Going Offline: A Week Without My Phone

How much time do we spend on our phones? And of that time, how much is valuable? Recent studies show we check our phones 28 times a day, or, over 10,000 times a year.

Disclosure: This article is not here to tell you to stop using your phone, or to simply link abstract facts to excessive social media use. I don’t believe we live in a society fuelled by a numb, dopamine addicted submission to our devices. Phones are a source of information and communication, they promote human existence, not detract from it. However, to be present, and maintain focus are universal problems; and, at times, the phone is a vehicle against such disciplines. Being a student, I reside within the highest statistical bracket of social media use. In other words, as a faceless statistic, I would be expected to check my phone in excess of 200 times a week. In response, I’ve deprived myself of my phone, and all other social media platforms. I want to see how it would effect me, my creativity and my social interactions.

By keeping a diary for my seven-day experiment, I had a source of material to look back on. In hindsight, the majority of what I wrote is very typical of an ‘English student’- pretentious and not useful. To quote myself, how I was ‘standing on the precipice of an ocean manifested through a means of undiluted clarity’. Soon after removing these, ahem, insightful comments, my primary recollections are a lack of trivial distractions, usually articulated by other people’s existence. I’m not talking about those engaging conversations with friends and family. I’m referencing those moments we all have in which we check one snapchat notification, then suddenly we’re 20 minutes deep, watching a girl you kind-of-used-to-know down a shot of Sambuca ‘8 hours ago’ whilst making a ‘Love Island’ reference. Out of nowhere, I’ve lost half an hour of my day and I can’t remember why Iago hates Othello.

As the Snapchat-less days dissolved into each other, my subconscious began to pick up the warning signs of withdrawal symptoms. Demonstrated through moments of panic as I reached for my pocket, only to find nothing. It felt like a lost limb. As I stood waiting for the tube, I felt unsheathed and exposed - what if someone tried to talk to me?

On a more serious note, ‘Google maps’, the saviour of our time, had been stripped from me. Since moving to London, I had never been without it. When, on Thursday evening, I went to meet my girlfriend at a bar in Soho; how on earth was I supposed to find her? Prior to the journey I looked at an actual map, then physically wrote down street names. Once again, I felt naked, and in a masculine sense, inadequate. As if my sixth form social life was repeating itself before my very eyes.

Productivity aside, which did increase, the comparative silence was good and bad. Reading on the tube became more profitable, but I inwardly longed for podcasts and music. Each journey stretched out in front of me, completely inflexible, the raw physicality of time taunting me. Admittedly, less daily contact with my girlfriend allowed for far more immersive conversations in the evening, and the boxsets remained (relatively) untouched as a result. However, at times neither of us knew where the other was, or if we needed anything else from the shop. Situations like these are just an added annoyance to daily life. I didn’t realise before, but this ‘experiment’ was affecting other people, not just me. You can take your phone out of your life, but you can’t suddenly remove society’s phone-dependant nature. You’re left languishing in a sort of social purgatory where you become other people’s problem.

Something a friend said that week stuck with me; ‘What you’re doing isn’t impressive, having your phone with you, but not using it unless you need to, is.’ As usual, Anna was right. A notification is not a legal obligation to immediately check its source. Blaming it for productivity is like blaming a car for crashing, it’s completely invalid on its own. Like everything, fruition is found within balance. Our phones are a reflection, an endorsement of the beauty of everyday reality. But the gravity of the moment, and its immeasurable potential, must not be denied. In other words, actual experience knows no substitute; remember to look up, before you look down.

Words by Will Rix.

Image by @wandergasm for Volvic.