too. If I had family overseas I would have probably had a harder time getting rid of mine.

      • Some days I still fantasize about returning to my beloved flip-phone. … In the meanwhile, when I need to get stuff done with minimum interruptions, I found that airplane mode is my friend.
        May your second novel be ready speedily and successfully. I could relate to your agent-loves-manuscript-but-publishers-don’t-bite story. It’s worth hanging in there and keeping on–I’ve been published since and am so glad I didn’t throw in the towel (though not that first manuscript, which maybe was not meant to be, or maybe will one day reincarnate in some published form after all). Happy Flip Phone to you!

      • Amy Collini says:

        Thank you for the encouragement…I really needed to hear that from someone else who’s been there. And Happy Flip Phone to you, too! 🙂

  • Good work, Amy! I’d just like to add that National Novel Writing Month starts midnight November 1st (tonight!). A great opportunity–and official permission–to zone out from all the noise and focus on creative flow. nanowrimo.org. P.S. It doesn’t have to be a novel, non-fiction folks.

  • KennethBell says:

    Flip Phone ees ,very inspireing note .Thankyou s

  • This is such a good piece. I don’t own a cell phone. I do have a landline, an email account, and a website: if people want to get in touch with me, they seem to have no trouble doing so. And I write! I sit at my desk and immerse myself in my work and although I hear my husband’s phone chirp sometimes, I know it’s not for me!

    • Amy Collini says:

      I am so jealous that you don’t have a phone! When I was considering what to do about my iPhone problem, I really wanted to not have a phone at all, but we don’t have a landline and we do have young kids (I need schools to be able to get a hold of me). Thanks for your kind words and thanks for reading!

  • Terry says:

    Great essay. I know I’m addicted. I think admitting it the first step. I’m going to start tracking my usage and see if I can decrease that way. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • AmyLeigh says:

      Thanks Terry! And yes, admitting what it does to us is the first step…it’s hard to be aware of it. I had to sit with that discomfort for a really, really long time before I could do anything about it.

  • dbsuch says:

    I was just considering going back to a flip phone but chickened out. Thanks for the view from the other side.

    • AmyLeigh says:

      It’s strange just how hard it is to do it. I thought about it for four years before I was finally able to go through with it!

  • STOIC GEORGE says:

    I’ve also flipped, Amy. It’s been really liberating.

    Also I’ve been surprised at how much negativity I’ve gotten from others. Not that I’m discouraged by it! Haters gonna hate.

    I wrote some thoughts on smartphones here:

  • MsSuperSeed says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this! This feels almost like a revolutionary idea – just because the technology exist doesn’t mean we need to have it to keep up!

    Some questions that come to mind when reading about your experience: have you felt any sort of disconnect as a result of taking smart phones out of your life? How do you manage the expectations of colleagues, clients, and families who sometimes expect immediate responses? And how do you navigate a new city (if you have no car and no Google/Apple Maps)?

    • AmyLeigh says:

      YES…just because the technology exists doesn’t mean we need it (isn’t it weird how we fall into the habit of feeling that we do?). And those are such good questions. Taking care of the expectations were easy. I just told everyone I wasn’t texting any more, period. And there is no reason I need to check email a dozen times a day or more. I guess it was a matter of remembering that *I* am the one in control of my own choices. Nobody else.

      I haven’t felt any disconnect at all, which is interesting, because I expected to; I thought I would be stranded, all alone and lonely (that says a lot about how dependent I was on my phone. It’s not healthy to think we’ll be isolated without the very thing that’s isolating us). I’ve actually enjoyed making phone calls to family again, and during the week I email friends and occasionally call them. And also strangely enough, I’ve gotten together with friends in person more often!

      Lastly, I was quite worried about not having Google Maps to guide me through life, but it turns out I can actually live without it. 🙂 I went to Pittsburgh a couple weekends ago for a writing workshop at Creative Nonfiction’s offices, and it was my first trip without GPS. I wrote out my directions ahead of time, along with the office’s phone number, and because Pittsburgh is the most confusing city in the world, I did get lost. But I just called CNF’s offices (using my badass flip phone) and got to talk to the nicest man who guided me to the office. It was the situation I dreaded, getting lost in a city I didn’t know well, and not only did I survive, I considered it a win: I got to talk to a friendly, helpful person. I drove all of my adult life, except for the last six years or so, without constant GPS at my fingertips. There’s no reason for me to believe I absolutely must have it; I can ask for directions.

      I feel so much more peaceful and content and infinitely less distracted. I feel like I can actually breathe again. There’s been literally no drawback to this change in my life, only benefits.

  • mKhae says:

    Good for you! While I don’t see myself making the same changes as you, I can definitely appreciate them. Sometimes you just need to make those pivotal changes to motivate yourself, glad it is working out for you and good luck with the book!

  • Maddie says:

    Good for you for finally putting away your cell phone! Being a student, I’m constantly attached to my phone with the new twitter updates and snap chat filters. But, hearing about others who have a flip phone and direct themselves away from the overpowering social media and texting, is refreshing. Your blog post is intriguing and relatable, I hope I can learn to sometimes keep away from my phone.

  • jestinydames says:

    This was interesting. I tried doing something like that. I switched from IPhone to Andriod and the shame that people gave me for having a green bubble, I immediately switched back. I guess you have to just be strong and do what you have to do for your own life.

  • Margaret Koehler says:

    Hi Amy! Wow, you are hard to find contact info for online and now I know why! : )
    I am trying to track you down 1) to send you our English Dept alumni survey and 2) to talk to you about a possible reading at Otterbein. If you get this, will you email me? I am at mkoehler@otterbein.edu, still.

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