We went back to living like it’s 1999, or at least pre-smartphone 2007.

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Remember having to wait for the bus with no ability to check Instagram? Photo via Gillian Mohney

It may be hard to remember, but there was a time not so long ago, when we didn’t carry around an impatient pocket computer that demanded our attention every few minutes.

But the glow of the modern smartphone screen was introduced in 2007 and ever since it’s become increasingly hard to turn away from our digital lives in favor of real life. Recently, researchers found evidence that we’re staring down at our phones so much that bony protrusions are growing out of the back of our heads.

As someone who came of age in the early 2000s, I’m thoroughly connected to my smartphone. But I’m old enough to remember life without it, as I held out until 2012.

Now, seven years later, I spend hours a day staring at the tiny screen. So, I wanted to see if I could survive without my smartphone and digital social life at least for a week.

Although the prospect of leaving the apps behind for a week was intimidating, I was also excited to live the less-connected life we all once had.

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Back when cell phones seemed indestructible. Photo via Gillian Mohney

The phone setup was simple: flip phone, charging cord, and pay-as-you-go service. Although I owned a phone like this 15 years ago, I’ve become so used to my massive Android that the palm-sized flip phone felt tiny.

Nevertheless, I appreciated — and even discovered that I missed — the sheer sturdiness of these flip phones. No doubt that it could survive a tumble down the stairs or much worse.


I started off the day excited to have a serene week of no smartphone and no social media. As I worked from home for the first few hours, I barely noticed their absence.

At noon, I went out to run an errand up the street, and on my way back, decided to go take a different way home through a neighborhood I was less familiar with. Instead of a grid, the roads squiggled around, causing me to lose my orientation.

Whereas normally I’d pull over and consult Google Maps, I relied on landmarks like hills and coastline to get back on track. This should have been a no-brainer way to navigate, and yet it had been such a long time since I’d done it without a phone.

When I finally made it home, the urge to check Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat suddenly became much stronger. I found myself checking my interim flip phone a lot, going as far as changing the background display several times. I distracted myself with house chores in between work assignments, not wanting the flip phone to take the place of a smartphone.


I woke up thinking, “Is it really only day 2?” The withdrawal effects were stronger than ever. I felt fidgety and vaguely anxious, needing to fulfill the impulse to “check in.” Luckily I was in the office today where I could interact with actual humans.

It was amazing how much more free time I seemed to have when stray moments aren’t filled with smartphone and social media time. It was also easier to go to sleep earlier with no idle skimming through Instagram in bed.


One of my concerns about forgoing my smartphone and social media was that I would be more cut-off from friends and family. But actually, I kept in good contact with the six or so people in the contact list of my flip phone — the people nearest in my social circle. Sure, I wasn’t up-to-date on the “ambient” information dispersed on social media, but this wasn’t exactly horrible — it was refreshing to have a smaller but more close-knit network.

Although it was still unnerving not “checking in,” by day 3 I started falling into a routine. The routine of reading, cooking, watching movies, and texting on an old-fashioned number pad helped me avoid the smartphone.


Over halfway through the detox. I started to actually feel normal, almost like my social media accounts and smartphone never existed.

Well, almost.

Now and then I wondered how many chats I’d have waiting on Snapchat, but it doesn’t bother me like it did in the beginning.

My bedtime routine has dramatically improved this week. Last night, I went to bed at an unprecedented 9 p.m., allowing me nine hours of sleep. I imagine the decreased exposure to blue light has helped make that possible, as I usually don’t get tired till 11 p.m. or midnight.


This was the day that social plans were put to the test, and it all went well. One of my friends texted me to say the group was meeting at a bar at 8 p.m. When I showed up at about 8:15, none of my friends had arrived yet. It turned out the plans were being tweaked via Facebook Messenger and everyone had decided to actually meet at 8:30.

I wasn’t up-to-date on this change and ended up there too early.

But, surprise, this was just fine. I sat at the bar and watched hockey on the TV until 8:30.

Normally, if I were waiting for someone at a bar, I’d pull out my smartphone and scroll through social media. This time, all I could do was glance at my flip phone to check the time. I definitely felt more awkward, not having that behavioral escape hatch that smartphone users have when alone in public.

All of my friends were supportive and excited about my digital detox. The typical reaction I got was, “Oh my god, that’s amazing! I need to do that, too!” People also asked me if they could hold my flip phone, like it was an ancient relic.


The social plans the day before had gone particularly well because the meeting point was easily accessible by public transportation — no need for Lyft or Uber, as long as I left before midnight.

But finally, on day 6, I had an even bigger challenge when I went to visit a friend on the island of Alameda in San Francisco Bay.

Getting there was no problem, but the bus off the island stopped running at 11 p.m. Not wanting to leave that early, I asked a friend to call an Uber for me later in the night.

This was the first time not having a smartphone really made me feel uneasy. Unless I was willing to call a traditional taxi — something I’ve never done, incidentally — I was reliant on other people to either call me a ride or allow me to stay over (most of my friends don’t own a car). If I were to live this smartphone-free lifestyle full time, I’d have to plan my nights much more carefully than I do now.

Concerns about a neighborhood’s safety, and figuring out whether I have an easy place to crash in case I can’t get ride home, are issues I can avoid with a smartphone. Ride-sharing apps can really give you a sense of independence when you don’t own car — you can come and go as you please.


The final day of the detox. I celebrated by going on a long walk, one that I’ve done many times before, with or without my phone. When I didn’t have my phone on hand, I got a little anxious, wondering if so-and-so had texted me back, wondering what the plans were for later, etc. But by the end of the week, I barely thought about those things at all and ended up walking much longer, enjoying being out of the house.

So is smartphone addiction a real thing? Experts say yes, and your phone is pretty good at keeping your attention.

Dr. Michael Ketteringham, director of integrated medicine and psychiatry at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, said most experts believe in cell phone addiction, and early research suggests around 12 percent of people exhibit “addiction” warning signs.

“People compare the cell phone to the slot machine now,” Ketteringham said.

He explained that the modern smartphone works similarly to a slot machine in terms of promising a kind of reward, either a new Instagram post to see, a comment on your Facebook post, or even just an email announcing a sale at your favorite store.

“We call it a variable reinforcement schedule, you expect a reward is coming but you don’t know when it is and you don’t know when it will be,” he said. “You constantly have to have this thing with you that rewards you every now and then.”

Ketteringham pointed out that when people feel they are checking their phone compulsively and that it is interfering with relationships or work, that is a warning sign. To get off the phone without turning in your smartphone for a flip phone, you can remove social media apps, turn off notifications, and keep your phone out of the bedroom.

“Basically the idea is you want to remove apps so there are less of these things to pull your attention,” he said.

Definitely, although only for a short period of time.

I don’t think I could pull this off full time unless a flip phone can have Google Maps and Lyft.