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Experiences

How I Survived 24 Hours Without My Phone As A Busy College Student

At my worst, I was regularly clocking in over eight hours of screen time a day. My attention span was abysmal and my impulse control was below “toddler can’t wait ten minutes for a marshmallow” levels. Though my screen time has lowered since its peak early in the pandemic, I still feel the effects of my unhealthy attachment to my phone. 

Studies have found that up to 40% of college students are addicted to their phones, with qualifying symptoms including over five hours a day of uncontrollable screen time, distress when away from devices and sleep disturbances. All of those things are pretty terrible and not so unfamiliar to me, so I decided to stick my phone in my closet for a day to see if I could survive without it. Here’s how that went:

MORNING

Monday, October 3, 6:30 AM: 

How am I supposed to wake up without my half-conscious ten minutes of Twitter scrolling? I feel groggy and sore all over from getting a COVID-19 booster shot yesterday, but when I do get out of bed, I have an extra ten minutes to get ready.

“My mind feels a lot quieter without the cacophany of music and podcasts behind it all.”

I decide to read a book while I eat breakfast. There are a few moments where my eyes drift from the page; this is when I would usually google something like “How much money should I spend on groceries a month?” (my roommate googles it for me, but doesn’t tell me the answer). Pretty soon, I’ve read past the boring prologue of my book (where I gave up yesterday) and it’s time to leave for my 9 AM math lecture. 

AFTERNOON

My walks to and from classes are strange without my AirPods. I can hear other students’ footsteps and Andre’s voice inquiring “Hey Boss, let me ask you a question?” on BruinWalk. My thoughts wander to my schedule for the day and my mind feels a lot quieter without the cacophony of music and podcasts behind it all.

Throughout the day, I reach for my missing phone when moments drag on too long. Waiting before classroom doors open, I want to look down at a screen to save myself from making small talk with unfamiliar faces. On campus in between classes, my math homework is my only source of entertainment, so I manage to push through problems I would usually give up on. 

NIGHT

In a nightmarish turn of events, I am forced to listen to BFIT’s Drake playlist for nearly 45 minutes at the gym. My mindless YouTube and TikTok videos are replaced by my own reflection bobbing up and down on the glossy treadmill TV screen, and my mat workout ends early without Move with Nicole spoon-feeding me ab exercises. To entertain myself, I think, and think, and try to stop thinking…then I start thinking again. Wow. What happened to exercise being a distraction from life? But when I leave, I’m proud that I can finish a workout without mindless distractions.

As the night winds down, I’m itching to check social media. I’m burned out and my roommates can’t find anything good to watch on TV. I am often almost nauseated scrolling in bed for hours, but tonight I read until my eyelids droop closed. It’s refreshing to feel naturally tired after a long day, and I end up sleeping much earlier and more deeply than I’m used to.

TODAY 

This experiment didn’t permanently alter my brain composition or turn me into a productivity machine, nor do I believe it is a sustainable solution to phone addiction, but it was empowering in many ways. I proved to myself that I am capable of living without background noise, navigating campus without Apple Maps, finishing a chapter of a book without reading tweets in between pages and missing out on a day of celebrity news without disastrous consequences. Going forward, I will try to maintain more distance from my screen. If anything, I deserve a good night’s sleep.

Elyse is a San Francisco native and third-year majoring in Linguistics and Computer Science at UCLA. Ask her about herself so she can tell you way too much!