I Lost My Phone For 5 Days, And This Is Why It Was So Glorious

by Emily Hollenbeck
Originally Published: 
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I am on day five of a phone detox. Normally this notion would have me curled up in a corner sobbing. But here I am, typing away, proselytizing the benefits of a phone cleanse.

This was not an opt-in cleanse. I lost (or should I say, put to an untimely death) my iPhone at Frog Pond in Boston. It is the oldest public park in the United States, so you know I had to capture that content with an iPhone photo shoot.

Let me retrace the last steps of when my phone and I were last seen together. I had just driven to Boston from the suburbs (map app), told my husband we could meet him after work (text), told my friend we just arrived (text), snapped a photo of my parking spot (camera), looked to see if I had any new work emails (email app), called my friend to see where she was at (phone). We rode the swan boats, where lots of pics ensued (camera), read and responded to messages from friends (text, text, text), and then quickly checked my work email again.

Then came Frog Pond. Looking at my happy, summertime children and their friend splashing about, I waded into the six inches of water to take pictures. After, I tucked my phone into my pocket. As my littlest began to fuss to be held, I reached for him, and that’s when I heard it:


Frog Pond had swallowed my phone.

I did my best to revive it. Put it in rice. Ran around wildly with three kids in tow to a few different stores to resuscitate it. Nada, nothing. It was dead.

I realized it would take a few days for my new phone to arrive (breathe in, breathe out). But, as the number of days clicked by, I was surprised to be feeling okay. In fact, fine. Great. Even glorious. I’ve read articles about the benefits of putting down your phone when you get home from work, but this is hours and hours without it. As I head into day five, here are a few observations:

1. “White noise” text offender.

“Hey, how’s your day.” “Read this.” “I am running 5 minutes late.” While these texts are all nice and kind, I would say most people could move forward with their day without sending or receiving these messages. By sending these texts, how much “extra” conversation was I creating that wasn’t necessarily meaningful? I drove into Boston so the kids and I could meet my husband for lunch. I was running 10 minutes late. Normally I would send him a text, but this time I couldn’t. And he was fine, sitting outside, reading a book.

2. Zenning out.

I had no idea how much “being on” was causing me stress. With my phone nearby, there was always one more thing I could research or email to answer. Now those options are removed, and it’s like someone has hit “pause” on my overworked brain. I have to stay focused in the present.

3. Nope, not busy. Just distracted.

How many times have I grabbed my phone to do something, only to end up mindlessly checking social pages or reading the news. And then feeling stressed because I never accomplished “said” thing. Ugh, it was a never-ending cycle I am happy to break.

4. I read stories I normally wouldn’t.

I relied on my phone to zone out. Scan pretty pictures, play a quick game, or click around on my news feed. But without my phone, I found myself going through the magazine bin. The topics I read were wide-ranging, and not already pre-selected for me via online algorithms, which was refreshing.

5. I have to seek out people.

This must have been what it was like for my parents to raise me and my siblings in the ‘80s. If you want to hang out with someone, you make a plan ahead of time. And then stick to it. There are no last minute, “hey we’re headed here if you are around,” or “less go grab ice cream.” I had no idea how organizing or joining these last minute activities had made our life feel rushed and slightly chaotic. It felt great to set an intention and know what was happening the next day.

6. I missed big things.

And, I was bummed. I noticed on Facebook my brother got engaged. I would have loved to have received that call first (but it turns out he didn’t call anyone first–millennials!).

7. Work still gets done.

Did I maybe not email my client a minute after she emailed me? Yes, and it turned out to be okay.

8. I had uninterrupted playtime with the children.

When my phone is nearby, I feel compelled to check off my never-ending to-do list. But without it, I could just play. And, it was freeing.

9. And we had so much fun.

Usually we are pretty good about a round of imaginary play, but then I feel the siren call of my phone. This time, I didn’t have my phone. And playing restaurant evolved into a pretend dentist trip evolved into taking a Power Ranger to a doctor, I knew a phone could be interrupting, but I didn’t realize how interrupting it could be.

10. It feels like a vacation.

Normally I am most disconnected from my phone on vacation, but there is always the occasional check-in because you can’t really turn work off when it’s right there (or at least I can’t). But this time, I was forced to, and it felt sanity saving.

For a number of reasons, I know many people don’t have the luxury to be without a phone for so many days (or would want to). And, I’m not sure I should be without a phone for this many days either. I also can’t say I won’t be happy to have it back. However, after this cleanse, I hope that I continue to approach my phone with more mindfulness and less mindlessness.

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