The No-Phone Challenge

Last week Wednesday I had decided to try this challenge: one week without a phone.

Except that I didn’t decide. Life decided for me.

Last week Wednesday, physics decided to play a game on me. On the bus ride back home, my phone decided to sneak out of my pocket without me noticing. I’m always reading on the bus and never use my phone while on, so this struck as super odd. I always double check my seat to make sure I have everything too, except that I honestly can’t recall that one day whether I did or not. If I did, my brain was too fatigued from 5 hours of sleep the previous night to confirm that something was on the seat, or that the phone slid off onto the floor without me noticing or something. If I didn’t… I was just too fatigued to check I suppose.

Either way, as I checked my pockets as soon as the bus dropped me off, life sucked for a long three minutes.

Our lives are in our phone! Contacts, messages, pictures, games, music, memos, alerts, schedules, cats, the bus schedule, games, cats, pictures, Uber, the entire internet! Within those three minutes, I never realize just how much I – and I’m sure all of us – take our smartphone for granted.

Why three minutes? Because I realized from then, there was nothing I could have done. This was at a transfer stop so I didn’t have my home phone to reach out to. No pay phones (those exist?) were located anywhere. Businesses or random strangers wouldn’t just let me use their phone for personal reasons. Maybe kind samaritans which are actually not too uncommon in quiet Carlsbad would, but with nobody nearby I wasn’t just going to go to a random store or restaurant just to ask. My introversion just wouldn’t allow that. My mind instead automatically thought about not worrying about it in the meantime. If Carlsbad residents are just as kind as I’ve experienced thus far, whoever found my phone on the bus would return it to the bus driver and thus the bus system’s lost and found. People rarely catch the bus here either; on that ride there were just four other passengers, which was actually the most I’ve seen at that hour in a while.

Basically, hope for the best. If I get it back, amazing! If I didn’t, time to get a new phone. Regardless, no matter how I approached the situation in that moment, nothing was going to change, so might as well make the most of it. I guess it’s time to try out the no phone challenge.

The Challenge

From last week Wednesday, June 10th 2015, to Wednesday June 17th 2015. Let’s see how it’s been thus far.

Day 0

Wednesday night.

As soon as I got back home on Wednesday, I used the home phone to call my smartphone. It was ringing, good nobody’s taken the battery out or anything! (The phone was at a surprising 75% when I last saw it right before boarding the bus back home.) Maybe nobody’s found it yet though; I always keep my phone on vibrate. And with so few people on the bus, I thought this was most likely.

I sent myself an email and a text message (from one of those websites that can send messages to phone numbers), knowing that the beginning of the latest text would show on the unlock screen (fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t leave a code / swipe pattern on my phone for in case of emergency someone else can make calls). Under notifications, if there was only one unread email in the inbox, the title of that unread email plus some content would show. Fortunately I always leave my inbox with everything read, so if someone were to swipe down to notifications, “LOST PHONE” would be the first thing they saw. That is, assuming that “LOST PHONE, MESSAGE X PLEASE” from the text message wasn’t enough.

I also posted a Facebook status, only visible to myself, saying the same thing, just in case people check out my page since that’s where one can most easily find contact information.

After that, I believe there was nothing else I could have done. Time to once again hope for the best and just carry along with the rest of my evening. Only half of the week is over, with another half to go. Stay strong buddy.

Day 1

I woke up. I realized I didn’t have an alarm set. I don’t have an alarm clock!

Fortunately, I’ve been trying to make habit of consistent bed times this past week, so I had actually woken up naturally around the same time as usual. Slight panic as I checked the face clock on the wall, just to let out a huge sigh of relief. I can still get to work at my normal time (hours are flexible so there’s really no such thing as late at least, as long as I make my 8 hours for the day).

I leave the house around the same time as I head to the bus stop which takes about ten minutes. I wait another fifteen or so minutes. Did I miss the bus? I couldn’t tell because 1) I didn’t have the time on me, and 2) I didn’t have the bus app on me! During this time I had inadvertently checked my pockets twice for my phone. At last the bus comes, ending up just running late at least. With this route running only one bus per hour, if I had missed the bus, that would have been a fantastic way to start the day.

Reading on the bus, at the transfer stop, on the next bus. Nothing different there.

Walking to work from the bus stop, I only checked my pocket for my phone about three times. This walk is about five minutes. Okay, not unexpected, something I’ll have to get used to.

I borrow my coworker’s phone and call up my own phone again. Five rings, good, still nobody has locked it, taken the battery out, etc.

I call the bus system’s lost and found. No luck, but they did say if they did find something, the item would be processed within one to three days in the afternoon and only after then could they let me know. At least my phone was easily distinguishable: a white Samsung Galaxy S5 with this “cartoon image of a mashup between an octopus… and a cat” on the back.

During lunch break, I only checked for my phone maybe a total of about six times, usually to look up an unfamiliar term or person in the book I was reading while eating, and with the occasional desire to check my Facebook for a reading break.

During actual work hours, both before and after lunch, I hadn’t checked my pockets a single time. Horray I have decent work habits!

At the end of every work day, I head straight to the gym which is right on campus, a three minute walk from my office/engineering lab. At the gym, I checked my pockets the first three times to my dismay. My phone was used at this time primarily to refer to exactly what order of muscles I should be working on, with the exact number of reps and weight as it steadily increases after each time working out that particular muscle. I could vaguely recall what I had written out in my notes the last time, especially with zero urgency to care to remember when I did have my phone.

People complain so much when they forget their earphones to listen to their music, but I personally never play my own music while lifting. The gym’s music is satisfactory (typical mainstream music, but I’m not here to jam out), and I can focus 200% on my form. Switching between high and low focus in short intervals makes the times of high focus more difficult for me if I’m wearing earphones, simply due I guess extremely sensitive ears (bonus tidbit: I’ve got perfect pitch!).

I go back to my workplace, get my dinner and protein in, and catch the bus back home. Only checked my pockets once!

Went to sleep at an earlier hour because better safe than sorry without an alarm, plus I actually had a fantastic workout and was quite tired.

Total number of pocket checks this day: 15.

Day 2

It’s Friday! I wake up around 7am, naturally without an alarm. Wait less than five minutes at the bus stop, read throughout the bus ride, and arrive at work. Zero phone checks!

During my lunch break, I ask another coworker to borrow their phone to call the lost and found. Still no luck. It’s okay because it hasn’t even been two full days yet. Stay positive. Because of my second call in a row plus a distinctive phone they would be able to easily recognize, they write down my email and decide to message me there if they find it.

At the end of my lunch break, and at the end of my work hours, I realized I spent quite a bit of time going through my personal email and Facebook news feed. For the first time, I was even desperate enough to go to to check out visually what my friends have been up to. The addiction was real.

At the gym after work, similar struggles with figuring out weights and reps ensued, for different muscle groups this time. Alas, also zero phone checks!

On Friday nights I typically restock on groceries to get ready for my Sunday meal preps. My grocery shopping is done at the bus transfer of a shopping mall. I have about 45 minutes to get all my shopping done before the next and very last bus of the day comes, and if I leisurely take my time shopping with a prepared mental list, I usually make it back with about ten minutes to spare. If I don’t have a list ready, then I usually have to scramble back, hoping that the bus had not already stopped by. So during the bus ride, I triple checked everything in my mind that I needed to buy, making sure I had zero doubts. If I bought everything I needed and missed the bus, I wouldn’t know what to do. The walk back home would have been over two hours, plus with about fifteen pounds of groceries to lug around. I couldn’t have caught an Uber ride or called the taxi. Basically, preparation was paramount to… basically my survival for the night.

Needless to say, I made it back fine.

And with it being Friday night, it was still a relaxing evening just winding down at home after all that’s happened this week.

Total number of pocket checks this day: 0.

Day 3

It’s the weekend! Today it’s time to check out the San Diego County Fair!

Except not because of it just felt way too far out of my comfort zone. No watch/time, no phone service, no Google Maps, while checking out a place I haven’t been to before that’s about an hour half away by bus? It felt like it was too much for me to handle; even if everything were to go perfectly fine, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep my mind off the phone when I should be enjoying my time. Plus the fair lasts the entire month, so I still have some time to check it out.

Maybe I’ll just get work done, write up another blog post at Starbucks (only 3 miles away with a direct bus line) or something. Oh wait, because I lose so many things, I don’t even have a Starbucks card to earn my stars with! And with no phone app, I felt like it wasn’t worth spending my money going there without earning stars, haha. I totally should have though, just to get maybe a $2-3 drink while staying productive.

Instead I just stay home, reading and playing Super Smash Bros all day. Oh my, that’s a first. With on top of that more often than not. Pretty unproductive day overall, unfortunately. Oh, and writing up that last book of the week post!

Total number of pocket checks this day: 0.

Day 4

I wake up on a typical lazy Sunday morning. I check my Facebook notifications. Just one notification.

“[Friend 1] and [Friend 2] others liked your comment ‘Good news Kevin …'”


(Whoever posted that comment liked it themselves, haha. The one time it would have been acceptable to like your own comment!)

OKAY. I didn’t receive an email, but this was definite a great way to start my Sunday! Even though I had the entire day free, apparently I can’t pick it up over the weekend so I’d have to make time before work the next day to pick it up. That’s totally fine! My mind was finally stress-free, and I could enjoy the rest of my weekend doing whatever I wanted with no worries!

Too bad I just read, ran, and played more games throughout most of the day. My addiction to Instagram seemed to have faded away though at least.

Anytime, time to hit the bed early, because getting from home to that bus station by bus would take two hours, plus from that station to my workplace would take one more hour. Going after work was not an option, unless if I arrived at work at 8, took a short lunch break, and/or skipped my workout.

Leave the house at 6am to get to work by 9am? Challenge-

Day 5

…not accepted. Woke up 7am, my usual time. Left the house around 8. Okay, one more day without the phone. I lasted four full days so far; a fifth one won’t hurt. My habit of checking the phone is completely gone now, even with the two day weekend break of not working or going to the gym.

As I was chatting with my coworkers about our weekend however, it was unavoidable for me to say that I had lost my phone so that I could not have done anything. I hate bringing negative energy to the conversation, especially if it’s answering a question of equal simplicity to a “What’s up?” Fortunately though one of my coworkers offered to grab my phone for me, and even without me asking for any bit of help! I had just told them that I had woken up too late that morning of to grab it and I would the next day. I guess he realized that it would have taken quite some effort for me to grab it, so it was definitely a nice gesture. It also helped that the station was on the way to his commute between home and work.

Day 6

It’s alive!

Okay, not alive, but it’s there! The battery’s dead but it was back in my possession! One final day of no phone usage, but by this point in time I had no problem going phoneless. I just hoped nobody important had tried contacting me!

Day 7

My life has changed completely.

Even with my phone, I pretty much just leave the phone in my bag on volume now. I don’t even bring out my phone during my lunch break. I don’t need to know what the time is when I’m at the bus stop, or how much longer I have to wait until the next bus (or even if I missed it). I don’t need to read my friends’ Facebook statuses and random articles on my news feed. I don’t need to check out the wonderful visuals of Instagram. I don’t need alarms or the time during work since wherever I go on campus there will be a visible clock. I don’t need music as I go places and instead enjoy the view, even if it’s a view I’ve seen a million times already. I definitely don’t need to play games on my phone. I don’t even need my gym notes as making a mental effort to remember everything made it unnecessary; I don’t even bring my phone to the gym anymore.

The only time I use my phone is really to keep in contact with my girlfriend, back in Hawaii, sending text messages to wherever either of us are, instead of relying on Facebook since the messaging app tends to crash on her phone.

Every other time, the phone stays in my backpack.

It’s been since Tuesday night, and as of writing two days later, my phone is still at 60% without needing to recharge at all. Fantastic.

Oh, and everything in my phone seems to be left untouched. Texts, images, files, every bit of social media, etc. Just some voice mails from friends was all.

As the overrated poster says: Keep calm and carry on.

Are YOU willing to give up your phone for a week?


Author: Kevin Who

Developer. Designer. Smasher. Reader. Creator.

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