Dear Diary: My Day Not Carrying a Phone

On Friday the Apple Watch will become widely available. Some reviewers imply that its presence on their wrists, while amusing, was ultimately pointless. Others, like an article in the New York Times entitled “Dear Diary: My Week Wearing an Apple Watch,” relished the possibility of instantly sorting through every notification that came their way.

It made life so much easier, the reviewer said. He stayed aware of emails and calls without appearing rude by taking out his phone. He got little shots of dopamine whenever his wrist vibrated.

Really? Is this the world we’ve come to? Not only do we think ourselves in need of yet another computer screen to tell us about our lives—now we publicly acknowledge that a smartwatch allows us to conquer every untouched frontier. It seems as though we’ve stopped caring about our addiction to notifications. Now they are an integral part of our lives.

Oddly enough, I performed a small experiment the day before I read that article. I did something I have not attempted in, unfortunately, years: I turned off my phone all day. I did not switch it to airplane mode or glance at it for the time. From 7:21, when my alarm went off, till I came home that evening around 8:30, my phone was off and in my desk drawer.

Admittedly I had an ulterior motive for taking such a plunge: I’m still waiting to hear back from Fulbright. (I probably will still be waiting at press time. And the week after. And the week after that….) I have become so twitchy with checking my email every thirty seconds that I’ve lost all motivation to do anything else, a rather precarious situation to put oneself in when a few huge exams and term papers still lie between you and graduation.

I noticed myself becoming the kind of person who looks for an excuse to take her phone out in class, who brings her phone to the bathroom and to get a glass of water at dinner. Likewise, I noticed myself getting grumpier and grumpier, more and more unable to carry on a conversation.

I thought I couldn’t live without my phone. What would I do for lunch and dinner? What if a professor emailed us an important assignment? What if the apocalypse happened?

Instead, I had one of the best ordinary days of the semester.

After coming home from the gym, I did normal morning activities. I did not have an option to log my run anywhere; the unexamined life is not worth living, and neither is the over-quantified one. Without the excuse of starting my day off by swiping through a heap of meaningless emails, I settled down to powering through preparations for the International Studies written exam. There were no opportunities to text my study buddy or to take an Instagram break or attempt to “reward” myself in any way. There was only work.

For lunch, I’d made plans the day before to meet a friend, emphasizing to her that I would not be on my phone and therefore she absolutely had to show up. She showed up. Why is that a question today? Why do we have to check in with our friends before every lunch date to ensure that, yes, we really do care about one another enough to arrive in a timely fashion?

In the approximately ninety seconds while I waited for her at the cushies, I stared vacantly into the distance. Some people walked by. Had I had my phone at hand, I would’ve decided I was bored and started flipping through it. Without it, I had to allow myself to become engaged with the scene around me.

That afternoon, I continued on a remarkably productive path. I did turn on the computer and submit a paper via Moodle but true to my commitment, stayed off email. During class that afternoon I felt like my mind was running at a slower pace; I was actually able to focus on everything the professor said. When I encountered the awkward half hour break between two classes, I spent a few extra minutes appreciating the trees outside Kaufman—without the obligation to photograph any of them.

That evening, we had a quick dinner before heading to a Clarke Forum event; in the five minutes of shuffling around in our seats before the lecture started, my friends and I continued our conversation, and I actually read the program in advance. Throughout the lecture, not only was I interested in the subject, but also even during the Q&A I felt invested in the discussion. Afterwards, I wandered out of Stern and looked up at the sky—not down at my phone.

I felt fulfilled. I felt like I was directing my life, not my phone.

If that’s how it feels for a relatively anti-phone person to give up her chief tie to the online world for a day, what must it be like for those of you who fall asleep while texting? What must it be like for a person who thinks they need an Apple watch to cut themselves off?

Especially for those of us who have a campus job (or anticipate getting a real one in a month), giving up the phone can seem impossible. But while you’ve got the freedom to do so, why not give it a try? You will have to actually do your work. You will have to rely upon your friends to honor your plans. You will have to be mentally aware throughout class and lectures.

I think it’s worth it. Do you?