THE BLOG

How a Day Without My Cell Phone Helped Me Loosen My Grip on the Device

04/15/2015 06:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2015
JPM via Getty Images

Last week when I dropped my cell phone face-down on cement, I picked it up and cringed, then whimpered. The screen was smashed to smithereens. This meant that not only would I have to pay to replace the screen, but I would also be without my beloved cell phone for awhile.

That's when panic set in. For one thing, I didn't have anybody's phone numbers memorized--not even my dad's. Interestingly, I could still recall the time and temperature number I dialed repeatedly as a youth, but all other digits had left my brain.

But phone calls were just part of it. Without my iPhone, how could I ask Siri the name of the song playing on the radio? How would I know the very second an e-mail landed in my inbox or a notification came through on Facebook? How would I search the web for information I didn't really need?

My husband Eric offered to take my phone to the Apple store, leaving me cell-free for only one day. I sent a final text before handing my phone to Eric. It was like ingesting that last delectable bite of chocolate cake before the diet commences.

Clearly, I had joined the ranks of nomophobics--those who are fearful of being separated from their mobile phones. It was strange walking out the door to take my son to preschool without that familiar rectangular device wedged in my pants pocket. And yes, I experienced the phantom vibration on my thigh multiple times that morning.

But as the day went on, I started to enjoy my cell-free experience, and here are a few reasons why:

1. I took the time to watch--really watch--my 4-year-old son play. Instead of glancing up every few moments to check on him, I absorbed the scene in my mind, taking note of his joyful cadence as he zipped around our yard with his toy mower. I also honed in on the sweet chirp of the birds, the fragrant smell of our neighbor's freshly laid mulch, and the low hum of an airplane flying overhead. When Trevyn was done mowing, together we blew bubbles, drew on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, and played Red Light, Green Light -- all games uninterrupted by incoming calls and text messages.

2. I spread out an old comforter on the lawn, lay down beside Trevyn, and watched the puffy white clouds morph, move, and dissipate. I must admit, it was nice to look up instead of down for a change.

3. My productivity level soared. I did the dishes, vacuumed the family room, folded the laundry, scooped the litter box, and unloaded the groceries all in record time, because I wasn't stopping like Pavlov's dogs to check my phone every time I heard a bing.

4. And speaking of sounds, I felt less "on edge" without the constant rings, pings, and bings filling up my day.

In the interest of full disclosure, the moment my husband walked through the door that evening, I rushed to greet him with a giddy anticipation I hadn't felt since our wedding night. Like an addict, I was eager to get my fix. Eric unveiled my flawless phone with the beautiful new screen. I grabbed it and pressed it to my face as if I was applying an oxygen mask after spending the day scaling the Alps.

Then a strange sensation shot through me. Instead of jubilation, I felt humiliation. I didn't like how "owned" I felt by this thing. I thought back to the freeing nature of my adolescence when I wasn't tethered to anything. Back then I talked on the corded phone, retrieved actual letters from on-the-street mailbox, and bopped over to the library if I had research to do.

Even a few years ago, technology didn't have the impact it does today. Back then I had morning bathroom chats with my husband as we got ready for work. Now his eyes are constantly glued to his phone as he gets his fix before heading into the office. I've had countless fights with my children about no iPads at the dinner table. My 4-year-old has even complained from the backseat, "There's nothing to do in the car!" I tell him, "Stare out the window like I used to."

Much of the population struggles to put down their electronic devices. In fact, studies show that iPhone separation anxiety is a real condition. Researchers at the University of Missouri tested it by hooking subjects up to blood pressure and heart rate monitors, then allowing them to have their phones nearby but just out of reach. "Measurements showed that the participants were significantly more anxious while separated from their phones and had higher heart rate and blood pressure."

The morning I gave up my cell, I, too, was anxious as I adjusted to going about my day device-free. Then it got easier. Once Eric brought it home, however, my feelings were mixed. On the one hand, I was thrilled to have that rectangular little lifeline back in my paws. At the same time, I noticed that after spending the day unplugged, I didn't much feel like plugging back in.

I asked my boys, "Who wants to take a bike ride?"

My kids jumped up, yelling, "I do! I do!"

Physical activity. Fresh air. Fun conversation. It all sounded more inviting than a strong Wi-Fi signal.

Off we went to explore the big, bright, beautiful world--a world that is worth connecting to daily.

Visit Christy Heitger-Ewing's author website. Her book "Cabin Glory" is
available for purchase.