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Mental Health

I Spent a Week Without My Phone (and Yes, I Survived)

An unfortunate series of events this weekend led to me standing on a very tall platform watching my phone flying out of my hand onto the pavement. My screen was shattered and three-quarters of it was so completely blacked out that my lock screen now only displays the final minute of the time. I felt a strange combination of distress and relief at the realization that my cellphone was virtually unusable until I had the time to get my screen replaced, which, in the midst of the frenzy of finals, would not be soon. For the next few days, I would be completely without a working phone, something so foreign to our generation that it felt like I’d lost a limb. 

The predictable things that all our parents say would happen if we turned off our phones happened. I started reading for pleasure again and finished two and a half novels in the span of seven days. I slept more deeply, and for the first time the entire semester, I was consistently fast asleep before midnight. I applied to an internship, did all my homework, studied for my finals, and still had time left over to sunbathe and play solitaire. Admittedly, with my computer, I wasn’t completely unplugged and also managed to binge-watch season 2 of The Circle and watch Gone Girl twice. The amount of free time I suddenly had was really nice honestly. It was a huge wakeup call that maybe I wasn’t as busy as I thought I was; maybe I was just handcuffed to my phone. 

The difficulties were also predictable. It was hard not having a timekeeper, and I’d have to rely on my friends or plain conjecture to keep track of the passing hours. I also really missed being able to conjure anything in seconds– a picture of my cats, a TikTok I found funny, a Snapchat memory. I couldn’t use Grubhub, which was awful. If I got a text when I was out, I’d have to rely on Siri’s text-to-speech or wait until I got home, even if it was urgent. You’d think going without a phone, something humans have lived without for centuries, would be natural, but it’s become such an expectation for society that it became an inconvenience more than anything else. 

One thing that I really wasn’t prepared for was its impact on my emotions. I realized that I often use my phone to distract myself from stress, anxiety, and any sort of unpleasant feeling. Without being able to immediately immerse myself in Tiktok or Youtube, I had to actually feel anxious, feel annoyed, feel bored, which I was not at all prepared to do. I thought something was wrong with me at first, that I was PMSing or developing BPD, but I really think I just wasn’t used to having to deal with and process an emotion in the present. This is something that I’m thankful to have learned about myself, and I feel like I’m now learning how to more healthily acknowledge my emotions when they come and go. 

The week is over, and this coming Monday I have an appointment to get my screen replaced. I’m already planning to set more screen time limits on my phone, and maybe even keep it in a lockbox this summer. I do appreciate my cellphone, so much of my life and memories with my loved ones are recorded in its harddrive, but I don’t want it to have as much of a hold on me as it did before. Especially after two semesters spent on Zoom, I’m sick of screens, and hope I can spend most of this summer outdoors. After the year we’ve had, we owe it to our blue-light-addled brains to take a break for a while. I seriously encourage everyone to try going out without their phone for just a few days, and see the difference it might make.

Malina is a first-year at the University of Virginia majoring in English and Media Studies.
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