That's not unusual: "Most people don’t even use their cell phones as phones," says Andrew Selepak, PhD, a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in social media. "We like to know what is going on in the world as it happens and our cell phones, with their various notifications, satisfy this need."
Doesn't sound so bad, right? But along with all this utility and knowledge, there's a dark side. Smartphones are the natural enemy of a good night's rest, for instance. They're a source of stress, too, and experts believe they have an effect on social interactions as well. "When we are always attached to our phones, we can miss out on the world around us," says Selepak, who adds that the virtual world—with its rewarding likes and retweets—can take the place of in-person human interactions.
I like to think I run my phone, instead of it controlling me. But I've also been known to describe it as an extension of my brain. So I was curious: What would happen if I didn't keep my phone within arm's reach, ready to answer questions and provide entertainment at any moment? I resolved to find out. For one week, I used my smartphone as a phone—and only a phone. No apps allowed. Here's what it was like:
My first failure came within seconds.
Somewhat arbitrarily, I decided I'd quit the "smart" part of my phone Tuesday morning. Monday night, I disabled notifications. I didn't have them in place for email or any social media accounts, but I did have an alert to let me know if it was going to rain in the next 15 minutes, 3 breaking news notifications, and a frequently ignored, guilt-inducing reminder to practice German. One by one, I disabled every notification, doubled-tapped my way through Instagram one final time, set my alarm, turned off my phone, and went to sleep.
That's where I made my first mistake. Tuesday morning, the alarm on my phone went off, I hit snooze, then groggily checked headlines, email, and social media. It wasn't until I hit snooze for the second time that I realised I was deeply immersed in the world of my phone. I decided to allow my phone's alarm as a special loophole, since I don't own an alarm clock, and on every other morning of this test, I turned off my alarm without sinking into app-based distractions.
Text messaging presented another challenge.
Text messages required a loophole, too. This one I'd expected—there's just no way I could avoid responding to texts for a full week. Way too rude. Initially, I planned to check if I'd received text messages daily (twice daily, max) and then call people to respond. But as I discovered, that's just not how texting works these days.
My first text was from my mother-in-law: a photo of my niece being adorable, sent to me and about a dozen other relatives. Calling would have been weird, frankly. That was the case for most texts, especially group ones. I shifted my plan accordingly, allowing myself another loophole: I could respond to texts, but wouldn't initiate any.
I felt adrift and a little lonely.
About a hundred times a day during the first part of the week, I'd pick up my phone. No reason—just sheer habit. Of course there was never anything to see, since notifications were off and apps were off-limits. It felt lonely—much more so than I would have expected.
It got worse midway through the week, when there was some gossipy breaking news. I probably would have received three breaking news alerts on my phone during an ordinary week. Instead, I found out hours later when a friend messaged me on Google Hangouts to say, "Did you hear??" I had not heard. I was out of the loop. Later that night, I saw I'd missed five messages on the news in a group chat with far-flung friends. Of course, none of this really matters: In a month, I won't even remember the gossipy news that broke, let alone that I was hours behind the news cycle. But at the time, I felt unmoored: What else was happening that I didn't know about?
Every task was just a little bit harder to complete.
Is my smartphone a grown-up toy or an essential tool? I use it so much for entertainment—news, social media, games, photos—that I forgot all about its utility. This week was a reminder. I got my period, and had to write a sticky note to remind myself to enter the date into my period tracker app. I ran late for a meeting, since I was away from my desk and didn't get a calendar reminder. I had to search on my computer to find the calculator function to double-check my mental arithmetic. Before meeting a friend at a new restaurant, I mapped my route on the computer and wrote down the physical address on a scrap of paper. I underestimated how much I used my smartphone to help me with tasks throughout the day. With that in mind, it feels less surprising how frequently I want to reach for it.
My whole day-to-day routine shifted.
Not all the changes were negative. Breaks from work, for instance, were shorter, but way more restorative. Instead of alternating between reading my book and checking in on my email and calendar for an hour, I read for 30 minutes, uninterrupted. Surprise! That's a more enjoyable way to read. I painted my nails while I was watching TV (usually, I split my attention between the television, eBay searches, and Twitter updates) and debated picking up a semi-abandoned embroidery project.
I felt bored a lot. During life's tiny, tedious moments—like waiting in line at the post office—I couldn't escape to my phone. At first, it was excruciating. I composed emails and to-do lists in my head. But then I rediscovered people watching: waiting to use the restroom at a restaurant, I watched two waiters awkwardly flirt. En route to the grocery store, I gave one woman directions and eavesdropped on another's phone call complaining about her BFF. Sometimes boredom led to inspiration—on a phone-free walk to grab coffee, I got an idea for a project. I had to borrow a pen once I arrived at Starbucks and write my thought down on the back of a napkin, but I'll take it.
I boomeranged between jealousy and judgment.
At the end of my book club, I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from reaching for my phone when everyone else brought theirs out during our discussion about what to read next and when. I felt grateful when my friend pointed her screen toward me, so I could read along with a book review. And I had a twist of jealousy when I saw a friend scrolling through her Facebook when I met her for brunch.
I had plenty of judgment, too: When you're not engaged with your phone yourself, other people's usage seems downright bizarre. What could possibly be so interesting? I went for a walk one night, and saw a lot of people walking head-down, occupied by their phones. I wanted to tell them, "Look up! You're missing a gorgeous sunset!" But at the same time, I really wanted to take a photo of that sunset and post it on Instagram.
This article originally appeared on Prevention.