Could you last a day without your cell phone? If you left it at home accidentally one day, would it cause you anxious and the feeling of being lost? Serious FOMO. It’s 2016, you can’t walk into a public area and not see within the first five minutes someone on their phone. I picked up my head from phone today on the bus and looked around at a packed bus, each person was looking down with a glow reflecting off their faces.
In the past few years the reliance on our phones has been growing exponentially each year. Our phones are now solutions to killing time. There’s literally an app for almost anything. If you’re waiting for the bus, in line at the store, or even worse in the line at the DMV, our immediate reaction is to reach for our phones. Rarely, do you catch someone looking into space or being deep in thought. Even at Starbucks where someone has a mere few minutes to kill before their name and triple venti macchiato latte gets called, all too often, that person has the sensational pull to reach for their phones. No more are the days of having casual face-to-face encounters with strangers.
Earlier last month at the gym towards the end of my workout I grabbed for my phone to change up my music, I clicked the side button to waken up the screen but the screen never light up. While I was between transitions in my workout I tried again a few more times to no avail. I turned the phone on and off a few times, but after taking the phone apart and leaving alone for a few hours, I determined the screen was dead. My phone was dead and useless.
So what happened next? I guess most people would head over to the nearest carrier store to get a replacement, but instead I decided that I’d wait a day or two to just relax without having the implied urge to look at my phone. Those couple days turned into a week, then another week (why not) and by that point I just figured, another week wouldn’t hurt. Here’s what happened in those 24 days.
The most common question I got during my time without a phone was, “but how do you get in touch with people?” It’s not a bad question, but it’s also not a hard dilemma to resolve. The people who you communicate with everyday can likely be reached by email, Facebook, or another form of social media. I was lucky enough to be equipped with a computer and wifi sporadically throughout my days without a phone, so that I could communication back and forth with my friends and family. Issues were faced, like if I wasn’t going to be on a computer but planned on meeting up with someone later, and what I did was be specific on location and time, but that was it and that was all that was needed. No complex plans just quick, “let’s meet up,” “okay where and when?” An other annoyance was when someone else’s phone would ring that had an identical ringtone to what I had used. And interestingly, the sound that I used coming from someone else’s phone continued to throw me off the entire time I was phoneless. Each time my ears and eyes perked up seconds after hearing “my” ringtone. I thought my reaction to the sound would have died off, but the reaction lasted the full 24 days. So until I had a new sound to replace as “my” old phone’s sound/ringtone to messages and calls, my brain continued to identify with the sound of the alert.
I haven’t been without a cellphone for 16 years, so throughout my phoneless period I kept letting my mom that, “tomorrow I’m going to go to the store to get a replacement”. The real issue was about safety. Admit it or not, but we all have attachments to our cellphones, attachments that are more deeply instilled into our cognitive behaviors than we care to understand. Obviously our cellphones connect us to each other and without them we compromise the possibility of losing touch. During those 24 days, I traveled to Washington, DC and San Diego, CA. Having a cell phone is a safety net that I decided to gamble with. After all, it was a length of time that many would consider a considerable length of time. But I survived and fortunately didn’t receive any tragic news that needed immediate attention or my presence.
So these are my final thoughts. Yes, I couldn’t take pictures, make social posts when out and about, or summon an uber. But in a way it was liberating not to give an inanimate object so much control over my daily activities, one as simply as relying on your phone as an alarm. Rather than grabbing my computer each day to set an alarm, I went without an alarm during those days (except for a handful of days where I had specific meetings that were earlier in comparison to my normal schedule). I told myself, “I’ll wake up when I wake up,” with the attitude that I’d give my body the sleep it needs, but also not give it any more than it needs. I never once woke up in the middle of the morning causing me to scramble to get into the office. However, since I’ve gone back to having a phone (a week ago) I have been using my alarm.
Lastly, I noticed in my time without a phone I was more willing to socialize with strangers. During that time, I probably did experience a decrease in overall interaction and communication, and therefore mentally reciprocated in other ways, specifically reaching out and/or accepting other social situations that I’d probably avoid or ignore usually. From this experience I plan on a detox from my phone again during a couple of vacation days by turning off.
My recommendations if you’re looking into taking a cell phone detox, try turning on your phone’s airplane mode for a few hours or utilize iPhone’s Do Not Disturb feature. Another idea, if you want to avoid phone usage at a party/dinner, ask for your friends and family to turn off their phones and/or gather everyone’s phones to be held for safe keeping. Even go as far as to provide disposable cameras to fill the void of not being able to capture moments. Or during a dinner, have everyone place their phones in the center of the table and create funny disciplines for the person who grabs for their phone first. A small cell phone detox when you’re already with the people you need to be with can do more for you mental well-being than you may realize.