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Tammy Kahn Headshot

I Turned My Smartphone Off for 72 Hours and the World Didn't Explode

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Hello, my name is Tammy, and I am a smartphone addict. Well, at least I was until very recently. But, before I go into my experiment, what led up to it, and ultimately what the results were (although you can grasp from the title that the results weren't bad), I thought it might be good to go over five telltale signs that will tell you if you, too, are a smartphone addict.

5 Signs That You Are a Smartphone Addict

1. Pictures are posted to Facebook before they even sync to the cloud.

Who needs iCloud when you are there, posting events in your life almost as they happen, and in fact, while they are occurring. You child has probably said something to the effect of, "Mommy, take a photo of this for Facebook."

2. The "ding" on your phone elicits a Pavlov response.

You know what I'm talking about. Maybe it's a text, or a calendar invite, but you react to simply the noise, knowing exactly what it is and exactly what it means. You've probably even set special tones for certain people, which elicit a good or bad response, depending on who it is...

3. You grab your phone on any commercial break, or break in conversation, or silent time.

Never mind chatting with your spouse, or just enjoying the silence -- you instinctively grab your smartphone to check on... well... anything... Not because you have to, but because... well, just because.

4. You will turn around and drive back to your house if you forgot your phone.

You will likely be surrounded by other technology that could serve you equally well during your workday, but not having your phone leaves you feeling naked, so you opt to drive 30 minutes back to your house to make sure you have it, to ultimately sit in your pocket while you work.

5. You've invested in a waterproof case.

Be honest, it's not just to "lifeproof" it, secretly it's because you want to check your phone in the bath.

Was there life before a smartphone?

I remember life before a smartphone. Heck, I remember life before any cell phone. Cell phones really became popular when I was in college, so it's not like I have grown up knowing nothing else (anyone else remember keeping a quarter in their pocket to use the pay phone?). But in such a short time the smartphone has become so much a part of my everyday life, that I sometimes find it hard to imagine any version of the world that didn't have this type of technology.

"It goes with the job..."

I am CEO and co-founder at MarketMeSuite, a fast-growing tech startup. The operative word there is fast. Everything we do is fast, it's agile... we move quickly. Technology, and specifically, my phone, has played a huge part in keeping me networked in, even when I'm out of pocket (which is a lot). So, you can understand why I developed a fondness for my tech...

Recently, my company and I got to spend some time at Constant Contact, piloting their SMBinnoloft program. For the first time, I was exposed to a tech company doing awesome things at scale, and I was fortunate to spend time with a lot of the really cool people who work there. One day, I got to talking to Dave Wachtendonk, who had run his own startup before Constant Contact ultimately acquired it. He told me you need to unplug from time to time. When you come back, if all went well you should be refreshed. Your team will appreciate you being fully charged.

I wasn't convinced. I shared this with my team at MarketMeSuite and the response was overwhelming: Unplug!

I thought they would be nervous about me off the grid, but they really thought it would be a good idea. Someone even said, "It's not like the world is going to explode while you're gone."

Wow. It made me think, here I've been so connected all the time, making sure that none of the plates I've been spinning will drop, doing it because I love my company, because I love my family and want to make sure I am successful for them, because I want my child to see that hard work pays off. But, perhaps Dave and my team are right. Perhaps I would actually be more effective if I unplugged...

My 72-Hour Experiment

I discussed with my husband, and we decided to book a trip to New Hampshire to one of those really old hotels (think The Shining without the murders). I figured what better place to unplug than a hotel that had people visiting quite happily and tech-free for almost 125 years.

I decided that the night before I left I would turn off my phone. That was the hardest part. I set a vacation response for my email. I checked my Facebook, sent one last tweet saying I was unplugging, checked my email, my texts... And then did that all again for good order's sake. And then...

I shut my phone off.

My phone had not been off in four years, except for the occasional restart, or on an airplane, and the feeling was odd. At first I felt a bit jittery, what I imagine a smoker may feel like when they quit cold turkey.

The next morning we packed up to leave. My husband grabbed his phone (which was our in-case-of-emergency-and-camera phone) and off we went.

A Simpler Time

This hotel was perfect for my experiment. The game room didn't have any video games; instead it was chess, checkers and table tennis to occupy our time. The lobby was warm and inviting, and guests were encouraged to socialize and talk to each other.

Mountainview Resort
Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa, New Hampshire

We only had one phone, so when my husband and I did different things, we had to make meeting times and places, because we couldn't rely on a text. I had almost forgot how to plan in a non-tech way, so this in and of itself was refreshing and freeing to know that we had to use our brains a little, and some common sense. "Oh, they aren't in the pool, I guess I'll check the hotel room." There was no panic, just a slow relaxed exploration until we found each other.

Time To Be Mom

I had no idea how amazing it was going to feel to be free from tech and be able to focus on my little guy with zero distractions. I hadn't realized how much my attention was divided, even on weekends and nights... times that I, in theory, took my CEO hat off and put my Mom hat on. And I really had no idea how much my 4-year-old was going to notice this change. More than once he said, "Mommy, I really love this vacation..." or "It's fun to hang out just me and you" (my husband got to take advantage of this "alone time" as well, so everyone was happy).

One time work had to call me, so, as rehearsed, they rang my husband's phone, I answered the question, and then I was free to get back to being unplugged.

The World Didn't Explode

Okay, I never really thought that the world would end if I shut off my phone for a few days, but clearly, subconsciously I had major concerns. This experiment proved something very important to me:

Sometimes, things can wait.

We are so connected, so right now, so available, that I think we often forget that sometimes, things can wait. Answering an email in a timely manner is important, but family time, uninterrupted, that's important too. And taking a step back really give one some perspective. I came back a better leader for my company, a more inspired entrepreneur, and a better wife and mother.

And if you're wondering if I came back to a pile of emails? Not really. There were under 100, and most people followed my request in my vacation response of resending the email the week I return, so I didn't miss anything important.

Will You Take The Challenge?

This experience was so positive for me that I really would encourage anyone who fits the "phone addict" description to give it a try. I'll even create a hashtag for it so you can post all about it when you're back online. Post with #unplugged72 and let me know how your three-day challenge goes! I promise, the world won't explode.

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