The premise of the challenge was simple: Survive one week without using any mobile apps whatsoever. Basically, I would wilfully reduce my high-powered mobile phone into a husk of its former self, demote it to dumbphone status so I could only use it to text, make phone calls, and jolt myself into consciousness in the morning with an alarm.
Despite being a tech lover, I’m not an app junkie by any means. I pretty much stick to the basics and my very low interest in games saves me from dropping dough on Candy Crush Saga or anything else. One week of deprivation couldn’t be that hard.
You don’t realise how often you scroll through your Twitter feed until you can no longer scroll through your Twitter feed.
The morning of my first App-less Day was a whirlwind of little realisations. I couldn’t wake up to a leisurely perusal of Tumblr, read the headlines of the top New York Times stories, or check the weather. OK, sure, I technically could have done all those things on my real computer, but the clunkier process deterred me.
Then in my haste to leave my apartment, I also completely forgot to grab either a book or my iPod. Usually, before work, I catch up on the developments in the tech world by perusing a few Twitter lists and refreshing my Feedly on the train (I take the 7, so I have a solid 15 minutes above ground before descending into the connectionless bowels of the city).
Today: zip, zero, nothing.
Sardined between the other sleepy commuters, I gazed coolly at their phones and MP3 players, feeling like a pseudo-martyr on a quest towards app-free enlightenment. Although I felt less prepared going into work, I congratulated myself for my restraint and for noticing all the crazy-cool graffiti that I didn’t usually lift my eyes to see.
As the day got going, though, it didn’t take me long to discover my own nervous tic: I have a habit of clicking on my phone, jabbing the Twitter app, and refreshing it absent-mindedly, checking for mentions or replies. Now, all I was doing was clicking my phone on, staring at the screen, and clicking it back off forlornly.
Other withdrawal symptoms started manifesting themselves loud and clear, too: I would fiddle with my phone purposelessly, make weirdly prolonged eye contact, feel like that poor clueless kid in middle school who’s always missing out on some inside joke. I also became a fairly manic texter, rekindling conversations that had fizzled out several days before because what the hell else was I supposed to do while waiting in line for my bagel?
Get off your phones, you jerks.
When you have a smartphone, it’s like you’re never alone. Or bored. Boredom disappears because you always have something to read, or watch, or stare at blankly while avoiding conversation on the elevator.
Without a smartphone, you realise how much alone time you really have.
That, and how much of your daily existence you usually feel the need to share with the world. Cutting off my normal regimen of Foursquare, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, I watched my communication levels plummet. It was like all my hilarious, pithy observations were going to waste inside my own brain! So many delicious meals unphotographed!
Also, I started noticing other people’s cell phone use with the same wrath as my mother would. Whenever I was talking to someone and noticed their eyes flit towards their little screen, I’d be overwhelmed with a matronly indignation. The nerve!
I felt it the most when I entered the eerie quiet of a packed 7 train at 6 p.m. We were all doing our own thing, except I had no thing, so I was just staring at everyone else, especially the silent 20-somethings with their backs and necks hunched over their glowing devices. Hey, former self.
Waiting feels so much more significant when you have nothing to do, and, fine, I’ll admit it: Bathroom visits got a whole lot more boring.
One frustration after the next.
At the beginning of the week, I made a seminally bad decision in deciding not to turn off my app notifications. Meaning that every time I received a message, tweet, like, or reblog, I would have to wilfully ignore it. Oh, the emails I forced myself to flick away! The Snapchats I had to ignore!
Snapchat really did kill me, too. I’d get a snap from someone, want to tell them why I couldn’t respond for a week, and then realise that I didn’t actually have their number, just their Snap handle. Awkward.
Plus, I’m in a long-distance relationship, and sometimes you just need to send your boyfriend a cross-eyed selfie, ya know?
A particularly embarrassing app-free moment occurred at work when I saw on my phone that I’d been tagged in a picture on Facebook. I swiped away the notification and went to check it out on my real computer. LOL’s commenced … Until I realised that the hilariously fugly photo of me was not illuminated on my own, tiny, personal screen, but glowing brightly towards the entire half of the office sitting behind me. Checking your personal FB at work: not recommended without a phone.
In general, the glorious privacy of a smartphone allows you to search for the things you’d be embarrassed to have anyone else see — including the simple maths equations that you should be able to do in your head (by God, did I miss my calculator app).
Going app-abstinent also meant that I was constantly forgetting things. No ever-present to-do lists, no quickly typed reminders or long-reads saved for later. Instead of writing notes for this article on my phone, I had to bust out a good ol’ fashioned pen and paper. The inconvenience of the extended elbows necessary for the physical writing process earned me more than a couple of glares on the train. Whoops.
Lead us not into temptation, but help me find where the eff I am.
I found truth in my mother’s other favourite mantra one evening after work: “You kids don’t know how to get anywhere these days without your phones.”
I’d walked to a Happy Hour with a friend, but several hard ciders later, I peaced out alone. Slightly buzzed, I tried to make my way to the subway without my trusty Google Maps and I don’t dramatize when I say that I quite literally walked in a circle.
Then, the next day, I wanted to try out a new coffee shop to force myself to be productive, but I neither had any idea where I should go, nor would have been able to find my way there without a map. I felt a surge of longing for my good pal Yelp.
Midway through the week, apps I don’t usually even use began to tempt me and I felt the strain of having to be tethered to a computer to send updates or give warnings (like when I realised on the subway platform that, sorry boss, I was going to be about 40 minutes late for work).
Probably the greatest temptation to my streak came Thursday night, when I had to wait a half hour with absolutely nothing to do for my friend to get into Port Authority. My finger hovered over that Tumblr icon nearly to the point of pain.
I got a crash-course in my own thought process.
Admittedly, there were some situations where it was almost nice not using apps: I felt like I had an excuse to be even lazier than I am usually.
“Um, you should find us a place to eat on Yelp!”
“Will you just look up the directions on your phone, please?”
“Someone else should take the picture, actually. I can’t Instagram it!”
“I don’t know, why don’t you Google it?”
I was like a very bossy little kid, almost gleeful about the fact that I couldn’t operate sufficiently on my own.
I had a lot of one-on-one time with my brain, got to coo over way more adorable babies on the train than I would have if my eyes were glued to a screen, and forced myself into lots of small talk.
In a way, abstaining from apps came down to trust. I just had to trust that I didn’t need to be connected 24/7. The world wouldn’t spontaneously combust if I didn’t read a tweet, send an email, respond to a Snap.
No, I definitely couldn’t give up my beloved apps on any permanent basis, but it was nice to give myself a brief break from the constant connection.
Now, see y’allz on Instagram.