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A 3-Day Cell Phone Detox

by on February 12, 2018 5:00 AM


My cell phone died last week. It started with a weird message when I tried to take pictures that the camera app was not working. Then the keyboard started to freeze up. Soon, it started randomly turning itself on and off.  At one point, I picked it up and it was so hot, I joked I could have used it as a heating pad. I decided it needed to go.

I knew the phone was still under warranty so I reached out via chat on the Verizon website for help. I have always found the folks on Verizon’s phone and chat lines to be very helpful and there isn’t any of that waiting in line that the stores are known for. After some troubleshooting, the person on the help line agreed that I needed a new phone. In short order, she made the arrangements to have my new (albeit refurbished) phone sent to me. I would receive it the next day.

In total, it put me without a cell phone for a total of almost 72 hours, or just under three days.

The first day, when it was still on and off, I carried it with me and checked it often even though I knew it didn’t work. On days two and three, I didn’t bother to carry it and told everyone “I have no cell phone.”

If you want to find out how really addicted you are to something, I would suggest the cold turkey method of kicking the habit. It was eye-opening.

First, I couldn’t believe how often I reached for it. First thing in the morning. In the car. On the walk to class on campus. My normal panic of thinking I lost or forgot it was replaced with the resignation that I had to survive (read: detox) until the new device arrived. I felt out of sorts. We don’t have a landline anymore so I was worried. How was I going to talk to my kids? With my husband traveling, how would I know that he was OK and let him know that I was OK? What if my mother needed something? What happens if someone at work needs to reach me after hours? God forbid I would have an emergency.

There have been very few inventions that have had the impact on human beings and how we interact and conduct ourselves that the cell phone. According to data from the Pew Research Center, about 90 percent of Americans have a cell phone of some kind. Other research suggests that the average American spends between two and a half to four hours a day on his or her phone. On the low end, that totals up to 38 days a year just on our cell phone!   

How and for what we use the cell phone often varies by where we live, our race, our gender and, especially, our age. Today’s cell phones are more powerful than the computer that helped to land the Apollo mission on the moon. Depending on the research you read, cell phone use causes depression, anxiety and social isolation and/or increased interaction, connection to others and more positive relationships. The use of the cell phone to take selfies, pictures and videos has changed our definition of privacy.

According to one study, 90 percent of adult cell phone owners have the phone within arm’s reach at all times. On average, according to the data, text messages are returned within three minutes. It is estimated that we check our cell phones, on average, 110 times per day.  In a recent poll, 50 percent of teenagers used the word “addicted” to describe their cell phone use.

On a more humorous note, a significant number of people report using their cell phones in the shower and even more report using them during that “other” time spent in the restroom. I guess that’s why, according to the research, cell phones reportedly have more bacteria on them than toilet handles. Yuck.

It reminds me of the saying “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”

Having no cell phone for three days was disturbing yet somehow comforting. The constant distraction and potential distraction was eliminated. My short experiment of no cell phone proved that life without technology made communication more of a challenge but was decidedly more peaceful.

I found other ways to communicate with my family. My daughter in South Carolina relayed messages from her dad in Canada to me and vice versa through Facebook Chat. I called my mom from my work phone. I had a wonderful Skype chat with my girls and their puppy. I found that since I wasn’t looking for my phone or texting, I could focus on things like driving and eating and interaction with the person right in front of me. I slept better and somehow felt less stressed.

It is amazing how we learn the importance of things in our lives when they are taken away. The cell phone came the next day as promised and I’m back in business. I’m not ready to go totally cell phone free moving forward but I definitely will make some changes. I learned that the little handheld device that has become so important in all of our lives isn’t all that important after all.



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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