I Limited My Cell Phone Use for One Work Week and This Is What Happened

“I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?” said Tony Fadell, a designer who helped bring the iPod, iPhone and iPad to life, in a recent article. “Did we really bring a nuclear bomb with information that can—like we see with fake news—blow up people’s brains and reprogram them? Or did we bring light to people who never had information, who can now be empowered?”

After reading this, I began to contemplate how much technology has truly transformed society.

As a Millennial, I have to admit that I often feel like my phone is an extension of myself, just like Fadell describes. I feel empty without my phone by my side. I literally take it with me everywhere (yes, even the bathroom – please stop judging). In fact, even when I don’t have my iPhone with me I sometimes check my purse or pocket after I feel like I heard a buzz. Turns out, I’m not alone in this and it has actually been deemed “phantom buzzing”. This sensation has even been studied by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

I decided to put myself to the test. After receiving several comments from family and friends that I am too attached to my phone, I wanted to prove that I can limit my cell phone use and still be okay.

Here are the rules I set for myself:

  • I must consciously limit my cell phone use for one work week.
  • I can only check my phone three times a day: once in the morning, at lunch and in the evening when setting my alarm for the next day.
  • When checking my phone these three times, I can only respond to new updates. No general browsing on social media or the internet.
  • No chatting on the phone for long periods of time. If I needed to make a phone call, it had to be to the point – no more than five minutes or so.
  • I can use my phone while working out to listen to music. To be fair to the challenge, this meant music only. No general browsing or responding to new notifications.

When the idea of limiting my phone use first came to mind, I felt confident in my abilities to disconnect. But as I wrote out these rules, I actually found myself becoming overwhelmed with anxiety realizing I wouldn’t be able to use my phone as I please. Nevertheless, I was determined to take on this challenge and see how this would affect my day-to-day.

After one (very long) work week, here’s what I learned:

  • I’m not emotionally attached to my phone, but to the connections. What I mean by this is it isn’t the phone as an object that I am emotionally attached to. Rather, it’s the people and things my phone connects me to. I use my phone to catch up with family I don’t get to see every day, chat with friends, see what they’re up to and stay connected to world news. Without this technology, I wouldn’t be able to keep in contact with those I don’t see every day; not on the same personal level anyways. I’d also feel out of the loop on rising news stories.
  • My relationships began to suffer. My friends and family are used to me answering their calls or messages fairly quickly. So when I began to take hours or days to answer them, they started to feel offended. Not checking my phone frequently caused me to miss out on three separate last-minute dinner invites. I even received a message from one of my closest friends saying she felt like I’d been texting her late on purpose. This was even after I warned her I would be taking this experiment on. Needless to say, I’ve become dependent on technology to maintain my relationships.
  • Some relationships were strengthened. Contradictory to my last learning, yes, but for valid reason. As I noticed my relationships with those I don’t see every day starting to suffer, I also noticed that my relationships with those I was with in the present moment began to strengthen. I was no longer distracted by my phone and was able to fully engage in conversation.
  • My anxiety levels decreased. A positive to not always being caught up with my cell phone updates was an increased ability to live in the present moment at every second of the day. This allowed me not to worry so much about what I would be doing after work, but to live in the now. As a result, I felt less anxious and obligated to respond to everyone at once.
  • I saw society through a different lens. Timing was perfect this work week because I had a doctor’s appointment. Lucky me, right? We all know how dreadful a waiting room can be, especially without a phone to help pass the time. Ironically enough, as I was waiting and browsing one of the magazines, a little boy with his mom began tugging on her arm persistently saying, “Mama! Mama! iPad, iPad!” He had to be no more than four years old. It’s wild to think how technology is now a part of our younger generations’ upbringing. It kind of frightened me to picture how dependent my future children may be on their cell phones and technology in general.

All in all, I’m surprisingly happy that I went through this exercise. It made me become consciously aware of how much I’m using my cell phone. Furthermore, it made me realize how being too absorbed by my phone can have a negative impact, and conversely, how not being tethered to my phone can have a negative impact.

I think technology is a phenomenal aspect of our society today, but it’s all about finding a happy balance. If you feel like you might be using your phone too much, maybe try this experiment yourself. You can even use an app to track how many hours you’re using your phone.

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Photo Credit: William Hook

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