Where is your phone right now? If you are like me, the answer is almost certainly face-up on the desk beside you, or in your pocket on vibrate. I keep my phone within arms length at all times.
Today too, I have my phone sitting face-up beside me. Usually, I am kept company by the frequent glow of the screen to notify me that my tweet has been favourited (follow me @HealthyUofT!) or that the latest edition of my favorite online magazine is available. As of late, however, I have intentionally turned off my phone notifications and even disabled my data. Welcome to my life, “unplugged”. I’ve been unplugging like this since Wednesday, and it’s not because I’ve gone over my data usage (again) this month!
This Wednesday marked the kick-off of the #UnplugUofT campaign, an initiative that asked students to create a pledge to take control of their device use. The list of positive, healthful impacts from reducing or regulating mobile phone usage are extensive: better connection with those around you; reduced stress and anxiety; and more mindful engagement in your day-to-day activities.
This all sounds great. But when I was encouraged to participate in #UnplugUofT on Wednesday, I laughed. Me without my phone? How would I remember my name and birthdate without it?
My phone, after all, is an extension of how I experience my day. It is the medium for a huge number of helpful apps, news coverage, and entertainment. I’m sure I don’t need to start listing my vices/apps, as I am assuming that for many of you, your phone serves a similar role to you.
Yet I embraced an Unplugging event under the conditions that for one day, I would be able to reap the benefits of being in control of my device and not the other way around!
My pledge: On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, I, Madelin, pledged to use my app-based, internet-dependent smartphone like I did my old, decrepit, internet-deprived Blackberry—for the exclusive role of receiving calls, text messages, and as an alarm clock.
Here’s how it went:
On Tuesday evening I switched my phone to its “Do Not Disturb” functionality, allowing for calls and text messages. I also disabled my WiFi and data – essentially taking my phone back to the good ol’ days of 2006.
On Wednesday morning when I woke up, I checked my phone as is my daily habit to know the happenings of the past 8-9 hours while I was asleep. According to my screen, there was nothing to report. I slept well without my phone screen lighting up my room or buzzing, and I wasn’t immediately distracted by wishing friends’ happy birthdays on social media, or responding to emails.
It was a good start to a full day of academic endeavours for me— a writing centre appointment, followed by writing an exam, followed by a productive re-working of a paper in the evening hours. I was able to accomplish all of these tasks with a clear head and better time management, without checking my messages and procrastinating. It was going really well!
Then came a text message from someone who was unable to get a hold of me immediately using an internet-based messaging app. This made me realize how quick my response speed would normally be in regular circumstances.
Note: My pledge was exclusively for my smartphone, so my laptop was still within limits. Problem solved. In between classes, I tried to check my laptop for weather, social media, and news updates. This helped me realize that many of the functions my phone was serving were actually redundant, since my computer was able to do them too.
My unplugged-ness was most notable during meal times, when I could focus on my plate in front of me and enjoy the experience of eating a meal with real friends, and not virtual ones. This benefit was one that I was excited for when I first took on the task.
Two days after my pledge expired, I’m still mostly unplugged.
This is because there are other benefits I didn’t consider previously. My phone’s battery life now feels immortal (at the time of writing, it hasn’t been charged in 48 hours and is still going strong). I’m so much less frustrated with my device when it is not able to pick up a WiFi signal. I’m noticing that many of the apps I am using are not bringing me the same joys or feelings of accomplishment as with writing things out by hand. Walking around campus with my head high and without my headphones on is more engaging, and almost certainly safer.
Next step: Now that I’ve been unplugged for a few days, I will reactivate the WiFi settings on my phone and reintroduce myself to smartphone living. That said I won’t lose sight of why this experience was a positive one.
My pledge for November: I will avoid screen time in the evening up to one hour before I go to bed (from any device) to help me sleep better. I will also be extending the distance between myself and my phone by leaving it in my bag or in the locker when I am eating, at lecture, and at the gym.
This is me triumphantly taking control of my smartphone. I encourage you to try the same!
Have a safe, sweet, Happy Halloween!
What pledge will you make for yourself to take control of your device? #UnplugUofT