Yes, I went a week without mobile. No, I’m not crazy—just curious about the implications a few days without my technology life source would have on me. As a person who may or may not experience phantom cell phone vibrations, I couldn’t imagine what this time would be like. Would I feel freer? Naked? Lonely? More social and in the moment? My hunch (or as the science folks call it, “hypothesis”) was that while I would be freaking out without it, I would have more real human interaction and be more observant of the world around me. But, before I get into the gory details of my learnings, I want to make a few clarifications:
1) I did use my cell phone for calls– I don’t have a landline and I’m not a savage. However, I made all calls from my apartment just like how a real landline would function (that’s how those work, right?).
2) I did not text or use any data (apps, internet) or basic tools (camera, alarm, calculator) on the device.
3) My definition of a “week” is a business week. [See point above about not being a savage.]
- Full disclosure: I may have cheated at 9:00PM on my last night without mobile so I guess I went 4 7/8 days without it rather than the full business week. I caved. I couldn’t help it and I’m trying to get help.
OK, now that that’s settled and you’re done judging, let’s get back to our previously scheduled programming.
I kicked off the week feeling fairly optimistic. I felt like something pivotal would happen that would allow me to transcend the day-to-day and come to some sort of Zen calmness. However, this optimism and excitement lasted approximately 15 minutes until I realized I didn’t know how to do simple everyday tasks without my phone. How do I know when the train will arrive? How do I listen to music during my commute? How do I stroll into work at 9:15 like it’s OK because I’ve been checking and responding to email on my phone all morning? I had not planned for these issues, mostly because these actions are so ingrained in me that it didn’t ever fully register that I need my phone to do them.
Once my initial frustrations were worked out (tracking the train on my laptop before I left my apartment, eavesdropping on the train instead of listening to music, and getting to work by 9:00–novel, I know), I wanted to start testing the human interaction part of my hypothesis. I had assumed that since I would not be distracted by the constant dinging of my notifications, I would have more real human interaction. The issue? While I was not distracted by my notifications, every other person I know still was. Instead of interacting more with my friends, I was left out– I couldn’t text my friends something funny that had just happened or quickly make plans on the fly to meet for dinner.
On the flip side, while I lost touch with friends and family over those few days, I did find myself interacting with people I typically wouldn’t. I began talking to the bus driver rather than simply burying my face in this morning’s latest Mashable article. I greeted people as I walked down the street, even if their face was buried in their phone. I sparked up conversations on the commute to and from work and in cab rides around the city. So, while I lost touch with my friends, I made more acquaintances which gave me a renewed sense of being social. This feeling was fleeting, however, as the novelty of only having conversations with complete strangers wore off quickly. In the end, while I had branched out to new social areas, I felt less connected to the people who mattered most to me.
Observing the Unobservant
Going hand in hand with greeting people I normally wouldn’t, I also observed things I wouldn’t typically notice. Instead of keeping my head down while on the train, I looked out the window, noticing every billboard, street sign and building along the way. When walking down the street, I looked at people’s mannerisms and fashion sense. I paid more attention when others spoke and meetings became more productive. I was able to take notice of these things because I didn’t have my go-to distraction keeping my mind occupied on other things. But as the week went on, I started to wonder, is my mobile phone really a distraction? Or does it just give me the ability to observe the things I truly care about and block out the noise? I guess it’s actually a little bit of both.
In a very unscientific manner, I both proved and disproved my hypothesis (I know that’s not really possible, but give me a second to explain). I was more social in a way, but in an arguably less meaningful way due to the lack of contact with my closest friends and family. I was also more aware of my surroundings and able to appreciate things I don’t typically notice, but was less observant of the things that had always mattered most to me like what’s happening in my friends’ lives and the latest breaking news.
This week taught me that mobile is an irremovable part of who I now am and how I live. It makes so many aspects of my life infinitely better and easier. However, just as I sometimes need a vacation from my day-to-day, it’s important to make a conscious decision to disconnect from mobile on occasion and take in a new perspective. And when I come back to reality, I always have apps that can catch me up on what I missed while I was off.
Image Credit: Wayan Vota