How long could you live without your phone?

Cayman Compass no-phone challenge

Is it possible to live without a smart phone in modern Cayman?

Compass journalist James Whittaker gave up his iPhone from 5pm Friday to 9am Monday to find out.

We figured it would be harder for younger people, so we also asked the Youth Ambassadors Group, which helps address mental health issues, to take on the challenge. Brittney Wright, 17, a student at Cayman Prep and High School, stepped forward.

Here’s how they found the experience….

How did it go?

James: Initially, I felt the need to call everyone in my contacts list to tell them I would be out of reach for the weekend. I put the phone in a drawer figuring it would be out of sight and out of mind and this seemed to help. For the first few hours, I was reflexively going to my pocket to check for updates – something I hadn’t realised I did so frequently – but after that it was pretty easy. It was actually relaxing to know I wouldn’t be getting any calls, messages or emails that could change my plans or my mood.

Brittney: This challenge really showed me how addicted I am to my phone. I am not proud of it because no addiction is good, but I am so happy I did this challenge because I got to indulge in my hobbies, such as reading books.

What was the hardest part? Did you cheat at all?

James: It was difficult knowing family may not be able to reach me in an emergency and I did cheat a little by telling my closest relatives they could reach me through my wife.

Compass journalist James Whittaker gave up his phone for the weekend.

There were also a few moments when my car was making troubling noises that made me think I might end up stuck on the side of the road without the means to call for help. Beyond that, there was an actor in a movie I didn’t recognise and I felt the itch to go to IMDB and find out who it was.

Brittney: The hardest part was the Friday night I started, after that it became much easier. I usually check my phone as soon as I wake up from a nap and not doing so was foreign to me, which was also a challenge.

On Friday, I really wanted to use my phone and I would try to make up excuses to myself so I could use it, but I stuck through. However, I had to make an important call on Sunday night and I got a few short calls from family members I picked up throughout the weekend. I was never called for leisure/entertainment.

What did you miss the most? Were there any benefits to not being connected?

James: I missed not being able to listen to music or podcasts in the car and the flexibility to change plans last minute. I use the same phone for work and social life, so the real benefit was to be able to switch off fully for a few days. I actually felt like I had more time, better focus on the people I was with and greater concentration, for example, when reading.

Brittney: I miss feeling more grounded and present. Without my phone, I felt less anxiety and felt more in the moment. Feeling present, especially during outings is a great feeling. I also miss spending more time on my hobbies.

How often do you typically use your phone?

James: According to my iPhone settings I pick it up an average of 50 times a day and spend between four and five hours on the phone. I am surprised it is that much and I would like to say it was mostly work related but the reality is I do more fruitless browsing that I want to admit.

Brittney: Anywhere between 8 and 14 hours a day.

James (left) and Brittney’s (right) iPhone settings show how they used their devices before and during the challenge.

Will this make you rethink how you use your phone?

James: Yes, I don’t think I realised how much I was checking it and how much of my focus and attention it was sucking away each time.

I don’t think it is practical to give it up totally but I will switch it off for longer periods on evenings and weekends and be less concerned that I may miss an important message or breaking story. I had around 100 WhatsApp messages when I turned the phone back on Monday, but none of them were particularity crucial.

Brittney:  Definitely. We are far too addicted to our phones and it takes away from living our lives to our true potential, because we often times rather scroll endlessly through social media than do things that enrich our lives.

Any final thoughts?

James: I am old enough to remember when the phone was connected to the wall, you had a stereo for music and encyclopedias instead of Wikipedia.

The ability to combine all those functions, and many more, in a single device you can hold in the palm of your hand is obviously a giant leap forward in terms of convenience. The flip side is that we now depend on these devices for almost everything – work, communication, news, entertainment, a lifeline in an emergency. You can’t switch off from one without cutting yourself off from the other.

Ensuring the phone is a tool to strengthen social ties and improves your quality of life rather than a constant distraction that demands your attention and erodes the quality of real life experience is a difficult balance that will take personal discipline to manage.

Brittney: It is good to be connected and know what is going on in the world around you, but in moderation.

Spending too much unnecessary time on your phone leads to many issues. For example, constantly comparing yourself and your lives to others is a big issue people, especially young people, have on using social media. Being off social media helped me feel more connected with myself, less anxious, and less insecure.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now