Signing up for an article for this magazine on our idea spreadsheet, one title jumped out at me. “No Phone Day.” I told my roommates about it, and they just didn’t believe I would go through with doing it. Honestly, I almost didn’t.
It took me about three weeks to attempt to pick the perfect day to spend completely phone-less, at the end of which I realized there was no perfect day. There were days when I had to study for tests or turn in problem sets, and to do that I’d need to at least be able to communicate with my study group. There were days filled with meetings that I couldn’t afford to miss simply because I didn’t have my phone to remind me.
Three weeks passed. There was not a single day that seemed feasible, until of course, the deadline for this article started to loom over my head.
At about 8 p.m. the night before, I handed my phone over to my roommate and told her to keep it for the next 24 hours. Just before I went to sleep, I realized all my alarms were on my phone, so I had to borrow my roommate’s little pink alarm clock to make sure I woke up.
I have undoubtedly never fallen asleep as fast as I did that night. Granted, I had an allergic reaction a few hours earlier for which I had taken two Benadryls, but it may also have been because I didn’t have the opportunity to mindlessly scroll through my phone before actually passing out.
When I woke up, it hit me that I had no way of telling time because I didn’t own a watch. Who needs a watch when you have a phone that’s always with you, and all you have to do is look at the screen to get an update of not only the time but also your entire schedule?
So naturally I roamed around campus that day with that same little pink alarm clock in my coat pocket, whipping it out every single time I wanted to know just how late I was going to be to my next class.
I spent all day being cold because I couldn’t check the weather app on my phone before deciding what to wear. I tried to do it as they did in the old days and just stick a finger out the window, but clearly my finger thought it was warmer than the rest of me did.
My Monday already felt completely abnormal and bizarre, and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet. I felt so disorganized and on edge.
Now usually I text my friend before Monday lunch and confirm where we’re meeting, but that was out of the question, so I just went to the same place as usual, but he wasn’t there. I figured plans had changed, but how was I to know? So I ate lunch alone and read a book while I ate.
A part of me really enjoyed that. It had been so long since I had just sat down to a meal and a book, and I missed that, but I also felt like I was missing out on time with my friends. It was an odd feeling, like I was detached from everyone else.
Later, I was just walking somewhere, and I ran into somebody one of my friends and I dislike. I don’t see this friend everyday, but we try to keep in touch. I reached into my pocket to grab my phone and text her saying I saw him so we could rant about him as usual. Whoops. There was just a little pink alarm clock in there.
That lingered in my mind as a missed opportunity to reconnect with someone I don’t see all the time but whose company I still enjoy. The memory of the run-in faded, and I never told her about it. It wasn’t a big deal: Of all the moments in my life, this was a fairly insignificant one. But I still felt like I’d lost something.
In one of my classes, a different friend seemed upset. When that happens I usually text her about it later, and we have a long conversation about it. I didn’t see her again that day; we never talked about whatever she was going through. And I felt like I was being a bad friend, like I couldn’t be there for people even if I wanted to.
All day, I felt strangely on edge. I had this nagging feeling that there was some important text or email that I wasn’t answering, that there was a friend who thought I was ignoring them, that there was something I had to do that I hadn’t because my phone wasn’t there to remind me. I felt like I couldn’t rely on myself and my memory.
Sure enough, when I got my phone back, there was an overwhelming influx of information and things I’d missed throughout the day. The way my life is structured, with News-Letter and admissions and research and all my work being done in study groups, there will always be a million things I need to keep track of and a million people I need to be in communication with.
Maybe over the summer, the experience would have been different. But during the semester, with the way work and responsibilities pile up, it was more stressful than anything else.
The next day, though, I felt a change in the way I was behaving. To put it simply, just that one-day break took away my instinct to constantly have my phone in my hand.
I was in class, looking at my notes from my day without a phone, and they were amazing — so detailed, so much better than my normal notes. I felt like I’d actually understood everything I wrote down, because I was absorbing information between breaks in the professor talking, instead of just checking my phone.
This isn’t to say that I was miraculously paying attention for every minute of my three-hour lecture because I didn’t have a phone. No, I was doodling. I was daydreaming. It’s been so long since I’ve doodled, I forgot how much fun it was. I found a page of random article ideas in my notebook from Monday, ideas that popped into my head because I was daydreaming instead of scrolling through videos on strange animal interactions or how to make that perfect fudgy brownie.
Would I have done this if I didn’t have to for this article? Probably not. Will I do it again? Probably not. With the way our culture works, people expect responses, whether it’s friends or it’s colleagues, and I couldn’t get by with just going off the grid and ignoring them.
But if you can, I’d encourage you to just take a day. One day is all it takes to become so much more conscious of the way you use your phone. Even with my phone back, I’m now making a conscious effort not to check it during class, to use a notebook instead of a laptop.
I realized I’d forgotten what it felt like to be bored. With constant entertainment and gratification literally at my fingertips, I’d forgotten what it felt like to daydream and get lost in my own head.
I’ve missed that.