Phones: you can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em. Or can you? When Dia Gawronski, a Woodland senior, announced that her senior project would be holding a “No Phone Week”, I was extremely interested. I had recently begun to feel moderate disgust at the frequency of my phone usage, and thought the challenge would be good for me. And so, from February 25th to March 4th, this reporter (an American teenage girl who has regularly used her cell phone since the age of 11) willingly gave up her phone. Below is a log I wrote every day documenting my “Phoneless” experience.
The night before
Around 6, I get excited. I text with friends about using CDs in the car on the way to school the next morning. I realize the only CDs available to me are my parents’ old music, as well as the CDs I used to play in my Hello Kitty radio when I was 5 (Shrek, Shrek 2, High School Musical, and the Freaky Friday soundtrack). The CD hunt fills me with a gleeful nostalgia and I begin to think the week won’t be that hard.
Panic sets in around 9.
I write down my friends cell phone numbers on a piece of paper. I have to ask friends who are also doing the challenge about their home phone numbers. I continue Snapchatting until midnight, using my last possible minutes. As soon as the clock hits midnight, I send one final Snapchat (with the word GOODBYE dramatically plastered over my face), turn off my phone, and shove it in the drawer, where it will remain for the next 7 days.
I wake up and have no idea what time it is. I never realized that, besides my phone, I have no sort of time-telling device in my room–no clock, no watch, no sundial lying around. Because I have no idea what time it is, I rush to get ready quickly. I shower, dry my hair, and get dressed in a hurry.
I am ready for school 10 minutes earlier than I usually am. My mom laughs when she sees the CD collection I am lugging to school, but her laughter stops when I tell her I am leaving the phone at home. A dispute occurs. She is (understandably) distressed about the prospect of me leaving my phone at home.
“What if there’s an emergency?”
“I don’t know, I’ll figure it out”
“What if you get into a car accident? What are you going to do on the side of the road with no phone?”
Ugh. She’s right. Begrudgingly, I shove the phone in my backpack, where I am worried I will be too tempted to look at it. On the way to school, I listen to the High School Musical soundtrack. This is when I realize how different my music-listening style is when I have my phone. Usually I connect my phone to the car via Bluetooth, and put on my favorite playlist on Spotify, which has 112 songs. I skip songs whenever I feel like it, even passing over songs I like but I am “not in the mood for”.
But the High School Musical CD only has 9 songs, so I can’t skip any of them.
I really don’t want to verify my mom’s argument about getting into an accident, so I drive extra carefully to school. Even with my reduced speed, I get to school at 7:22 instead of my usual 7:36. It’s not even 8 and already my lifestyle has been altered.
I decide to keep my phone in my glovebox during the school day. This was a way to make sure I follow my mom’s rules of keeping it on me while I travel, without having it within an arm’s length during the school day.
I keep waiting for the fact that I am without a phone to truly “sink in”, but it really doesn’t. I grab for it in my pockets for a few times out of habit. For instance, when I walked into journalism (my first class of the day) I saw fellow journalist Vinny, eating Cheetos with chopsticks. I instinctively grabbed at my pocket to take a Snapchat of this hysterical occurrence, but I felt okay when I realized I just had to enjoy it in person. The biggest wake-up call of the day was when the fire alarm went off and my first instinct was not to get out of the building, but rather to grab my phone.
A week without a phone and social media may not seem like a great feat to everyone, but anyone who knows me knows I spend a lot of time on social media. It occurs to me that I could technically check Twitter (my favorite form of social media) using my laptop. This would be a little unorthodox, but not technically against the rules. Despite figuring out this potential loophole, I still don’t check Twitter.
I don’t even want to. Being unplugged is nice. I never realized how much I depend on my cell-phone to make decisions. I text a friends about weird social interactions to get their opinion, and check the reviews on a store’s website to see the reviews on a beauty product. I use my iPhone to make decisions way too much. In a few months, I will be an adult (in the eyes of the government, at least). I should be able to buy a body wash without checking to see how many “stars” it has on Ulta.com.
When I get home from rehearsal, my mom relays the messages that were left on our home machine from my friends.
I have to call Kyla’s home phone (who is also participating in the no-phone challenge) from my home phone. It occurs to me I can’t remember the last time I had to talk to one of my friend’s moms before reaching them. And, because Kyla is walking her dog while I call, I have to wait for her to call back. Finally I understand why there are so many old songs about “waiting by the phone”. I have never had to “wait by the phone”, considering it is usually right in my hand. I would imagine this waiting would be about ten times more stressful if I was waiting for a prospective romantic interest to call. This makes me feel very sorry for the generations before me, who had to communicate with their romantic interests using the family landline.
I thought being around my friends still using their phones would be tempting, but I still have no desire to use my phone. At Bright Lights rehearsal (a rehearsal for a youth production I am assistant directing), I keep nudging my friend because she is missing hilarious things the kids are saying and doing. She is using it exactly how I would have used it, probably less. My stomach sinks while I wonder what I miss when I am aimlessly scrolling through Twitter or refreshing Snap stories.
The past three days, I have not been able to talk to my sister, Mary, or my best friend, Maggie. Both girls are away at college, so I primarily communicate with them via text message. Today, I am able to have phone conversations with both of them. It is so much more enjoyable to relay my stories to them via phone call rather than sporadic text messages throughout the day.
Using my phone does make communication easier. Besides that, I don’t miss it at all. And I am starting to dread having to go back to using it.
On the way to school this morning, I listen to the Annie Broadway cast album, something I have not done since I was 11 years old. I finish my homework two hours earlier than I usually do. I go to bed two hours earlier than I usually do. I read a book for fun.
Today I am craving fries. Okay, fine, I am always craving fries, but today is different. On this day, I can get the fries I am craving, and I can get them at a discounted price. It is Free Fry Friday at McDonald’s, a phenomenal deal in which any purchase at McDonald’s results in obtaining free fries (this is not an ad for McDonald’s, but if anyone from McDonald’s is reading this and wants to offer me an endorsement deal: I will take it). In my last block of the day, I am happily daydreaming about the free fries I will receive with my small Caramel iced coffee, when I come to a terrible realization.
The free fries are only redeemable with use of the McDonald’s app. I am crippled with despair. There is no way to get the free fries without using my phone. This is the closest I am to breaking. I debate turning my phone on, getting the fries, and turning it back off.
“No one needs to know,” whispers the Devil on my shoulder.
No, no. I’ve come too far to break for free fries. I console myself by reasoning that I can get the fries next week, and I will enjoy them even more knowing they were well earned.
Tonight I hang out with my parents. Prior to the challenge, I expected my friends would constantly be talking about various posts they had seen on social media. But weirdly enough, my parents are the only people in my life who have asked me if I saw a social media post, forgetting I am participating in the challenge. My mom informs me that I “picked the wrong week” to go phoneless, informing me that the pictures from my little cousins’ trip to Disney World are amazing.
It is a normal day. I wake up, have a good breakfast, go to rehearsal, and then go to work. At work, I am informed by my manager that phone usage among employees has been frequent lately and we are required to leave our phone at the desk. I inform her that I don’t even have a phone on me, and she is delighted.
On the way home from work, I stop at the gas station. Usually my face is in my phone, but since it isn’t, I make eye contact with the other people at the gas station. As any female human being who has been in a gas station can confirm, this is a terrible idea. A man I make eye contact with at the gas station is being creepy by the pumps. This is the only time I miss my phone. My typical tactic against creepy gas station lurkers is to fake a phone conversation with my mom, just so the lurker knows there is someone who cares about me and knows I am headed home and would definitely notice if I was, say, kidnapped or something.
Last day. Today I hang out with Kyla and Dia, two friends who also participated in the no-phone challenge. Throughout the week, I noticed that I felt a lot closer to Kyla and Dia than I did with friends who were not phoneless. Even though none of us have our normal communication device, it is somehow easier to make plans with each other than it normally was to make plans. Usually making plans consists of a group chat in which everyone discusses when they are busy, when they are free, what they want to do, and what they don’t want to do. However, during Phoneless Week, I just get a call on my home phone, hear a straightforward direction (for example, “Come to my house at 2:30”) and the plan is made. I don’t care what we are doing, I just want to be doing something social.
When meeting with Kyla and Dia, we all discuss the impact (or lack of impact) having no phones this week had on our lives. Everyone admitted to feeling a little worry that someone may be unable to contact us. Kyla and I are both in the process of hearing back from colleges, and feel worried that we might be missing possible phone calls from these colleges. And I admit it is difficult to make plans without a phone, and I am looking forward to having it back for that reason (as well as communicating with people I don’t see in everyday life).
- I definitely care less about what people think when I don’t have my phone. Without outside influences, I make my own decisions. Additionally, I enjoyed making up my own mind about how I felt about things. I never pegged myself as someone who cared about the opinions of others, but I was unconsciously influenced by others input. Whenever something happens, I am too quick to send a text to multiple people to get their opinions and or reactions. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being alone with my thoughts. I think the main thing I took from the challenge was that I don’t have to share everything with everyone. Without my phone, I felt as though I was living in my own little world. The feeling of being completely responsible for my own mood was empowering. Mood shifts due to social media are far too familiar for teenagers(and maybe even adults): we are happily scrolling along, when all the sudden we see something on our phones that serves as a gut punch and tarnishes the good day we were having before opening social media. I liked that I wasn’t at risk of seeing anything that would concern or upset me, I was 100% responsible for my own mood.
- Multitasking is a myth. I want to apologize to my mom for all the times I insisted I could scroll on Instagram and listen to her at the same time. It’s not really possible. If you think you can really have a conversation while simultaneously being on your phone, you really can’t. A huge realization I had while doing this no phone challenge: Hearing somebody is not the same thing as “having a conversation”. To have a conversation, you need to be fully present.
- After living without it for a week, I realize there are definitely some advantages to having a phone. For instance, I really missed being able to listen to music all the time and contact who I wanted to, when I wanted to. I will be using social media and my phone again. But I really don’t want to go back to using it the way I used to. I don’t ever want to go back to scrolling through Twitter while I brush my teeth. It’s excessive and unnecessary.