Do you want to get more sleep? Do you wish you had extra time in your day? Interested in generally enjoying the world around you? Then turn off your smartphone for a day. That's what I did this week, and let me tell you, giving up your security blanket — I mean iPhone — is liberating.
At 7:15 a.m. my alarm went off. Usually this would be my cue to grab my phone and start my morning Internet routine: Check work email. Reply to urgent work emails. Check personal email. Reply to urgent personal emails. Read morning news digests sent to my inbox. Check Facebook. Check Instagram. Check email one more time. Force. Myself. To. Get. Out. Of. Bed. Sound familiar?
Instead, it went something like this: Get out of bed. Take a shower. Get dressed. Make coffee. Open laptop. Read email, social media, and news while leisurely enjoying my coffee. Head to the office. Get there 20 minutes earlier, since I got out of bed 20 minutes earlier. Thanks to ditching my phone, my morning felt way longer and more relaxed.
But let's get back to that journey to work. My phone usually plays a big part in it. I call my mom on my 15-minute walk to the subway or listen to podcasts or music. This day I was faced with a solitary walk, free of distractions. And I liked it! I let my mind wander. I noticed the architectural details on the homes I passed. I discovered that on a clear day, you can see the very tip of the Golden Gate Bridge peeking out above the homes on my hilly street. My gut reaction: quick, where's my phone so I can snap a pic for Instagram? But instead, I had to enjoy it all by myself. The walk through my San Francisco neighborhood felt like my little secret.
Once on the subway train, the five-stop journey seemed surprisingly faster, since I wasn't frustrated with a podcast that wouldn't load or a playlist that stopped streaming when I lost service. I also wasn't reloading my email like an addict every time we pulled into a station.
The workday was pretty uneventful without a phone. I'm glued to my computer anyway and popped over to the deli across the street for a late lunch. It didn't give me much time to wait for my food without anything to distract me. I did have a semi-important call with someone in NY, but no phone. So, I used the Google Voice plugin on Gmail to make the call for free. And the Messages Mac app kept me in text-message contact with all my fellow Apple users. Gramfeed made it easy to browse my Instagram, and of course I had to access Facebook on my browser.
Getting through the day wasn't as hard as I expected, but come 6 p.m., I felt nervous about the commute home. I wore heels that day — but couldn't even think about calling an impulse Uber! Instead of popping in my earbuds in the elevator and firing up the latest Fresh Air on the NPR app, I was faced with a 40-minute commute, free of any personal entertainment. Instead, I grabbed the New Yorker that had been chilling on my desk for a month. Keep in mind: the text-heavy New Yorker and eye-candy Instagram sit on exact opposite sides of the attention-span spectrum.
I've taken the same subway route for five years now, but it seemed different. I felt like an alien visiting from another planet, observing a human society glued to their screens. Now unplugged, I noticed how bizarre it is to see grown adults walking around oblivious to the world around them, and dangerously close to the platform's edge no less. Bump into them, and they seemed jostled out of a social media- or music-streaming-induced dream. I thought, "Who needs Terry Gross when you have a fascinating anthropological experiment happening before your eyes?"
Now home and filled with smug self-congratulation about a few hours without my iPhone, I opted for a more time-honored screen-time tradition: watching TV. But even vegging out had changed. After dinner, which is always phone-free in our house thankfully, we plopped on the couch for some House of Cards bingeing. Instead of distracting myself with my phone, I gave the TV my full attention . . . until I didn't. Without Facebook and group texts to keep me awake, I found myself passed out at 9:30 p.m. Off I went to bed, where I didn't log some typical end-of-day email checking. I often go to sleep at 11:30 p.m., but that night I was tucked in at 10 and fast asleep until my alarm woke me up. And when it did, I decided to skip my usual still-in-bed phone time and go straight to the shower.