Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Get the Background
It all started with a dying battery.
My iPhone battery, to be precise. It had been giving me trouble for a few months but I ignored the issue, partly because I was too lazy to do anything about it and partly because I was scared to do the thing I knew I needed to do - take it into the Apple store and get it changed. That wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t require leaving my phone there overnight.
My darling dearest phone with my whole life inside it! I dreaded the idea of having my phone out of reach for a night and it made me nervous that the Apple people would be able to go through my photos and answer my texts pretending to be me. (Yes, yes, I was illogical and paranoid. Just sympathise.)
But then I was on top of a ginormous rock in middle of Colorado about to ask someone (*cough* Megan Weber *cough*) to take a photo of me when my phone went black and refused to revive itself despite my frantic CPR.
There’s something uniquely terrifying about being out in the middle of what feels like nowhere and having no way to contact the greater world. Thankfully I was with a bunch of friends, but I knew that changing my battery had suddenly rocketed to the top of my to-do list.
Fast forward to the Apple store when I got back home and my father practically forced me to go. I gave in my phone and faced the next day without it, trying to be brave. The first thing I realised was that the GPS system in my parent’s car isn’t nearly as good as Google Maps.
After I stopped hyperventilating though, I realised not having my phone was kind of... nice. Peaceful even. As the day and then night and then day without my phone wore on, I decided to observe how not having the device impacted my habits.
I thought it might make an interesting post for the “It’s Time To Talk About What You’ve Learned Today” thread on the Unbound Forums. (I kind of haunt the Forums. I blame it on being a Ranger, so duties, you know.) I noted how I went to bed earlier and got up earlier too (partly because I needed to check the time, lacking a clock in my room, and partly because of some very minor FOMO). I also stuck to my computer a lot, cycling through Hangouts, Facebook, the Forums, and my email.
Something that really stood out to me though was just how many messages my family sends. We use Whatsapp to communicate, and have a group for every single combination of family members. And I have this rather annoying obsession with clearing those little red notifications so a lot of my day seems to be spent at the mercy of the endless stream of messages that run through my phone, whether it be from Whatsapp or iMessage or Hangouts or Messenger or Discord or Slack or FaceTime or any of my three email accounts.
Before you think I’m madly popular, let me explain. I work three part-time positions, all of them remote. On top of that, nearly all my friends are long distance as well as most of my family so my phone keeps me in touch with EVERYONE. You’d think that once I got my phone back, I’d never want to be parted again, but the one day without it made me wonder what it would be like to go without it for a whole week. It seemed rather audacious, not to mention impossible, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try it even though the idea terrified me, so when I wrote up that Forums post, I ended with this:
“Now I’m contemplating experimenting by keeping it off (or use it literally just as a phone) for a week and then writing an article/post on the results. Ooh, anyone want to join me?”
Inviting people to join me only came to mind as I was writing, but within a day I had four eager guinea pigs...I mean, wonderful friends willing to join this intrepid endeavour.
Lexi Kozler was the first to volunteer and I had rather hoped she would. This was the kind of thing I thought she’d like, and her “I do!” made me feel like my idea wasn’t quite so crazy. Once she expressed interest, I hoped Blair Akin, a mutual friend, would join too and turns out she was the next to do so. Shortly after, Lexi’s brother, Keegan, along with Garret Witzenburg and Isabel Werk joined the group.
It was a go.
I was scared.
At least they had volunteered for this trip to the dark ages and I hadn’t asked them to come. Otherwise I would have felt guilty on top of being scared. (Okay, I still did feel guilty.) I was suddenly wondering why I was bothering to do this, but couldn’t back out at that point. And my curiosity was too curious anyway.
We were doing this. A week without our phones. For all our Unboundness, we were extremely bound to our devices so how the week would go, we had no idea.
Meet The Players
To start, there’s me, of course. Communications enthusiast, people observer, Unbound alumna, and unapologetic Canadian (I apologise about everything else though). I also love a good social experiment.
Then there are the Kozler siblings, Lexi and Keegan, both alumni from Michigan. Music aficionados, deep thinkers, and frequent Forums posters, they aim for intentionality always.
Blair Akin is a long-graduated history major, backpacking enthusiast, and aspiring hippie and hipster while still making fun of both. She lives in California and wishes she wasn't quite so attached to her iPhone.
Isabel Werk is a Hawaiian environmental science major with a love for birds, photography, and ice cream. She jumps at challenges and we happen to be adopted twins.
Lastly is Garret Witzenburg. Lover of awkwardness, maker of mischief, and ponderer of complex questions, he’s an Iowan working on his BS in information technology.
It was a pretty fun group.
Set the Rules
Pretty early on we decided that everyone would set their own rules. I wanted to go all out, not using my phone for anything at all, not even the time, except as a phone. The reasons for that little caveat were as follows…
Basically I didn't want anyone to get mad at me.
I have responsibilities and I also have parents. In case of an emergency on any front, I needed to be reachable. But I was okay using my phone as a phone because I use it so little that I thought it might be a good incentive to actually call people and have them call me which seemed weirdly exciting.
So for the week, I turned off notifications for absolutely everything aside from my phone app and moved all other apps to the second page so I couldn't see them. I made sure to keep the sound on though, so I'd actually hear my phone if it rang (I normally keep it on silent. Yes, I am forever missing calls.) I also decided to always leave it face down, as well as to keep it on whichever floor of the house I was, but not tote it with me to each room. I posted on Facebook and the Forums about the experiment so people would know how to best reach me. At the same time I also encouraged people to call me, secretly hoping they’d take me up on it.
Keegan, Lexi, and Blair decided to still use iMessage so they could communicate with their family. Isabel was going to be doing the experiment with her iPod, so she simply turned it off. Garret, who is smartphoneless, took on the challenge with his computer, deciding to use it only to access school-related sites and sites to keep in touch with friends. (Like the Forums. You should get on the Forums, by the way, reader person.)
I asked everyone to keep a journal during the week to write down their thoughts and observations for the purpose of this post, hoping to get some insights into their suffering selves. We got a Hangouts chat going and I began to fantasise about how I'd write this up. A few days before, I started a Google Doc, wrote up my rules, and then waited for 12 am Sunday when the clock would strike go.
[*insert nervous screaming*]
The Week And How It Went
Saturday night, 11:58 pm EDT, text
Me: ...it’s almost midnight!
I’ve prepared my phone.
Lexi: i knoooooow
haha you sound so serious
Me: I feel so serious. XD
But I’m excited. And nervous.
Early Sunday morning, 12:17 am - 1:04 am EDT, Google Hangouts
Keegan: notifications are off
Blair: *receiving this notification reminds me to turn mine off*
Keegan shares a photo of his very empty home screen with a Calvin and Hobbes background.
Blair sends the sunglasses emoji.
Me: Mine is the same! Minus the iMessage. And Calvin and Hobbes. Instead I've got two cute penguins and a quote about hugs. XP THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS WITH ME!
Blair: i feel like we are going on a diet. “wait, i’m going to give up THAT? why did i sign up for this again? how will i survive?!” (not that extreme, but you get the idea 😛) *also high fives everyone for solidarity* we got this
Me: I suppose it is a bit of a diet. And yeah, kind of nervous too. But we'll be great! *high fives back*
Early Sunday morning, 1:20 am HST, Hawaii
Isabel’s journal: I really don’t want to set my real alarm. It is really annoying and frustrating. Ugh. Patience...
Sunday morning, 7:09 EDT, Google Hangouts
Isabel: *high fives blair back* 😄
I don't know how I'm going to survive tomorrow.
Sunday morning, unknown time, Quebec
My journal: It’s the first day and already I got out of bed earlier than I would have because I needed to know the time. It was 7 am. On a Sunday. Mrgh.
I meant to write down my thoughts pre-experiment yesterday, but didn’t get around to it. Here goes now.
Why am I doing this? Because. I think it would be interesting. I’m curious to see how my habits will change. I want to see what I miss. I want to know how my relationship with my phone and the people inside it will change. Same with my family. I think I’m most excited to not have Whatsapp. I’m probably least excited to lose my TimeTracker app. It means I’ll have to manually track my work hours, exactly what I wanted to avoid by getting that app. Oh well. I’m also going to miss the portability and the connectivity to friends. It’s possibly going to be a long week. At least there are others doing it with me. Somehow that makes me feel very happy. And less lonely.
Hopefully I won’t just swap my phone for my computer. I’ll have to be careful about that.
Sunday morning, unknown time, Hawaii
Isabel’s journal: As dad and I were going home from church, I told him about this phone-less week, and he was surprised to hear of college students doing this. I said, “Yeah, Unbound students are awesome.” God is good.
I feel like my time on the Forums is more precious, now. I’m faster and more intentional. And here I am writing by hand because I don’t want to have my computer right next to my breakfast.
Sunday afternoon, various times, Google Hangouts
Keegan: good job guys. i'm enjoying it so far. 😀
Isabel: It's not too hard so far. :) And now I have to figure out how to use Hangouts better on my computer. 😛The emoji's are different! 🐚📖💐🌻🌴(Just testing things out...they have some weird stickers...)
Blair: i'm enjoying this so far too. not waking up to screen time was a very healthy way to start the day.
Me: Yay, I'm so glad! I think I'm enjoying this too. I went shopping with my sister and had zero reason to check my phone and was thus really focused on her and what we had to do. I even forgot my phone in my purse when we got home. 😛 That said, I missed checking the forums in bed last night. XD
Blair: yay!! that's awesome. i must admit that i missed waking up to notifications. but i was reading last night about how phone/social media habits are often driven by a need for affirmation and that was convicting. i think i fall into that trap too much. when i'm bored or sad for any reason, too often i connect not for the sake of connecting, but so that i can receive affirmation from other people. so i think this will be a good exercise in not doing that....
Me: That's a really great insight. Wow. And yeah, there's something fun about waking up to notifications. It's always the first thing I check. I admit that once I got out of bed and washed up, I turned on my laptop, but at least I had to get up and such first.\
Garret: Sorry I haven't said anything yet. It turns out that my fam has been doing a similar thing where we've stopped all phone/computer use (except for school) between 5 and 9 at night. So I've decided just to go with the rules of
1. Not doing anything on my computer except for school or connecting with friends.
2. If I'm on my computer and someone starts talking to me, then I'll shut it.
3. Not open my computer unless there's something specific that I have to get done.
Looking forward to this week even though I'll be on the road for the second half of the week, and I won't be using my computer then.
Me: All sounds good! Thanks for the update!
Blair: cool, garret!
Lexi: i love you guys! i had a similar experience this morning...i woke up and grabbed my laptop first thing, but it was dead, so i took that as the voice of God and instead showered, made my bed, took care of my clothes, and generally centered myself after a busy weekend. i'm not sure if it would have gone the same way if i had checked my phone and answered messages first thing!
Me: Aw! ❤ That sounds very lovely. 😊
Sunday afternoon, unknown time, Quebec
My journal: I feel myself getting unduly attached to my laptop… And it’s only Sunday.
Sunday night, probably too late, Quebec
My journal: First day done. It’s been interesting though I don’t think Sunday counts as a proper day; it’s too quiet. It’s been kind of nice so far. There were a few times I kind of mentally reached to check my phone only to remember that I couldn’t, but in general, I actually forgot about it. Weird. I’m sure this will get annoying very quickly though. I already am lingering at my laptop, not really wanting to turn it off. And tomorrow I have to drive without my GPS. Not fun. But it seems the others are enjoying it so far. Hopefully this feeling of being refreshed lasts.
I don’t see that happening though.
Monday morning, confused times, Quebec and Hawaii
My journal: I heard a phone ding and my heart gave a little jump. Then I realised it wasn’t my phone of course, and I calmed down. I hadn’t realised I had been feeling almost peaceful before.
Isabel’s journal: I woke up not feeling all that great, probably having to do with staying up late. My alarm was pretty annoying; the sound gets on my nerves. Also, I felt less motivated to get up because I didn’t know what notifications I had; I just felt a bit of nervous uncertainty. Going on my computer actually did wake me up, and made me smile. Then I was on there for a while. Now my routine feels so different; I feel out of line. I’m going to finish eating while I read my Bible, now which I usually do separately, not at the same time.
Monday night, probably late again, Quebec
My journal: Thoughts, thoughts...I nearly forgot my phone when I had to go out today. I was kind of proud of myself. And I did all the navigating without Google Maps! It felt so empowering. And it meant I looked around more instead of anxiously following the GPS. I felt like my brain was so much more engaged and alive.
I really do need to get a clock in my room. Not having one is inconvenient.
I did work at my desk with my phone next to me and it made me oddly anxious. I ended up putting it away in my drawer and that helped.
While working, I mostly kept all messaging windows closed. I had thought I’d keep them all open, but it seemed like overkill and it was easier to focus without them. I did routinely go through and check them all though. Also this afternoon, a phone rang and I internally jumped, only to realise it wasn’t mine, which made me happy.
I just hung out with my parents this evening. That was fun. And I didn’t feel like I had to be anywhere else. Except now I’m at my computer and don’t want to turn it off. The people! The possible PMs! Argh.
Tuesday morning, sometime or other, Quebec
My journal: Third day. Wow. I admit to using my laptop again before even getting out of bed. I needed to know the time! And see if I had gotten the PM I was waiting for. I did though, so that was nice.
Later I was thinking about stuff. How calm I felt. How much I like being in the know and active and around. How when I simply can’t be, it becomes so much less of a compulsion. If I know I don’t have my phone, then I simply can’t be in touch with anyone or keep up with anything. Finished. It’s weirdly freeing, especially for my FOMO-prone self.
Oh, and tracking my hours by hand turned out to be pretty good yesterday. It actually made me work more efficiently and effectively. And longer. Because once I logged in on paper, and saw in gray and white what time I started, and didn’t want to log in and out and have to enter lots of times later, I just kept working. It was surprisingly productive.
Lexi left a few group hangouts yesterday, and while it made me sad, I wasn’t too surprised. She said she was overwhelmed and I get it. It’s like a retroactive feeling of being overwhelmed almost - not having realised just how many groups there are to keep up with and how tiring that is. We both like giving people our proper attention, but that’s so difficult when it’s fractured. As I went to pray this morning, I thought about how giving someone your all is so much more rewarding than the buzz you get from running four chats at once. I used to like that, but not really anymore, even before this experiment started. It doesn’t feel like connecting when I have to divide my focus in so many directions. I love being able to talk to one person. And really talk. Or else, I focus on one group and give that my all. Either way, the focus is...focused. I don’t do so well when I feel fractured and not having my phone is making that much more obvious suddenly.
Tuesday, unknown temporal division, Hawaii
Isabel’s journal: Checking notifications as soon as I could in the morning gave me a reason to be awake, a reason to be alive, a reason to start my day (since the house is quiet and there’s no one to talk to). Then I was able to happily read my Bible. Also, I like how my computer loads faster than my iPod and I can quote much easier.
But it was a bit frustrating to not have my timer to use, or play music whenever I wanted. My iPod is useful for little things like that, like checking my email, asking what time sunset is, etc., but I think I tend to overuse those little things.
Tuesday night, er, Quebec
My journal: Two people called me today. It made me so happy. It’s amazing how much more productive a conversation can be via phone. And hearing the voices and laughs. I love my friends.
Wednesday afternoon, afternoonish, Quebec
My journal: I feel pretty reluctant somehow to be on my desktop computer. I wasn’t anticipating that. I do seem to have become very attached to my laptop though. It’s almost like I’m getting annoyed with the devices, but still really want to connect with my friends, hence the dichotomy.
Also I wanted to take a picture of the snow this morning...but couldn’t. It made me sad for a second and then I thought, “yay, one less thing to do and manage.”
I actually keep forgetting my phone on my desk and so missed three calls. Whoops.
FOMO is real. I keep thinking “oh, I’ll work on organising the kitchen appliances” or “I really need to make that bed”, but then I feel this inexplicable tug towards a device, to know what’s going on on the Forums, to see if there are Hangouts messages, and just to know what’s going on. It’s pretty subtle, because at the same time it’s nice not having my phone constantly fetching notifications. I’m definitely more willing to be offline and unplugged than I was with my phone, but the FOMO is definitely still there. It’s like a niggling little feeling, a tiny tug.
Have I mentioned how glad I am not to have Whatsapp?
Wednesday afternoon, 3:16 - 4:42 pm EDT, Google Hangouts
Me: How's it going? 😃 I think I've been rather enjoying the week so far, though my attachment to my laptop has increased rather dramatically.
Blair: things i'm learning: fomo is a real thing and wow i need to work on this. other thing i'm learning: i'm less mentally fragmented and more present in each situation without all the notifications popping up and needing to be dealt with. i think i might keep notifications off for most things even after this. also using a physical alarm clock is a rather entertaining spectacle each morning. it has a slightly obnoxious sound and no volume control...it startles me awake each time. O.o this morning i hurriedly reached over to slap the "off" button and in the process, knocked it off the nightstand, dumped over my vase of flowers, and knocked several other things off 😛
Me: Oh goodness. 😮 So sorry! That sounds comically dreadful.
Blair: mainly comical XD
Me: Well, that's good. XD I just jump out of bed, stagger to the nearest clock in the hallway, wonder why I woke up at 6:15, wash up, go back to sleep, and then use my laptop as a clock until I decide to get up. XP
Blair: hehe! oh the adventures of non-electronic alarm clocks. 😛
Keegan: i've mainly noticed that i'm now conscious about how much i use my phone, but also very grateful for the convenience it offers me. also the ability to talk to people is super nice.
Blair: that's a good point. this has also given me a new appreciation for how useful it is for convenience.
Wednesday evening, island time, Hawaii
Isabel’s journal: I like being able to focus on one thing at a time, such as Forums, American Lit, or emailing, instead of jumping between little unfinished tasks. I definitely rely on my computer more - I use it to watch YouTube while I eat, I bring it to my bed to wake up, or I take it to the lanai (porch) to chill, all things I usually don’t do.
I appreciate my iPod more for the little conveniences, and it shows how much I rely on email, Forums, Hangouts, Wifi, etc. When I wish I could play music in an instant, and can’t, I think of a song and sing it (or try).
Thursday morning, too early, Quebec
My journal: I dreamt I used my phone as a calculator and as a converter, and was distressed in my dream when I realised I had. I then woke up, fell back asleep, and dreamt I should write about how I dreamt about that! I had a kind of aversion to devices in my dreams actually. It was so strange.
Friday, not sure, Hawaii
Isabel’s journal: I went on my run with no music. I felt pretty good, but it just wasn’t the same. I could hear my breathing, the faint sound of birds, and the light crash of the waves at the park. I could focus on that, and I could focus more on the people around me, smiling at people who might smile back. So the run took me significantly longer (20 minutes instead of 18ish), and it was hard to time my run because I had to log the time from my computer. After, I walked to the shore access because it was a bit burdensome to go on my computer to check the Forums as usual. Then I went on the Forums for a bit, which made me happy. Playing music also made me very happy. :) It changes my whole mood.
Saturday, no clue, Hawaii -
Isabel’s journal: Yay! It’s the last day! Today I just slept in and didn’t wake up to my alarm. :) I did my usual check-the-forums-then-move-on routine. I had a nice long devotion. I’ll be glad when I don’t have to carry my computer to the dining room, can wake up to music, listen to music whenever, and check my emails easier. Though, it is nice to not have to worry about getting to emails until I just focus on that. Usually, I’m constantly checking my emails and notifications, procrastinating getting back, and having to be worried about what I’m going to respond with while also multitasking with something else. I prefer being able to focus on notifications and nothing else at that moment.
Saturday afternoon, 2:24 pm EDT- Sunday afternoon, 12 pm EDT, Google Hangouts
Blair: did you guys see andrew's ink to the article on how grayscaling your phone can beat phone addiction? it was interesting...and then i did more poking around and came across these...if you have a few minutes, they're worth a listen/read: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvQxtotEX-M http://www.tristanharris.com/essays/
Keegan: oooooh...i feel like i may have heard of this before...but i completely forgot about it.
Blair: super fascinating.
Keegan: i'm getting really done with this experiment though. 😂
Blair: really? i feel like the longer this experiment goes on, the more ok with it i am.
Keegan: lexi and i were talking about it. i think that unplugging from the phone is really nice when you're unplugging from other things too. for example, i didn't use my phone barely at all in ecuador, and i was super okay with it. but when i unplug from my phone in the midst of normal life, it's a lot more difficult because normal life involves me communicating with people.
which is much more difficult when i don't have the phone. and i think that now i can have a little more discretion about the time i spend on my phone, so i'm ready to have it back and be able to talk to people easier.
Blair: that's a really good point about it being more effective and healing when you're unplugging from other things too. if life is normal, it's just more of an inconvenience than anything.
Keegan: i agree with that statement. i don't think inconveniencing myself for the sake of it really helps me personally. but if i'm going to unplug, i wanna go all out. go live in a cabin somewhere and don't talk to anybody
Blair: sounds pretty sweet.
Keegan: i have a major hankering for the wilderness right about now
Blair: for me, though, it's different somehow. maybe it's that i don't message with as many friends apart from the forums (which i mainly do on the computer anyway). i felt this has been healthy for me and i'm going to continue to leave notifications off and have a set time during the day when i check social media (not just whenever i pick up my phone because it's habit). i've realized how restful it is to not be fragmented with notifications popping up all the time. and wilderness sounds lovely…
Keegan: the social media thing is definitely something i need to implement. don't just go on whenever you're bored sort of thing.
Keegan: but hangouts i have not enjoyed distance from. people don't really text me anyway so it's not like it fragments my life *self pitying sigh*
Blair: well, people don't text me either, generally.
Keegan: are we calling this thing after tonight?
Blair: oh! i forgot it was ending…
Lexi: praise Jesus 🙊
Keegan: blair is over there making me feel so materialistic by her complete detachment from her phone
Blair: oh dear. that's not what i'm meaning to do. and i've cheated a couple times this week by taking photos and checking the weather
Keegan: lol i know i was teasing
Me: That was an interesting discussion. 😊 I have not missed my phone, personally. At this point, I'd rather keep it off. 😛 It's been fun. I'm trying to figure out how to retain some of the sanity I gained by having everything muted and never using it. Haven't figured out how yet.
Isabel: I have definitely missed the convenience of my iPod, but it was definitely nice to not be worrying about notifications all the time. I'm happy that this week has come to a close, though.
Saturday night, 11:55 pm EDT, Quebec
My journal: It’s over in five minutes and I have zero interest in putting my phone back to normal. I don’t feel like I’ve missed it or that it’s left a huge gaping hole in my daily life. Sure, there were conveniences, but on the whole, it’s been very relaxing not to have it. I wonder what to do going forward though. How to keep this peace, or at least not fall back into all my old phone habits. I still haven’t figured that out.
The Aftermath And Our Impressions
The morning after the challenge ended, I heard my alarm (the annoying one), then as soon as I remembered I could use my iPod, I smiled. I was still half-asleep when I grabbed it from my closet, but that smile set me up for a great morning. It made my mood so much better as I got ready for the day. The one thing I’m worried about moving forward is going back to spending too much time on my iPod. At least now I am more able to consciously limit my time on it.
After reading back through my journal, I definitely see a theme. I appreciate more the conveniences that my iPod gives me, but also realize that I had a fragmented sort of multitasking-too-much mind with my iPod so accessible. I was not often focused on one thing, such as an email, laundry, or messaging/talking with someone. I much prefer not being as fragmented, as it allows me to place most or all of my energy and focus on the thing right in front of me (though I was already doing this with my schoolwork, as well as when I was out of the house with no Wi-Fi).
About mornings, being able to have a purpose or reason to get up as soon as my alarm goes off changes everything. Being able to message someone or see who messaged me really gave me a reason to smile and, really, a reason to live. Also, how I started my day helped me for the rest of the day.
Before this challenge, I felt like I was constantly banging my head against a wall telling myself to “be more present” in life but never actually making any progress. I would hate myself for picking up my phone whenever I was bored or procrastinating and I knew these habits were fragmenting my mental state and family life, but I never took steps to stop myself.
I needed not just conviction that my phone usage was unhealthy, but actually specific, manageable rules to guide my phone usage along with lots of accountability. This challenge provided that. While it was difficult at first to not have the stimulation of continual connection, the first couple days of the challenge opened my eyes to how much I had been relying on that constant stimulation to feel fulfilled and connected. If i wasn’t “caught up” on messages and notifications, I had felt anxious and incomplete. I also began to realize how much I tend to use social media (the Forums, Instagram, Pinterest) as means of escape anytime my in-person life gets messy, boring, or demanding. I’m not sure if the challenge helped me grow in this area, but it definitely caused me to realize this as a personal and spiritual growth issue.
In the subsequent days, I began to relish the lack of screen time and mental fragmentation. I enjoyed flipping the little switch on a physical alarm clock…not waking up to the Hangouts notifications that previously I had always felt guilty not responding to right away...being with family and friends without the habitual pull of getting on my phone to chat with online friends...not pressing the home button out of habit only to find I didn’t know what I was doing on there. I used my time more purposely and felt joyfully detached from my phone.
Interestingly enough, I also began to appreciate my phone’s convenience and utilities in a new way. Having the ability to quickly check the weather or add an event into a calendar were things I missed and looked forward to using after the challenge. This prompted me to rethink the way I look at my phone in general - to not view it purely negatively as a time-waster, or too simply as only a means of connection, but instead to view it as a tool by which I could make my life more organized, effective, and happy. I decided during this time that going forward, I would be purposeful about capitalizing on my phone’s utilitarian capabilities:
get a note-taking app
get the Google Drive app and become more comfortable using Google Docs
learn to more effectively use Google Calendar
As the challenge wrapped up, I found a curious thing: I didn’t want to go back to my old habits of phone usage. I liked the peace and wholeness I had found through the rules I followed all week. I began thinking of ways I could continue to practice healthy phone habits that would still allow me to enjoy the connection and convenience my phone offers while protecting my mental wholeness and family time and guarding against the temptation to use my phone as a procrastination device.
More changes going forward:
never press the home button unless I have a specific task in mind to accomplish
keep notifications (except for texts) off
use a physical alarm clock rather than an app to avoid first-thing morning screen time
set aside a specific time each day (when I am actually free from other responsibilities) to catch up or post on Instagram, browse Pinterest, and roam the Forums
if I don’t have access to my computer (or don’t want to spend the time booting it up), set aside a specific time during the day to catch up on Hangouts messages
Regarding the last item listed, I think it will be interesting to see how purposefully setting aside time to catch up on and respond to Hangouts messages will impact the quality of those messages. Rather than a quick reply while sweeping the floor or making dinner, I will have time to give my whole attention to a message and send a thoughtful reply.
In conclusion, I believe the results of this experiment reflect the spirit of the goals I listed above. While the goals will require continual work to achieve in completion, I was able to experience mental wholeness and toward the end of the week, lack of FOMO as well. I learned a great deal about my personal and spiritual weaknesses regarding use of technology and I learned what steps will be helpful for me in order to implement healthy, productive phone usage moving forward.
I had a hard time with this phoneless experiment. Recently, I spent four days in the mountains in Tennessee and left my phone in Michigan. That was much easier for me, because there was an actual physical distance between me and my phone, and I wasn’t trying to conduct my normal life without the functionality of a phone. Additionally, my Tennessee incentive was completely self-motivated; since this phoneless challenge involved other people, I had a harder time staying motivated, because my motivation was conditional instead of intrinsic.
My goal for this challenge was to become less dependent on words of affirmation from other people and to not fish for attention by messaging people. I completely failed in my goal. Because my notifications were all turned off, I found myself checking my apps way more to see if there were messages from people.
My personal rules for this challenge included not hitting the home button unless I had a specific task, writing down tasks before opening my laptop, not googling anything in social situations, and silencing all notifications.
One of the benefits of the phoneless challenge was less Spotify music. I found more space for quietness in my life, especially when alone in my bedroom. Instead of filling the silence with music, I was free to think or pray or just enjoy the silence and the natural sounds of my house and neighbourhood. Spotify music for me has a lot to do with the way I relate to other people; the music I choose to listen to depends on what my friends are listening to and what I want my friends to see in their friend feed. It was very liberating not to think about those internal social pressures.
Evernote was definitely the app that I missed the most.
I didn’t like how this challenge caused me to overthink and have a guilt complex about everything that I did on my phone and I think it is healthier to have actual distance between myself and my phone.
There was a moment a few weeks ago when the ever-inventive Shulamis sent a (what was in her mind) crazy idea out into the void known as the interwebs. A daring suggestion. A thrilling prospect. A crippling threat. A week with limited usage of a mobile device? The horror. But there were some - a few daring volunteers - explorers of the unknown - pioneers of a fearful and bleak land - valiantly ignoring the fact that billions of people throughout all the ages of history have existed with joy and fulfillment without ever touching a cell phone - who looked the monster in the face. But we were unshaken. We accepted the sacrifice. We would spend a week using our phone less than usual. Deleting apps. Silencing notifications. Forgoing media. We knew the danger, but we steeled ourselves to the haunting nightmare, the Fear of Missing Out. Six intrepid ascetics: myself, Lexi, Garrett, Blair, Isabel, and Shulamis.
Well. Why did I decide to do it? To be honest, I probably lean toward asceticism sometimes. I like inflicting discomfort on myself. I speak harshly to myself. “Oh, you enjoy your phone, do you? Well! How do you like this?” So I decided to deprive myself and join in with the challenge. I’m only mostly kidding. Another reason was that I honestly believed that I was wasting time on my phone. The one minute on Twitter that turns into ten. The mindless video chain on YouTube. I was fed up with myself. I thought, “If I have time to spare, then for God’s sake use that time to do something useful.” Spending a week to define the relationship with my phone seemed like a good way to start the process of intentional mastery of my media time. Also, Lexi was completing the challenge, and I wasn’t about to be shown up by my sister.
How did I implement the challenge personally? I silenced all notifications except for my text notification and my phone ringtone. Why leave the text, do you ask? Well, communication platforms abound on my phone. For me personally, texting is more for practical purposes (my employer texting me, my pastor organizing an event with me, etc.). Apps that I silenced were such as Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, Discord, and more. So I left texting, my phone ringtone, and Google Maps in case of emergency and for practical purposes. I deleted all apps except for those three from my home page. I used my alarm clock to wake me up in the morning. If I wanted to listen to music, I used our TV or my CD player. I used my physical Bible to read, and I took notes in a physical notebook. In essence, I used my cell phone like a cell phone and found other ways to do everything else.
What did I learn from the week? Well, I definitely spent less time on my phone. Practically no time, actually. However, I think I learned that much of our lifestyle in this society revolves around distraction. There are plenty of places to find it. It wasn’t necessarily easier for me to focus and avoid distraction just because I wasn’t using my phone. There was still my computer for social media and YouTube. I could still sit and do nothing. I think this was helpful for me to recognize. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to blame your problems on a device. “If only my phone wasn’t here! I’m sure I’d be a more complete, disciplined, and productive person.” Sure. But then when your phone is gone, you realize those same bad habits (discontentment, lack of discipline, unproductive ways of spending time) are still there. The habits are what need to be eradicated, not the device.
Another result of the experiment was gratitude for the ways my phone allows me to communicate. During the week, I was sad and a little annoyed that I couldn’t talk to friends as easily. Now, that can go one of two ways. I could feel entitled to my ease and comfort, or be thankful for the technology that allows me to communicate so simply. I honestly think gratitude was the result. Caveat: I think that unplugging from communication is a good idea sometimes. But for me personally, unplugging from communication is most effective when it is combined with unplugging from other parts of my everyday life as well. For example, when I went to Ecuador this winter on a missions trip, I almost never used my phone. I never needed it. I was gone from home, taking a break from my job, my school, etc. But during the experiment, because I was still carrying on with my everyday life, the communication sabbatical was more of an inconvenience than a help.
There you have it. The thoughts you probably didn’t care about hearing from someone you may not even know. However, if you’ve read this far, hear me out to the end. If you’re considering a technological sabbatical, I would advise going all out. If you’re able, take a weekend: no phone, no computer, no nothing. See if you have a friend with camping equipment and go out in the woods somewhere. Unplug from your normal life, not just your phone, so that when you get back you can appreciate it for what it is and be thankful for the modern conveniences that we have without being mastered by them. But even if you’re not considering fasting from your phone, still take a moment to think about how you spend your time. All those pipe dreams you have: imagine if you spent the time you usually spend scrolling Instagram on your phone chasing that dream. Learn that instrument. Read the book. Master that skill. Invest in that relationship. Enjoy your life. To use the words of my favorite songwriter, Jon Foreman:
“Life is short. Live it well.”
I think I hit upon it. Or I hit upon something, at least. With all my notifications off, that meant no one could come to me. I wasn’t being bombarded. Unless I received a phone call, all messages were received when I decided to go and receive them, and they couldn’t bother me otherwise. There were no pop ups, banners, dings, or little red taunting circles. All was peaceful and nothing took my attention unless I chose to let it. I think I went into this anticipating re-appreciating my phone. That may have happened, I suppose, for the convenience of a few apps, but generally that most definitely didn’t happen. I’m annoyed at it, in fact. It’s bothersome. I love being in touch with people, but somehow the phone with all it’s pulls in different directions, doesn’t actually help that. It hurts it. It makes my life fractured to the extreme. I can never do just one thing. I’m in multiple places at once and it leaves me restless and dissatisfied. Also, hey, it apparently cramps my thumb. I don’t know how I didn’t realise that before. The night after the challenge ended, I took my phone to bed so I could keep talking to someone. I woke up late and feeling kind of dead. It’s been nearly a month since the experiment ended and my phone and technology habits are still different. All of my notifications are still off, except iMessage. Everything else I need to check manually if I want to see if I have any messages. It’s kind of funny because I never understood the people who said they turned off notifications. I was like, “then what’s the point of having the phone?” But I get it. Focus is so much better. And everything is so much less stressful.
I think the thing I love the most is not feeling the self-inflicted pressure to respond immediately when a message pops up or that I had to clear every message right away. Now I batch clear messages and emails, which is much easier and less tedious. I still like responding as soon as possible, but the pressure is gone. And the best part is getting to focus on people. As much as I got a thrill out of keeping up multiple chats at once, it’s so much better not dividing my attention to the point where not only am I not connecting with many, I’m not really connecting with anyone.
My phone usage shall never be the same.