My smartphone has become like an additional limb, I cannot function properly without it, I am dependent on it and I cannot really think without it. I have become so accustomed to having my phone with wherever I go, I feel lost not having it. I think I am addicted. So I voluntarily decided to turn off my smartphone and refuse all social media for 48 hours.
As part of a school project, our teacher dared us to go offline for 48 hours. I was quite reluctant to join the self-experiment at first and it took me quite a while to actually decide when to turn it off. Before turning my phone off, I tracked my average phone usage for a week with the horrifying results that I spent around 3.5 hours per day on my phone and look at it around 130 times per day. That adds up to spending 24.5 hours per week on my phone – more than one entire day a week – without sleep. And that does not include the time I spend on my Laptop surfing the web or Netflixing. Imagine what you could do with all the time instead!
The rules: My teacher allowed us to use the phone for calling, but restricted internet usage also on our laptops only in support of homework or studying – that means no social media, no Facebook, no YouTube, no Netflix, no checking e-mails, no nothing for 48 hours. While of course there were no means to check how strictly we adhered to the rules, he did ask us to sincerely try to get to at least 24 hours.
I finally turned my phone off at midnight on October 15, vowing to only turn it on again on midnight of October 17. I had told close friends and family about the project so they would not worry and had announced it on my most used and probably most addicted to social media – Instagram, making going offline a very conscious decision. It was the first time I was choosing to go offline since I had gotten my first smartphone – seven years ago.
I had just turned off my phone when I realised I had forgotten to tell my mother of all people – and relied on hoping my youngest sister would have informed her. Faced with the first difficulties of having forgotten to buy an alarm clock, I asked my roommate to set her alarm loud enough to wake me up as well – as luckily we have to get up at the same time anyways – and to check the weather and air pollution for the next day for me. But besides that, both days went by smoother than expected.
I had a lot of mixed feelings when not having a phone with me. I went with the decision of completely turning it off and leaving it at home, despite the teacher allowing us to make phone calls and keeping it on us – but I knew that would tempt me even more so I made a more radical choice.
I felt irritated not to be able to use my phone in moments when I usually would – that being when I was waiting in line or just generally trying to kill time, walking to places – as I also could not listen to my music. I was a bit irritated when eating out and not being able to take a picture of my food, after all you haven’t eaten if the ‘gram hasn’t seen it. I wore a watch for the first time in months so I would not have to check my phone for the time, yet occasionally I still felt irritated that I just wasn’t able to check it. It was like my fingers where itching for my phone, itching to grab it, pick it up and itching to just look at it. As if looking at my phone calmed me.
I felt annoyed with the extreme phone usage of the people around me, especially in conversations – people get distracted by their phones so easily! It made we question if I myself also pay so little attention to my surroundings? Probably yes.
I felt relieved. Probably the last feeling I had expected. As a person who does consider herself more phone-addicted than not, I was quite surprised that over time I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I do have a tendency of not being the fastest to respond to messages, but not to be able to respond at all, did feel quite relieving in an oddly satisfying way.
I felt inspired. Not having my phone with me all the time made me think so much more about so many things. Do I enjoy what I am doing? Would I want to relive my life the way it is now? Why are phones distracting us so much? I was really enjoying the experience of not being attached to my phone, I had so many ideas I wanted to write down, so many epiphanies that came to me. Maybe my phone usage was also limiting my creativity?
Trusting people. This became so essential in my daily life. I had to trust people would show up at the time and location we had set, but also being on time myself – with no means of telling them I’d be late. I had to trust my roommate to wake me up, to check the weather for me. Asking people for the way because I could not check on a map. It made me have to rely more on people but having to rely on people made me engage with people more. I probably should thank my roommate more at this point – she kept voluntarily googling things for me – I am pretty sure that does not count as cheating.
Disconnection of people. Only when I turned my phone off and also didn’t carry it around with me anymore, I began to realize just how disconnected people are. They just don’t talk to each other. They are not present, as half of their attention is turned towards their phone, especially in a conversation. Is the person you’re messaging really more important than the person you are talking to right now? The one that is physically present? I can tell you, 95% of messages you’re receiving are not urgent. They can wait a few minutes if you’re in a conversation. Everyone is on their phones. The entire time. Even when talking to someone, the phone rests comfortably either in one’s hand to notice the vibration in case one got a message or it lies display facing upwards on the table – blinking interruptedly when a new message comes in. The more I began to observe this phenomenon, the more disruptive I saw it. What happened to humans? Why are we not able to communicate anymore?
Attention deficit. Nobody pays attention. This realization came to me in class when looking around me how many people were using their phones and also realizing that for once, I was paying attention to the teacher. It made me question so many things. Is the lecture boring? No, for me not really. Is the teaching method used designed to not spark our interest? Or do we just lack severe attention deficit? The latter can be answered with a clear yes. In 2000, the average attention span of a human being was measured to be 12 seconds. In 2013 it had declined to 8 seconds, with the attention span of a goldfish being 9 seconds.
Out of sight, out of mind. I realized that I actually didn’t think about my phone as much as I thought I would and I attribute that to not having my phone around me, not seeing it. If it would be constantly lying next to me, the urge to grasp it and to just check it would have been much higher. I did miss my phone in class when I got bored occasionally, but interestingly enough, I just occupied myself otherwise: I started doodling again. I haven’t doodled since graduating from high school and I had completely forgotten just how relaxing it is and how much I had enjoyed doodling. I also realised that I am still a huge procrastinator, just that when I cannot use my phone, I tend to “productively procrastinate” – meaning I still occupy myself with other chores I had been procrastinating instead of doing what I was supposed to do (study in most cases).
I definitely want to use my phone less. My goal is to turn it off for half an hour before I go to bed and leave it at home more when I go out. I found it an incredibly rewarding experience, despite it maybe occasionally having been a bit inconvenient and I recommend going offline to everyone.
To put my experiment a bit more into place, I do have to mention I did this while on exchange in Seoul, South Korea. It did add certain difficulty as being abroad away from friends and family back home in Germany did make me use my phone more just to stay in touch with them – which was difficult enough with the 7-hour time difference anyways. Additionally, South Koreans are way more prone to using their phone in any situation than from what I had witnessed back in Germany.
The last major realization I had was when talking to the people in my surroundings, and when I told them I was going offline, pretty much everyone responded with “I could never do that” – which is exactly what I said as well when our teacher announced the assignment. But I did.
It is not about the ability to do it; it is about wanting to do it. Nobody wants to go offline, but everyone can go offline. I challenge you to #48offline. Be mindful. Be present. Be offline. It is a simple choice, and it’s just pressing one button away.14