A Week Plugged - The No Phone Experiment

Updated: Mar 2


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

me too

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* 😄

*gets nervous*

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 fr