I keep my phone in black and white


I field the same question at least a couple times a week – “Alan, what’s wrong with your phone?”  I usually respond by saying something to the tune of, “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with it. I just keep it in black and white.”  A confused stare typically ensues.

“Why?” is the usual follow-up – to which I usually reply: “Well, it’s supposed to help make your phone less addicting.”  If the conversation doesn’t end there, I usually end it by saying, “Yea, a little odd I know.” Thankfully, we usually part with a laugh.

While those benefits are rumored to be true, my reasoning is a bit of a coverup. My real reasoning is much deeper. When asked if I’d like to write an article for ChiBus, I didn’t envision writing an “Opinion” piece (although I’m sure it reads like one). Instead, I was hoping to share a story of a decision I made at a pivotal point in my life.

Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a handful of books that changed the way I thought about living my day-to-day life. Namely, I began to read Stoic philosophy – in particular, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. At the time, I was struggling at my job and was generally anxious about my future. I was unhappy with my circumstances, both personally and professionally, and I wanted to make significant changes in my life. These books gave me tremendous guidance.

Each stressed the fact that life is relative. It’s easy for us as individuals to lose sight of the bigger picture – to fail to see the forest from the trees. We often become accustomed to certain habits and luxuries and can’t envision a life without them. As I read more, I saw another theme arise again and again – those with the least are often the most content. Seneca, in Letters from a Stoic, went as far as to recommend that readers fast for days on end and refrain from even the most basic amenities.

I honestly thought that it was all a little crazy at first, but I decided a “Stoic Bootcamp” was worth a try. The next day, I set my phone to black and white, deleted my social media, started taking cold showers and began fasting for twelve to eighteen hours at a time.

It was not an easy transition. I often sat at my desk at work (starving at that point) and felt anxious impulses to pick up my phone and hop on Facebook. But soon the impulses began to wane and I began to see some benefits. I began to feel as though I was more present, particularly when I engaged with friends and colleagues I saw on a daily basis. I looked at my phone less and began to enjoy the sights around me more. Even my bachelor cooking tasted great after a day of fasting.

I always believed that life was relative, but, as I began to experience it, I knew I needed to strike a better balance. I knew that refraining from certain luxuries – in my case: technology and social media – would make me a more content person. At the same time, I’m pragmatic about the fact that modern life is almost impossible to live without some technological luxuries. Not to mention, attending business school has afforded me an incredible opportunity to make dozens of new friends, travel extensively, and live a life with few responsibilities.

A couple of years after taking the plunge, I’m still seeking that balance. As my circumstances change, my balance changes. After endless nudging from my friends, I finally got an Instagram (@AlanGotAnInsta for those interested – follow for a follow, I promise). That said, I strive to always be conscious of my life. As is human nature, I still feel anxious and discontented at times. When I do, I lock my phone in a drawer and go out for a long run. Afterward, I almost always realize that whatever worried or upset me wasn’t nearly as big of a deal as I made it out to be.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. If you have any questions, comments, or would like to tell me I’m crazy, feel free to email me at afelix0@chicagobooth.edu.