My iPhone cleanse

How long can you go without using your phone? 

After declaring “device-free dinners” at our house, I decided to conduct a monthlong iPhone experiment: For an entire month, I would limit the use of my phone and see what happened.

Initially, I planned to restrict my phone use to its intended purpose — making phone calls. However, after realizing such extreme limitations weren’t realistic, I adjusted my guidelines to make the experiment challenging, but manageable:

I would respond to texts only when my family was sleeping. 

I wouldn’t use apps of any kind (including social media) on my phone. 

I would check/respond to email by computer only, also when my family was asleep. 

Here’s the truth: I went into this experiment a bit unprepared and far too cavalier about my ability to resist the device. I’m not a person who would rather give up chocolate than my phone (no judgement if you are), but I thought this challenge would be relatively easy for me.

Of course, I was proven wrong.

Facing withdrawal 

On Day 1, when I came downstairs and spotted my phone on the kitchen counter, I had to forcibly stop myself — using one hand to stop the other — before I touched the screen. This impulse didn’t pass for a full 48 hours. 

By Day 3, my experiment moved into the frustration realm. I use my phone to make daily life easier, but it was no longer available — no more quick weather checks before getting dressed for the day; no more Google maps (and I’m beyond navigationally challenged); no more nightlight app for infant feedings; and
no more list apps for my Target run. 

I was lost, both literally and figuratively, until I created new methods to replace my digital ways (think: back to paper and pen). Yet, by the end of Day 4, my phone had lost some of its “power” over me and morphed from being my Phone (capital P) to an inanimate piece of gadgetry.

Major moment: During a busy weekend (Day 7), I forgot about the phone for nearly 12 hours and didn’t know where I had put it.

Devolving into cheating

But I still missed my phone. I’ll admit it: I “cheated” and used Google maps after getting hopelessly lost on Day 5. I also asked my 6-year-old to read some texts to me, like those related to our carpool or messages from my husband. (I learned I’m not sure I want my first-grader to be adept at opening and responding to text messages.) 

Sometime around Day 12, the experiment progressed from frustrating to annoying. A close friend who routinely uses text messages to communicate said, “When is this dumb experiment going to be over? I’m tired of it already. And you can quote me on that.” 

Feeling disconnected

One of the surprising outcomes was how the experiment affected my emotions. I started feeling lonely and withdrawn from my friends. Technology gets blamed for deteriorating relationships, but it helps me stay connected. 

During the experiment, I wasn’t able to easily plan outings, playdates, nights out with friends or text the occasional, “Hey, how are you?”

Although I did enjoy talking to my friends more and hearing their voices during a quick phone chat, it wasn’t the same as the simple convenience of a text. 

Arriving at awareness

After 28 days of grueling phone withdrawal (yes, I chose the shortest month on purpose), and with the support of my loved ones, I survived the iPhone experiment. 

It took less than a week for me to resume some behaviors (mainly texting), but I’m more aware of 1) when I’m using my phone, 2) how I’m using it and 3) why. 

I’m not mindlessly scrolling through my email whenever I have a spare moment, and I’ve recognized that I really don’t need to respond immediately or be accessible all the time. 

By choosing to put my phone down or leave it at home, I’m more attentive and able to thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing. 

The best outcome from my experiment is that I’m using my phone for its intended purpose — as a technology-enabled tool to enhance my life — instead of allowing it to take over.  

Laura Ramsborg lives in Bloomington with her husband, three daughters and a rambunctious Labrador. Contact her at [email protected].