Phone Free Day 2021: A day without my smartphone was a wake-up call

Phone Free Day 2021: A day without my smartphone was a wake-up call.
Photo credit: Getty

I called a halt to a long-term love affair last week.
My phone and I were only apart for 36 hours (yes, I was counting), but we needed the break and lessons were learned. 

"Phones aren't bad. They're amazing tools but it's the way we use them that we need to be concerned about," says Taino Bendz, the man behind Phone Free Day, a challenge I and hundreds of others around the country decided to undertake.

"We have our devices in reach 24/7, we sleep with them, we even have them in our pocket when we go to the bathroom. It's like we're in this giant experiment and we have no idea of the long term effects.

"Phone Free day is a chance for people to start building healthy phone habits."

My phone and I are rarely parted but as I'm not a fan of social media, I had mistakenly thought a day without my phone would be a breeze.

It was anything but.

A rude awakening

Challenge day for me didn't get off to the best of starts. No phone meant no alarm and as I'd also opted to do without my smart watch (so that I couldn't cheat), I also had no way of telling the time.

Of course, I only learned that at 5am when my husband got up. I had to too. The only place where I could now see the time was on the kitchen oven clock. 

An uncomfortable truth 

The day was barely underway when I got my first taste of how much I rely on my phone.

I was feeding the baby - a repetitive and, if I'm honest, often boring task.

In recent weeks, I'd taken to sharing those sessions with a quick scan of the news. 

Now with no phone to distract me, my focus was firmly on my child. As her eyes locked onto mine it became clear to me just how much I'd been missing.

But even then, I still had an urge to reach for my phone. What was happening in the world? I needed a fix.

"The research world doesn't call it an addiction. They call it problematic phone use," says Taino.

"I feel like if a person feels addicted to their phone, or has a hard time putting it down, it probably is addictive behaviour."

For many people, using their phone is the last thing they do at night and the first thing they do in the morning. Is this healthy?
Photo credit: Getty

Smart phone, dumb owner

Who knew phones were quite so essential to daily living? I couldn't change or cancel plans and nothing I did that day was spur of the moment.

Details of what, when, where and how needed to be committed to memory or written down on scraps of paper. I realised the only numbers I knew were 111 and my husband's.

I wasn't the only one missing my device. My car's entertainment system wanted something to connect to so every time I hopped in the car, the screen became stuck on an endless search.

I stopped to buy a coffee but left empty handed because my purse was at home - not usually a problem as I use my phone to pay.

Feeling disconnected

The home landline has gone as we never used it. Having no mobile left me incommunicado.

What if I missed an important alert? Did a lockdown loom or a Tsunami threaten?

What was once unlikely is not any more. What if a loved one needed help? Who would they call? 

By mid-afternoon, with baby asleep and no one else around, I began to feel lonely. That sounds strange to me now as I write, but it's true. 

I nearly broke.

"I can cheat," I thought. "No one will know."

"Oh, but I will," piped up the better me. The bad me harrumphed and went to the cupboard in search of some chocolate. Phone FOMO was hitting me in the thighs. 

In desperation, I allowed myself a quick check of emails on the laptop. "Helloooo," one read, the string of os appearing rather mournful.

It was my husband, who later admitted he didn't enjoy being out of touch.

Many people are addicted to their smartphones.
Photo credit: Getty

Alone in a crowd

A night out without a phone feels very strange. I spent it at Spark Arena with some friends from Vodafone. Oh, the irony. 

The band took to the stage, the place came alive with photos and videos taken, torches turned on for some soulful swaying. Thousands of people clutching their phones as the music played. 

"At least you can concentrate and enjoy the songs," someone muttered from behind a screen as they captured it all to replay later at home. 

Yes, indeed. Though I nearly got lost in a throng of people emerging from the toilets as the night drew to a close and my husband was nowhere in sight. 

How would I get home? I imagined a call over the loudspeaker of the kind you might hear for a lost five year old: "Does this woman in red belong to anyone?"

The following morning I switched on my phone. It greeted me with silence. I was pleased.

"I encourage people in everyday life to think about what they want more of in their lives and how cutting some screen time might help them achieve that," says Taino.

"I'm not saying don't use a phone, it's about where and when.

"Maybe go for a walk without a phone, put it away during meal time or have phone free zones where you can reconnect with life and be more present."

For the past few days, at least, my phone habits have improved. As I write this I've left my device in another room. 

I can hear it calling to me again, a siren song of pings. Its pull is strong but I am too.