When writer Janelle Brown was assigned to profile a family who has banned technology from their home for Sunset's January 2013 issue, she realized how dependent her own family is on their devices. Inspired, she challenged herself to take the ultimate test: Twenty-four hours without a smartphone. This is her story.
Inspired, she challenged herself to take the ultimate test: Twenty-four hours without a smartphone. This is her story.
I turn off my phone at noon mid-week, after much internal debate about which 24 hours are the best to be without it (none). Before shutting down, I fire off an email to a few critical friends, warning that I’ll be out of contact and that if they need me, they can’t text me. Then I power down, and stick the phone in a drawer.
Immediately I feel like I’ve erased myself from existence. I’m almost physically uncomfortable, the messages I’m missing like an itch I can’t scratch – I’m clearly hooked on the dopamine blast I get every time I see that I have a message, an email, a text, a Facebook update, a Twitter mention. Without my phone, I won’t know if something fascinating has happened somewhere else, or (narcissistically) if someone has thought about me. I have grown so used to perpetual accessibility that the idea of disappearing for a few hours makes me a little panicky. It’s as if, without the phone that links me, I have no evidence that I am real to the greater world: I am online, therefore I am.
I find myself still reaching for my phone out of habit.
I had anticipated an immediate feeling of untethered freedom, but life without a smartphone is a mild hassle. My daughter can’t understand why I’m not playing music for her in the car; why, instead, we have to listen to warmed-over radio pop (I haven’t kept CDs in my car in years). I lose track of time (my phone replaced my watch back in the '90s), and almost get a parking ticket. I get lost without GPS to navigate me (and I no longer have paper maps to back me up). Clearly, I’m far too dependent on this one gadget; and yet it also clarifies how much detritus (maps, CDs, address books, etc.) one small cube of circuitry has eliminated from our lives over the last five years. There’s a good reason why we love our smartphones so much.
And yet there’s an upside to going without. When my daughter and I go to the farmers market and eat ice cream, I’m not distracted by my phone’s presence. Knowing that the phone is back at home allows me to stop trying to be in two places (real and virtual) at once. Things are happening elsewhere – and I still idly wonder what they are – but I’m not restlessly checking my phone every 5 minutes to find out, or zoning out on my email. I’m 100-percent in the moment with her, something that doesn’t happen as frequently as it should. And later that day, my work is more focused without the phone constantly vibrating beside me. Clearly, this is good for me: I find myself wondering how hard it would be to have a regular Tech Sabbath.
Even stranger, when I turn the phone back on, 24 hours later, it turns out I’ve been missing nothing at all. No texts. No phone calls. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard after all.
What's the longest you've ever gone without your smartphone? Check out the full Sunset story, then test your own tolerance for a day unplugged. Share your experiences in the comments below.