I Went Screen Free for 24 Hours – I Will Never do it Again12 min read

Published by Zach on

Tech, screens, notifications, and pop-ups seem everywhere. How much benefit do they provide? Is there a negative effect of all this screen time ? I wasn’t sure. So, I wanted to go nuclear. For one whole day, I wanted no screens whatsoever. No iPhone, no laptop, no TV; it can’t be that hard, can it?

I went screen-free for 24 hours and here’s how it went.

The Preparation

My screen-free time would run from when I went to bed, to when I woke up the complete next day, so, technically, it was really going to be a 32-hour screen-free sabbath.

Before I went to bed, the night before, I needed to set up some things.

I couldn’t just wake up one day and stop using screens without a plan, one, that wouldn’t work, and two, that’s just not me. I needed to plan it. A few things immediately popped into my head:First thing, the most important thing, my iPhone.I needed to get rid of my iPhone

The Batphone

The iPhone is the thing that is always on me. I always check it. My screen time is about four hours a day. What am I doing during those four hours?? I think I am on it maybe one hour a day, damn was I wrong. But, what happens if there’s an emergency (there rarely is), but my lizard brain goes there, so I need a backup; a batphone.

I bought a phone, a shitty flip phone from amazon, with some prepaid time. Unlimited data? I don’t think so. I needed to have a number for emergencies and that was it. I gave it to family and some extremely close friends in case something happened. I planned to never look at that phone at all.

A Watch

I like telling the time. No phone means no instant time. I’ll just wear a watch now. There, that’s easy enough.

An Alarm

No phone means no alarm, so I needed an old-fashioned alarm clock. I got one for about $10 off of Amazon.

The Exceptions

I wanted to document my screen-free day in some way. I decided to have my big hunky sony camera and my little sony vlogging camera. I justified this because I can’t connect to any social media through them (or at least I don’t know how to). The documentation is important (and fun) for me.

Using a camera is a significant flaw in my experiment. I plan to repeat this experiment without the camera and see how it changes things. I anticipated thinking about filming myself would take away from some of this “no-screen” day.

The boredom

Yes, I’ll say it, I depend on screens for entertainment; I rely on them a lot. If I was going to get the most out of this, I knew I needed to plan activities for all day. Here are some of the things I thought I should do:

  • Be outside
  • Be active
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Write
  • Talk
  • Clean

There, I think that could fill up a day? Right? And, as I do, I had to time-box it all out, just in case the allure of the screen was too much. I didn’t think it would be. The idea of not having to do flashcards, YouTube editing, and emailing for one day sounded pretty great.

The Plan

So, here is how I planned out my day:

  • 0600 – 0800 Hike with Brother
  • 0800 – 1000 Breakfast with Parents
  • 1000 – 1200 Shower, Meditate, Journal, Read
  • 1200 – 1300 Lunch with Parents
  • 1300 – 1400 Write
  • 1500 – 1600 Read
  • 1600 – 1700 Run
  • 1700 – 1800 Shower, Meditate
  • 1800 – 1900 Dinner with Parents
  • 1900 – 2100 Read and go to bed

I thought the hiking will be great, eating with the family would be great. I am just unsure how great I will be at writing and reading for extended periods. Reading for back-to-back hours sounds fantastic, and I’ve done it on vacation before, but I wonder if I will want to watch TV or want to do something else.

The Screen-Free 24 Hours

The Night Before

I set my tech-free time from when I went to bed until when I woke up the next next day. That means, before I went to bed, I had to set everything up.

First things first, I had to text my close friends and family the plan. Many many of them said, “good idea! Let me know how it goes.” I had one or two say, “that’s silly. Why would you do that?” To which I responded, “I’m not sure, I just wanted to try it out.” To which they said, “Ok, let me know how it goes.”

I couldn’t use my iPhone alarm so set up my old-fashioned alarm clock for 5:00 am.

I hid my phone away in a drawer, and got my batphone and clothes out ready for the next day, and went to bed, same as always.

The first 12 hours

The morning went smoothly. I rolled around in bed a little and then got up. I got up about 20 minutes quicker than I usually would on the weekend, as that time is spent on my phone.

Also, typically, I have the radio or a podcast playing in the background. I didn’t have that, so it was just quiet. Really quiet. I noticed the hum of the air conditioner and distant city sounds. I put some water in my kettle and boiled it for coffee. I didn’t look at my phone while it was boiling, as I normally do, so I just began cleaning my apartment. Then, I made my coffee.

I sat there, drinking it, no TV, no phone, and realized I should probably get better at making coffee.

I also realized, wow, I have so much time to do, really, anything I wanted. I got dressed in my hiking clothes and already broke my plan by journaling right away. I drank some water, had some breakfast, and then got in the car. EMERGENCY, I forgot my car has a screen! I pressed a button to turn it off.

Luckily, I knew how to get to this location, or I would have had to print off directions. Dumb-luck save #1.

Driving, with no music, with no radio, with no podcast, was ok. It was nice. However, I am weird like this. My friends and family (except my mom) were always annoyed when I was on a car trip or when I drove because I didn’t like to listen to things on journeys. I just like quiet. So, this wasn’t too much of a break from the norm.

The hike was amazing.

I wasn’t worried about taking photos for Instagram or anything like that. Just me, my brother, and the cold, pretty outdoors. We got there when it was so dark, I actually noticed the color coming into the leaves. Of course, there is no color that magically comes into the leaves as it gets brighter out, but my cones were becoming more and more active as my “night-vision” rods weren’t needed anymore.

My brother, a real outdoorsman, brought some drinks and snacks and we found a nice rock to sit at about halfway through the hike. It’s not often that you get these times, maybe a nice dinner, but these nice times? Outside? With someone, you genuinely care about? Rare, definitely rare.

Then, we hiked back and went off to a family brunch. I didn’t want to document much of that as I don’t want to bring everyone into this whole YouTube thing but, it was very nice. I didn’t check my phone. I just looked at the people across the table, looked down at my food, as was occasionally verbally and physically assaulted by a three or five-year-old. It was great.

Before I knew it, half my day had passed. I was home.

I showered and meditated.

Meditating was hard.

I felt like most of the day was pushing towards some meditation. I tried to focus on the moment and myself and the sounds and smells around me. So when I sat down, when there was not much else going on, I had meditation fatigue. I was fidgety, uncomfortable, anxious, and I had no idea why. I just was.

The second 12 hours

These 12 hours were nowhere near as lovely as the first twelve hours. I don’t know why or how, but slow anxiety, bubbling, started to creep. My dad later explained it nicely, I don’t know how right he is, but it made sense to me: “Think about it, you are constantly connected. Humans as a race, as a species, survived better when they were in tribes, connected. They could fight together, hunt together, divvy up tasks, or work together on big tasks. The tribe was more successful than a single human working alone.”

The tribe theory made sense to me, but I will talk more about that later.

So, first thing, lunch. I had just eaten about two hours ago, but I am always hungry. So, I ate again.

Then, I sat down to write. Not having a computer to type on felt weird, but I did it anyway. I pulled out a notebook and began writing. I lasted about five minutes before quitting, I felt tired, and my body just wasn’t in it.

Writing failed. So, off to the next thing on my calendar, reading. I used to until about three years ago, see reading as a chore. Why read? All my life is reading, all my studying is reading, everything is reading, why would I want to do that in my free time? I don’t know what switched in my head, but something changed.

Maybe, I now see the value in a book, appreciate more the effort that goes into a book, or have fallen one too many times on my electric skateboard and rewired a part of my brain. Who knows.

The book I was reading was “research” for the thing I was writing about earlier. The best habits, or finding the best habits, the book was the seven habits of highly successful people. I delved in. I dedicated two hours to just sitting there and reading, with the occasional underline.

I felt some flow state while reading. I sat outside, had a snack, and just read. It helped that I was at my parents’ house and had a lovely outdoor area to sit at, but yeah, not much else to talk about here. The reading was pleasant.

I noticed something, though. I wanted to move. I wanted to be active, and yet I was tired at the same time. I felt anxious, and it just kept building. This anxiety quickly shattered my afternoon plans of a run, and I fell into the dangerous lul of a nap. I napped for about three hours.

When I awoke, my anxiety was still there, and now I just felt additionally like trash. Tired, sad for no reason, with the weight of sleep off of my eyelids, yet still tired.

My anxiety was still there.

I was a little worried. How can this still be here? Wouldn’t a nap fix me? Was I that addicted to my phone that going over half a day without it gives me actual withdrawals? Is that was this anxiety was?

I didn’t know. I just felt the anxiety.

I settled for another quick-fix, the cold shower, and tried to meditate again. I couldn’t meditate. The anxiety was pressing down on me. I tried to write again and couldn’t bring myself to write a word. I tried to read again and was fidgeting so much I put the book down and began walking in circles around my house.

Luckily, my circuitous thinking and actions were saved by dinner. Food. A necessity, something that can push away this feeling of dread for at least a little bit. Plus, I wasn’t eating alone, my parents were there, and we sat and ate.

Then we went on a short walk (I was really getting my steps in) and came back inside. I went upstairs and pulled out my secret weapon, one of my favorite books as a kid, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I sat down, and I read it. I read the whole thing. My anxiety was still there, but it had downgraded from a manic squirrel clawing at my heart and brain to a minor flickering in my chest. Even the squirrel was getting ready to sleep.

Then, that was it. I went to sleep. My 24 hours were complete. I did it.

I went 24 hours without screens.

The Debriefing

I woke up the next day, and I didn’t look at my phone. I started playing a podcast while I was making coffee, and I checked my Instagram, Twitter, and youtube studio, and I felt a little better. I did text some friends about nothing in particular, and it felt nice. I remember thinking,

I will not do that again*

Before I say why I want to tell you about the positives from this no-screen day:

  • More family time
  • More outdoors time
  • Less distracted time

The big negative was: being less connected.

And this anxiety, where did it come from?

I enjoyed the focus I put into my reading, and I enjoyed spending time with my family. As the day went on, however, the random anxiety I felt was near unbearable at one point. I think that makes sense. It was almost as if I was connected with the biggest tribe ever, humanity on the internet, and then, suddenly, I was disconnected, exiled from the pack. Evolutionarily, that would create insane anxiety. If you were expelled from the pack 100,000 years ago, that might be a death sentence. No pack means no protection, no food, no progeny. Say goodbye to passing your DNA down the line.

So, all in all, I won’t be doing this again.

Or, at least, I probably will not do it again. At least not to the intensity at which I did it yesterday. I need social interaction. I think, to some extent, all humans need social interaction. No TV is nice, though. No screens are nice.

*If I ever do it again, I will make some adjustments—no social media. I will connect with friends and family via text, call, and facetime. I like being connected. I love it. It makes me feel good, alive, and happy. My iPhone, I believe, is a good thing for me. It’s impressive technology. I can speak with my 97-year-old grandfather. I can look at him while he’s 3000 miles away. Isn’t that amazing?

Is it all good, though? I don’t think so. It can be abused, overused, obsessed over, controlling, and worse.This experiment made me realize the power technology has over me, and it’s something I won’t soon forget.

My final decision, however, is technology is a good thing. The iPhone is a good thing. Screens are a good thing.

I won’t be doing a screen-free day ever again.

Thanks for reading! What do you think?


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