A few weeks ago, I went without my smartphone for a whole week at the behest of my editor, who wanted me to experiment with a phone-free life and write about it.
To conduct my experiment, I shoved my phone in a forgotten drawer in my bedroom. Then I left it there — for seven days.
During that week, I discovered some surprising things about myself — and
the people around me — that I wouldn’t have paid attention to otherwise.
The best thing about my phoneless week was this: I felt way better about my self-control.
My smartphone provides me with convenience and entertainment, but it also fills my life with endless distractions. That makes it hard to distinguish whether I’m controlling the screens — or they’re controlling me.
I routinely find myself whipping out my phone to scroll through Instagram in the middle of watching Netflix; texting people while I’m having face-to-face conversations’ and checking Reddit anytime I have five seconds of downtime.
My need for multiple distractions can get pretty ridiculous.
I was surprised by my ability to actually ignore my phone all week, and I was really happy with the results. I felt so free, completely unburdened by the need to carry on multiple conversations at once, both in reality and on my phone.
That feeling of increased self-control extended into my appreciation for little moments I would have otherwise missed — like people-watching on the subway or chatting with colleagues in the elevator.
After only a few days, I felt way more relaxed, and much more able to appreciate the present. I didn’t feel like I needed to fill every second of downtime with intellectual chatter from a podcast, reading breaking news push notifications, or Snapchatting my friends.
It was actually peaceful, leaving my apartment with nothing but my own thoughts. I didn’t have to worry about changing plans, because no one could reach me.
It was pretty difficult to give up my phone, given that I use it constantly all day. And I wouldn’t have done it without an outside push from my editor.
It’s important to note, however, that the science isn’t totally clear on whether using your smartphone all the time is really a bad thing.
I asked Sally Andrews, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University who studies screen use, her thoughts on the matter.
“I think that raises an interesting question of whether we actually need to reduce smartphone use,” she wrote to me in an email. “Obviously people use their phones for a variety of reasons (work, productivity, socialising, music, as examples).”
People who feel that they are using their phone too much, insofar as it is interfering with their quality of life, should maybe make their smartphone use more conscious, and keep their phone out of the way of idle hands, so that you’re only using it when you need to use it.
Speaking for myself, I do feel infinitely better about my ability to control my own behaviour after just a week of giving up that pesky screen.
Full disclosure: I’m back to using my phone, though I’d like to think I don’t check it as compulsively as I once did.