Breaking Up with Screens for a 24 Hours

This mini-investigation was completed for Digital Sociology in Spring 2019.

On average, Americans spend more than 11 hours a day looking at screens. I, notorious digital-native, a woman raised on screens, have decided to attempt back some of my life and attempt a whole 12 hour period without them.

In this pseudo-experiment, I will attempt to go only half a day without using my cell phone, laptop, or any other screen device. This means, no glancing at a TV, no doing homework with study buddy Google, nothing.

In order to ensure I wouldn’t use the most addicting screen of all (my cell phone) I passed it on to a trusty friend, who, when I explained this experiment to them, shook their head and betted I would drive into a river without a GPS. Well, she was wrong. I didn’t drive into a river. In fact, giving up my cell phone was the easy part. What wasn’t so easy was attempting to avoid screens that societal practices have built into my everyday life. Such devices include the POS system at work, the TV screen on our cafe wall, and that friend who shoves their phone in your face because they think a meme is so funny that you can’t wait a day to see it.

Heres where I had to ask for a little help. I ended up switching roles around with my coworker. And it turns out, if you nag colleagues to make a little more in-person conversation with you long enough, they will look up from their phones and participate in the discussion. After leaving work, a little more bored than usual, I expected my day to get even harder without the distraction of having to do something. Luckily, I chose a Monday, a day I don’t have classes, (that way my education would be unaffected by this experiment). But unluckily, that means I really had nothing to do.

According to the screen time function on my iPhone, I average about 3 hours and 35 minutes a day on my phone (this obviously doesn’t take into account laptop and other device use). To be honest, I am not one to indulge in hours of Netflix which is reflected in my screen time report, which states I use my phone primarily for text messaging. I, like the rest of the human race, have caught myself scrolling for way longer than anticipated. Turns out that scrolling fills up substantial time gaps in my day. So, when trying to find something to do during downtime, I wandered around my home and thought, “What a good opportunity to clean a little.” I walk past the massive pile of dirty dishes. “Maybe I could get to the dishes that my mom has been asking me to do for a week” I wonder. I quickly turn away, “Nah.”

My Screen Time report

So, when I, like any average day, decided to ignore the growing filth in my home, I thought I could get some homework done. I blew some dust off of my ancient 3 ring binder, whipped out a number 2 pencil, opened the textbook we haven’t touched once since the semester began and tried to write. This (what felt like) ancient activity lasted about 30 minutes until I discovered alien terms I could grasp without trusty Google. Researching via Google is actually bad for us, our digitized society often partakes in what is known as information obesity. But in this particular instance, I felt as though I was suffering from information malnourishment.

The hours go by and I remember that I have actually attempted something like this but on the terms of “How to Break Up with Your Phone” a book by Catherine Price. Yes, this is actual published literature that tells you step by step how to get over an iPhone addiction. I usually attempt to go phone-less in the Summer until I have run out of healthier hobbies to pretend I like. like eating purple fruit bowls and bullet journaling. But this is the first time I have completed a full 12 hours.

My final remaining hours consisted of sleep.

“Breaking up with your phone will allow you to reconnect with a part of you that knows that life doesn’t happen on a screen. And the faster you can get in touch with it, the better.”  Catherine Price, “How to Break Up With Your Phone”

Although I would like to claim a major breakthrough at the end of this investigation, my feelings during and after were “meh” to say the least. My reunion with my phone wasn’t as romantic as I thought it would be. And I know it is because this game is tiring for me. I break up with my phone for a day, slowly increase my usage from there, and then retreat back to old ways once my life starts getting busier. I would like to blame the late Steve Jobs for my apparent “shorter attention span” and “lack of in-person communication skills” that the world loves to pretend is a characteristic only of the younger generations. However, if this class has taught me anything, it’s that the answer is not that simple. I have thought about my “addiction to technology” harder than that.

The truth is, technology has become embedded into our lives in a way where attempting a without screens would have disastrous effects. Do I chose to a live a life where no laptop means missed homework assignments? A life where my mom believes me not answering a text in 4 hours would warrant a police search? People talk like technology is ruining our lives. As if the technology is some non-human external force that has graced us from the heavens and forced us to comply with social practices only capable with the use of screens.

But they say we are living in an age of great innovative technological revolution. So why not embrace it? We chose to develop this technology to aid our lives. We are becoming smarter. Our relationships are growing stronger. Our dogs are getting famous-er.

This is just my personal belief. In my experience, my personal relationships have evolved in ways I wouldn’t think possible without tech. During my time of education, I have had the world at my fingertips. I can research anything and understand when it isn’t from a credible source. And, because of experiments like this, I can acknowledge when my screen use is too much too.

There is this constant negative stigma attached to the dependency on screens. But you can limit your screen use without waging a war against technology.

People are always fantasizing about a life without a phone, one they will never commit to. They think it will be healthier, more freeing, and make them the cool “in the moment” friend you tell your other friends about. But realistically, it’s okay to need your phone and your laptop to accomplish tasks. And it is okay to take a break once in a while.

Doing this disconnect experiment has been both rewarding and exciting. I learned that I do need my screens in day to day life, but long as I know how to regulate my use, my life is still healthy.

I see fear over screens and refraining from digital communication as the wrong approach. There is no two realms, the digital world a non-digital world are embedded within one another, and its both nearly impossible and unnecessary to have one without the other. We should embrace it and feel okay taking a break when we want to.

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