If you had to break up with your phone for a week—i.e. drain the battery and tuck it into a drawer out of scrolling reach for seven whole days (that’s 168 hours, or in other words, 10,080 minutes)—how anxious would you be on a scale of 1 to freaking the fuck out?
Despite the potentially toxic and obsessive relationship I have with my phone (an almost year-old iPhone X dressed in a pale pink Apple case and La Croix PopSocket), I wasn’t intimidated by the challenge of a digital detox. In fact, I welcomed it.
Things had gotten bleak. My screen time was reaching absurd levels (I was burgling approximately four hours a day of my own time), my daily phone pickups were pacing over 40 (an alarming number considering I work at a computer all day), and I fell victim to self-induced wrist pain from constant scrolling. Something had to give. So I gave myself a smartphone intervention.
“The rules were simple: No phone, no calls, no texts, and no social media.”
The rules were simple: No phone, no calls, no texts, and no social media. This also meant disabling my iMessage on my laptop and blocking Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook from my computer browser. I wasall in. I used the Forest Chrome extension to keep me from going rogue and opening those on desktop.
It’s not like I’m the only one who could use this type of digital sabbatical. A 2018 Nielsen audience report found that American adults spend more than 11 hours per day interacting with media. A big chunk of that happens on—you guessed it—our smartphones.
So what was it like to part with my phone for a week? Spoiler alert: Not fun. Read on for the sometimes rewarding, sometimes cringe-y details of my experience as a phone-less millennial. Then, heed the advice of Tanya Goodin, Founder of Time To Log Off and author of OFF and Stop Staring at Screens, who shared some less-drastic techniques you can use to giveyourself a digital breather.
Day one: Saturday
What better way to start a week of unplugging than with a hike in Runyon Canyon? A surprise rain shower began about halfway through the hike and left me drenched, but fortunately, because my phone was safely back at my place, I didn’t have to worry about it getting ruined in the storm. (Also, rain in LA—what the hell?)
Later that day, I cracked open a book (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng—I’m late, I know) and watched some playoff football. Because hey, no one said anything about no TV.
The most striking realization I had on day one was that despite being on a phone hiatus myself, everyone around me was still plugged into their devices, so it was difficult to escape the cloud of phone addiction. It felt like an out-of-body experience, watching how everyone split their attention between their social feeds and dating apps while simultaneously trying to be a part of an IRL conversation with a friend or loved one. Eerie almost.
Day two: Sunday
It would have been great to have my phone when I was in drugstore purgatory waiting for a prescription to be ready, but beyond that, I really enjoyed my Sunday sans-phone. My late-twenties turned me into a homebody of sorts, so making plans on the sacred day of rest was typically a no-go for me.
However, when friends invited my partner and me over to their place for drinks that evening, I lept at the chance to get some genuine face time and socialization. Turns out not having access to the goings-on of 1,000 of my peers in the palm of my hand made me crave more in-person contact. Miraculously, I fell asleep peacefully that night without the dread of Monday hovering over me.
Day three: Monday
I plowed through my to-do list at work and finished the day’s tasks by 1:45 p.m. My productivity when I can’t check Twitter or Instagram was through the roof! To fill my phone-free evening, I took a pilates class with a few co-workers then caught up on Vanderpump Rules. Pretty solid Monday if you ask me.
Day four: Tuesday
Had a bit of a crisis re: the purpose of my detox. Because I work in digital media, I couldn’t exactly give up my laptop for a week. That meant I’d only subtracted one screen out of my life—was that enough to give me the desired impact I was looking for? And wow, nothing like sitting in front of a computer for nine hours to make you desperately want to check your Twitter feed.
Oooof, this was starting to get hard. I also wasn’t proactive about making plans with friends before my no-phone challenge started, so I realized I wouldn’t be seeing anyone this week. FOMO started to set in. I caved and checked my phone, saw a flurry of text messages on my home screen, then stashed it back in my drawer without responding to anyone. I felt a sense of relief that although I was somewhat off the grid, I hadn’t been totally forgotten about, yet.
Day five: Wednesday
Not having your phone to check emails between the time you leave work at night to the time you arrive the next morning is STRESSFUL. I was greeted each day with hundreds of emails instead of the typical 15 to 20 I have by the time I reach my desk. As nice as it was to completely log off in the evening to read and catch up on absurd shows like You,I felt like I paid for it the next morning.
On a positive note, I was sleeping more soundly and tucked myself in by 10 p.m. most nights (progress!) My general anxiety was lower, too. An interesting side-effect of being ill-informed about world events, I guess. Just remind me to avoid no-phone challenges in the future when it decides to rain in LA for a week straight. My dream of taking long walks around my neighborhood in lieu of phone scrolling was thwarted by the untimely weather.
Day six: Thursday
On day six I discovered that my bedside alarm clock didn’t work. I’d woken up before my alarm every day that week, but on Thursday when it failed to go off I overslept until 8:12 a.m.Oops! My trusty iPhone would never put me in this vulnerable position to be late to work—I was so looking forward to its imminent return.
After work, I had plans to catch a live recording of Dax Shepard’s podcast, Armchair Expert, at a theatre in DTLA. If only I could have had my phone to document the night, but alas, I’d just have to burn it into my memory.
In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t have my phone with me because: people with phones at events are the worst! As I stood on my high and mighty phone-less soapbox, I looked down on those in the crowd who blinded me with their glowing devices and rude texting during the show. Really?! What could be more important than Kristen Bell serenading us with a glorious song about farting? I’ll wait.
Day seven: Friday
Lo, the sun hath arrived! I took that as a sign to resume my normal, connected life. So I cut the experiment short and enjoyed catching up on all that I had missed while I was “offline.” Ariana Grande dropped a new song and something called the 10-year challenge blew up, among other quickly forgotten viral memes.
I was back in action, but more thoughtfully now. My first day back with my phone only amounted to an hour of screen time. With my remaining spare time, I finished the book I started earlier in the week, wrote in my journal (a momentous occurrence that happens only once or twice a year in these tech-saturated times), took another pilates class, walked a few miles, went to the movies to see The Favourite, and felt an appreciation for the newfound balance I had with the tech in my life.
Despite my modicum of success, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be until I succumbed to complete phone addiction again. Would this phone detox sitch have to become a quarterly occurrence? Because moderation is way preferable to total deprivation, I asked tech ethicist Tanya Goodin for some strategies to help keep me in line that you can apply to your own experience, too.
On what a healthy relationship with technology actually looks like:
“A healthy relationship with tech is a balanced relationship where we maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of life onscreen. However, we might fool ourselves that it’s the life-enhancing tools that are making us spend eight hours+ a day on screens. If we’re honest we know that we’re wasting hours a day scrolling through social feeds, sending cute cat memes, and watching YouTube videos. Wasting time on screens, or using them to hide behind, is not a healthy relationship.”
On how to decrease your screen time:
“Balance is about setting healthy boundaries. It’s not that the digital world, or our phones, are intrinsically bad, it’s just that we use them 24/7. So set boundaries around times or places: ‘I’m not on screens after 10 p.m.’ or ‘Sunday is my off-screen day’ or ‘phones don’t belong in the bathroom.’
“Another approach you can take is to ‘untether.’ Stop carrying your phone with you glued in your hand or pocket and find a central location to place it in—at home and at work. This means you have to make an effort to go to the phone when you need to check it, which cuts down on that reflexive, mindless, screen scrolling. It’s like pretending your phone is a landline—but one you can move with you from place-to-place.”
On the benefits of decreased screen time:
“Anecdotally, people who cut down on their screen time report better and more sleep and improved focus and concentration. One study from Denmark also showed improved mental health when participants came off all social media for a week. There’s no doubt there are benefits in all these areas from a bit of time offline.
“Honestly, 24 hours [without a phone] has most people feeling as if they’ve had a really good break. One phone-free day on the weekend will have you feeling like you’ve just had a full week off work. No one believes this until they actually try it, then they’re all converted.”
On the unpleasant side effects of a digital detox:
“You might find yourself experiencing a bit of FOMO and also some of that particular panic that comes from not knowing where your phone is if you untether (which now has its own name: nomophobia). But in my experience, this doesn’t last very long. Most of us aren’t seriously addicted to our phones, we’ve just gotten into a bad habit, one that is actually fairly easy to break with some planning.”
On taking a partial digital detox if you can’t fully unplug due to your job:
“Set up micro-moments of digital detox throughout the day. One of my favorite strategies is to always have phone-free food. In effect this means you leave your phone behind when you go out for your lunch break. Right there you’ve built in up to an hour of screen-free time every day which will leave you feeling refreshed.”
On encouraging your partner to cut down on their screen time:
“It’s really tricky to have any conversations with your partner about self-improvement, isn’t it? Weight loss and fitness can be a similar minefield. I suggest you approach it as a team project, saying, ‘Let’s both put our phones away when we’re with each other in the evenings.’ If you tackle it as something you’re both doing for each other, you’ll get more buy-in, and a greater chance of success.”