by Daniel Hinton
For 96 hours, I lived without a cell phone. No calls, no texts, no chat messages, no notiﬁcations, no voicemails, no Wi-Fi, no mobile Pandora. Only emails were allowed.
Sure, it’s only dramatization of a first-world problem. But today, technological innovation and the modern lifestyle have transformed cell phones from status symbols of the 80s and 90s into widely used mobile phones that are more accessible than toilets. Progress, march on.
So I decided to test, in this new world, my own resistance — perhaps secret desire — to live without a phone. I contemplated potential emergencies and downfalls. Then I thought about family, friends, and my girlfriend studying in Virginia. But the night before, optimism kicked in: maybe this experiment would actually improve my social skills or minimize distractions. So I gave it a try. Here is my account.
Day 1 | My biological alarm clock woke me up at 9 a.m., two hours too late. My Intro to Web Design lecture had already begun. Then I decided to skip my Sociological Theory lecture, too.
“Didn’t go to class, as you prob noticed. I miss anything?” — a text conceived but never sent. Not a big deal, since I’ll see my friend/classmate later in the week. And I probably didn’t miss anything critical anyway.
Living as a young student in a big city is already a challenge. It’s virtually impossible without a cell phone (a.k.a. address book, alarm, camera, video game console). Fortunately I’m not one of the millions diagnosed with nomophobia, (as in no-mobile phobia), defined as “the fear of being out of mobile phone contact.”
On the subway into the city, I was feeling around my pocket for something missing, something secure. The need for that familiar color, shape and weight in my hand intensifies when I’m bored. In less than two years of owning a smartphone, I had already developed the reflex of reaching for it — an early, common sign of nomophobia.
So far, no serious consequences of an absent phone. Once I arrived on campus, I checked my email inbox.
“This is bad. This is really, really bad,” I said, with words not ﬁt for print. “They might ﬁre me.”
Both my bosses had sent me messages asking why I hadn’t arrived for my lifeguard shift. I had forgotten to add “Lifeguard duty at Palladium from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.” into my mental schedule. If not for this experiment, my phone would have rung, I would have answered, my boss would have berated me and I would have gone to work immediately.
“Holy sh*t am I having a bad day” — another text trapped in my mind with no way out. Forgetfulness, worry, regret — they are the “having-a-bad-day” trifecta, very common occurrences when you don’t have a phone. It wouldn’t have simplified my schedule, nor lessened my obligations. But if one part of your daily routine slips, however small, the rest will go with it. Cue the domino effect.
If I had my phone, I could have texted my girlfriend or anybody else and then felt a bit better about myself. I could have distracted myself. Boosted my spirits. Louis C. K.’s laughter rang in my ear as the Luddites of the world joined him.
Day 3 | I ﬁnally began reaping the supposed beneﬁts of living smartphone-free: sleeping earlier and longer, more face-to-face interactions, arriving places on time, focusing. That was not my phone ringing in lecture; that was not me dropping my phone on the subway platform; that was not me looking at my phone with my friends sitting in front of me at a table in Ben’s.
If college students in Wyoming can survive without mobile devices and Internet access for months at a time, I can live without a cell phone for a week.
That doesn’t mean I want to live that way, without the ability to call or text, sitting alone in the silence of Bobst or my apartment, unable to schedule meet-ups, hoping to see a familiar face on campus. Phones, Facebook, Twitter and Gmail are distractions from important work, but sometimes those distractions actually help us get through those long days in the middle of the week.
Day 5 | Saturday morning arrived and I was finally reunited with my electronic companion. I had navigated through occasional forgetfulness and boredom and survived like it was 1999.
Returning the hand-sized computer to my pocket and sending out those first texts were relieving. A few friends and my oldest brother had tried to contact me, so I let them know that, yes, I will check out that funny video and buy tickets for that concert.
But what I had missed most weren’t the calls, texts and apps per se, but the familiarity of my girlfriend’s voice, a friend’s jokes, a family member’s concern. The phone itself, the warm touchscreen, the weight in my pocket, the familiar motions and security of grabbing it with my wallet before I left my apartment.
Readers may say I suffer from nomophobia, but I wouldn’t jump to such a strong conclusion. Cellphones are now a part of present-day living in a rapid, technological city. So maybe we all suffer. Once you go mobile, there’s no reason to go back.
If you don’t believe me, leave your own phone behind and step outside.