Life

How A Vacation From Your Cell Phone Can Leave You Feeling More Connected Than Ever


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When I woke up this morning, I didn’t make sure I’d charged my phone. I didn’t check to see if I’d missed any texts or take a cute picture of my cat. Nor did I investigate whether Tubbs had eaten all the high-quality food I left out in Neko Atsume. I got through my entire morning without any cell phone interaction, like I have every morning, noon, and night for the last four years.

I am part of the one third of Americans who don’t own a smartphone and part of an even smaller fraction who also don’t own a cellphone of any kind. There came a point in my life where I had a minimal number of friends/people to text, a job that let me remain home most of the time (meaning it wasn’t that hard to reach me), and some sort of grievance that I can’t remember with T-Mobile. It was a perfect storm of depression and poverty — a blend of circumstance I recommend to precisely no one.

What I do recommend is that people take time away from their phones to better engage with the world around them. And, it’s not the unbearable torture you might imagine. Only 10 percent of people have a smartphone and no other access to the internet. You can still get online and check email and look up directions and get on social media. You just have to get through a few days without phone calls (if you have no landline) and texts. You can do it and you will be better for having done so, as the following points hopefully illustrate.

The vacation will force you to interact with people and will improve the value of face-to-face communication while you do so.

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Young people seem to hate interacting with people around them. Data demonstrates almost half of adults 18-29 (yes, 29 is still young) use their smartphone to avoid engaging with people around them. The smartphone picks up where headphones and books previously demonstrated a lack of interest in speaking to others. Without the phone to fall back on, you will end up chatting with other people (strangers even!). I know, you are introverted/hate people/get social anxiety. Calm down, you can probably get through some banter. Social relationships are scientifically proven to benefit your overall health. In fact, the length of your life may depend upon them. Studies consistently indicate people with the lowest level of participation in social relationships are more likely to die than people with increased participation. Each person you try getting to know may mean a couple of extra months killing it at bridge and shuffleboard.

You might argue that you’re friendly despite spending your days staring at a smartphone. Perhaps — you make sure that you give directions and nod to strangers and go on dates and get together with friends. Even in these situations, the presence of your phone is screwing things up for you. A study focusing on the presence of cellphones in face-to-face interactions discovered their very presence had negative effects on “closeness, connection, and conversation quality.” When you have no cell phone with you, it can’t peek cheekily out of your pocket or sit passive aggressively on the table next to your hand. The cell phone is like the world’s worst wing-man.

The vacation will force you to learn to be bored and to cope with it.

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When teaching a college class, I was shocked to learn none of my students read magazines. Had they never been stuck in a waiting room and forced to pass time with half a Sports Illustrated from two years ago? No. They hadn’t. They had phones. Let’s return to those 18-29 year old young people, 93 percent of them who use their smart phones to avoid boredom.

But the reality is that boredom happens. It’s part of being a human being, and it has been shown to correlate with levels of self-awareness. People with high self-awareness report lower levels of boredom and those with negative self-awareness report higher levels. Is this any surprise? When your entire cure for boredom rests on funneling your attention into a device instead of monitoring your feelings and your state of mind, you are totally going to train yourself into negative self-awareness and boredom proneness. It’s a cycle.

Putting down the phone means checking in with yourself and learning how to cope with boredom rather than hide from it. You are called upon to actively determine why you aren’t interested and come up with a plan for how to counter that response.

The vacation will reduce your chances of being in a motor-vehicle accident and it will make you more aware of your surroundings.

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Cellphones are attention vacuums, sucking in all of your focus. When you are but a fetid husk, sapped of your ability to concentrate, you are going to find yourself in trouble. When driving a motor vehicle, that trouble means an accident. Studies indicate that driving while distracted can impair you to the same degree that driving drunk would. This doesn’t mean that you will be unable to escape death (unless you are in a Final Destination-type scenario). Research from the National Traffic Safety Administration indicates only 10 percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported crashes are the result of distracted driving. However, it is worth noting that people are loathe to admit to using their cellphone after an accident, so these numbers are probably skewed.

When you are simply moseying about town, your cellphone can still get you into trouble. If anything proves that, it’s the string of accidents plaguing inattentive players of Pokemon Go. There was the dude who pitched headlong down a flight of stairs, the two men in their early 20s who ignored a warning sign and ended up toppling over a cliff, and the many others who were hurt because they failed to pay attention to where they were and what was happening around them.

An article in Applied Cognitive Psychology termed this “inattentional blindness.” Their research revealed cellphone users are more likely to walk more slowly, more likely to change directions often, and are less likely to acknowledge other people (yep, it has come back to that). Their final finding is the one most relevant to the rash of accidents cellphone users face while walking: Even during activities that require few cognitive resources, they may be blind to their surroundings. Is a Bulbasaur worth your life? No. Put the phone down and step away.

A vacation will lower your chances of getting sick and keep your sperm topnotch.

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How often do you do anything to wipe the germs off your cellphone? Yeah, I didn’t think so. At the very least, are you washing your hands before you use it? Nope. Hell, some of you are even using it while going to the bathroom. Face it, your phone is a flat screen covered in nasty pathogens. According to research performed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, “one in six mobile phones in Britain is contaminated with fecal matter.” Yum. Your phone could be carrying around E. Coli or one of the many other harmful bacteria that lead to illness. Sure, this problem could be cleaned up with a few antibacterial wipes, but if peoples considered how dirty their cells are, maybe they wouldn’t insist on holding them like security blankets.

There are other medical implications too. An observational study reveals sperm quality in men was decreased based on their daily duration of cell usage. It led to a shrinkage in sperm count, viability, motility, and normal morphology. Just think, Look Who’s Talking would never have gotten past the credits if John Travolta’s character was a heavy cellphone user. Bruce Willis would have been left narrating the sloth of the sperm world. In all seriousness, it’s interesting that phones — which are sterilizing our IRL connections — are also negatively affecting the most basic of all connections, between egg and sperm.

At the end of the day, living without a cellphone works for me because I work from my home computer; it can do most of what a phone can. Most people couldn’t do it full time, but maybe you’ll grow by trying an experiment of your own. A month? A week? A few days? What do you have to lose besides a couple of stray Pokemon and some @ mentions?

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