28 days without a mobile phone

Have you ever set yourself a challenge that you weren’t confident that you would complete?
This February I did just that.

I put my mobile phone in a draw. Then promised myself that it would stay there until March.

28 days done. How did I go? Arrggghhhh…….

Why February? Nine years ago, I signed up for Tough Mudder and was focused heavily on my fitness, so I decided to give up alcohol for the month of February. The concept of removing something in my life for 28 days stuck with me, and as a result, each February, I give something up. Alcohol, coffee, swearing, chocolate, social media, meat, make-up, gluten and this year – my mobile phone.

I’m the Head of Digital Education at my school and spent quite a bit of time at the end of last year facilitating the consultation about the new Digital Technology policy, which included a new approach to mobile phones at school. This year, students can bring mobiles but are not able to use them at all during the school day. As part of the research for the policy, I read ‘Irresistible’ by Adam Alter, who believes that society currently has a behavioural addiction to technology.

Well! That can’t be right. Just because I am the archetypical Gen Y who logs on, checks, clicks, surfs, likes, posts, messages, snaps, downloads and counts steps about a zillion times a day does not mean I am addicted!

So, I downloaded the app ‘Moment’ just to check out my behaviour. It tracks how much time you spend on your mobile during the day, other than phone calls and playing music. Ouch! Apparently, I reached for the phone over 100 times on some days.

I googled a definition of ‘addiction’. There were phrases such as ‘enslaved psychologically’, ‘pathologically pursuing reward’, ‘inability to consistently abstain’, ‘cessation causing trauma’. Nothing good here.

Hence the self-challenge. I can abstain for 28 days. I can. I can.

Part of the ritual of the annual challenge is that my friends decide the rules and boundaries.

The use of another person’s mobile phone was not allowed, and I was not able to supplement one device for another. So, if family rang husband, then I could not talk to them on his phone. I’d never previously used a NavMan for GPS, so that was a no-go as well.

Firstly, I created a care package. It consisted of a Yoda alarm clock and a real camera, both borrowed from my 10-year-old son, a street directory that was seven years out of date (Thanks, mum) and a watch that I found somewhere. Yes, I thought I was quite clever, thinking ahead like this.

Oh goodness. I certainly did not consider a torch, a notepad, a dictionary, a calculator and a mirror. Then there was Uber, Facetime, my calendar and the daily newspaper. All disappeared for a whole month. Let’s not even talk about watching my friends try to take a selfie.

Seriously – no HOTSPOT!

Oh…and I have two-step authentication on my bank accounts, so…. I wasn’t able to pay a number of bills either. Oops. I was still contactable via email, although my bestie almost disowned me because I only answer every second email.

February is at an end and I have only used a mobile phone on two occasions. One was an emergency call from the Principal that came to my colleague’s phone and the second was when I was having a bit of a crisis and needed a word with mum, so husband called her on his mobile and handed me the phone.

I would love to say that I have become enlightened and am a better person after being disconnected, but the truth is that I didn’t realise how much use I made of my phone. It is like a personal assistant.

The kicker was not being able to supplement one device for another. The only device I use to access social media is my mobile. So, I have also been without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkdin and several other platforms.

The highlight was receiving a real letter from my cousin, Tiffany. It was amazing. She didn’t know how else to contact me, so she wrote a letter on some of our grandmother’s old note paper. The letter was about the Brisbane Lions and Married at First Sight. It was hilarious and at the same time absolutely perfect.

One side effect has been how aware I am now of the phone behaviour of others. People have the sound up high so all around them are distracted by it. People who put the phone on the table face up so that every flash and alert draws the eye of everyone nearby. People who answer a phone while they are in a meeting. People who had to respond immediately to a message or check their email while they were with me; yes, I did feel somewhat undervalued and not important, at times.

28 days ‘off the grid’ was a liberating experience and I am more aware of my own behaviours generally. I also agree now that behavioural addiction to technology is a distinct possibility for the unwary. I have to admit though, it has been the hardest February challenge yet… even harder than giving up chocolate or coffee for a month.