I Tried The “Bored And Brilliant” Project And Learned Just How Badly I “Need” My Phone

A few weeks ago, I tried out WNYC’s “Bored and Brilliant” project, a challenge that encouraged participants to step away from their phones and see what kinds of creative thoughts come up when we allow our minds to wander. The challenge asked that users track the minutes they spend on their phone with an app and provided new assignments every day for a week.

My favorite assignment was “In Your Pocket,” which asked that participants spend the first day of the challenge keeping their phone out of site during their walk, subway ride, or other form of commute. This freed up more time to read on the subway and start to make a dent in my guilt-inducing pile of unread books, but more importantly, it forced me to appreciate my surroundings on my routine walks. Life in New York City means lots of travel on foot, and it’s easy to take for granted all the activity happening around me in any given second. Lately I’ve been kind of down on the city, and keeping my eyes open to the sights around me has helped me remember why I love it here in the first place. I was also a fan of the “One Small Observation” assignment, which is exactly what it sounds like, and the “Photo Free Day” was a fun undertaking for a day, especially since it made me consider why I so rarely use my “real” (non-phone) camera anymore.

Where I struggled, though, was with “Delete That App,” the assignment that implored me to delete the most addictive app on my phone. Call me uncooperative but I just … didn’t want to. I don’t have much in the way of games on my phone, but my big time sucks are things like Instagram, Facebook, and the personal blogs I like to follow on Feedly. Instagram makes me happy, and deleting it sounded downright vom-worthy to me, so I was a brat about it and just sort of refused to partake. I don’t feel that guilty about it, even though it makes me a subpar challenge participant. I rationalized this to Amelia and she totally agreed, so there. I’ll admit that I could’ve learned something about myself if I’d done it, but oh well!

The “Fauxcation” challenge was also tough for me — it asked that users set up an away message and take an escape from technology for a few hours or even a day. I got hung up on this because it felt too self-important to announce my day-long departure from the online world (I’m not an on-call doctor, nobody’s going to fret that much if they can’t reach me) but it also felt too rude to simply ignore anything vital. Most messages I get aren’t too dire, and 99 percent of my emails and texts could definitely wait until the next day, but what if there was one pressing message I actually needed to see, or someone I loved had an emergency? I work on the internet, how am I supposed to go offline on a weekday? I “disconnected” by reading a physical, Kindle-free book for an hour and then called it a day. It felt damn good.

A few weeks later, I’m still holding to “In Your Pocket” more often than not. It’s good for me! Besides the aforementioned benefits, resisting temptation to text while walking to work feels like a bigger accomplishment than it actually is (which kind of speaks to what a sad phone-addicted world we live in) and that gets me jazzed up to take on bigger good-for-me challenges that day, like making it to the gym or eating some extra greens. According to WNYC’s results data, other users feel similarly — 45 percent of participants found this challenge to be the most useful and 88 percent plan to continue with the habit.

I also still have Moment, the app I used to record my screen time during the challenge. It goes offline when I put my phone in airplane mode to save battery on the subway, so sometimes I forget to use it, but when it’s on, it happily nags me all the livelong day about how many minutes of my life I’m wasting on my phone. It’s annoying as hell, but in a good way. Nothing’s more effective than a guilt trip, after all! The average phone use decrease for “Bored And Brilliant” participants was six fewer minutes of daily phone use (participants’ average phone use at the beginning of the challenge was two hours a day). The average decrease in picking up our phones was one fewer phone check for day. These baby steps matter! Small changes ultimately create big ones. Ninety percent of post-challenge respondents felt confident that they could do more to change their phone use in the future.

The challenge made me more conscious of my phone use, but to be honest, it mostly left me with the conviction that I loved my phone and didn’t feel too sorry about that. I used to feel extremely guilty about spending so much of my waking hours on screen time, but I’m coming to realize that phones (and laptops) are just a tool like anything else that can be used for both good and bad, and that there’s not a damn thing wrong with enjoying mine so long as I have strong boundaries with it. A real wake-up call came, however, when I broke my phone this past weekend and found myself overflowing with anxiety, as if a piece of my well-being was missing. In a way, that made sense — I suddenly had no immediate method of communicating with anyone in an emergency — but the more irrational side of that anxiety had to do with missing the illusion of control over lives that phones give. Suddenly lacking access to the whole internet’s worth of information in my hands alongside my emails, to-do lists, and 24/7 updates on both world events and my contacts’ lives made me feel powerless and panicky. I was so dependent on the thing that I didn’t even have a reliable method to wake up in the morning that didn’t involve my phone [IN THIS EXACT SAME BOAT. — Amelia] and had to dig up an old clock radio from the depths of my apartment. It was scary (which is ridiculous), and it made me seriously question how intensely emotions can relate to technology. I was able to replace my phone pretty quickly, but it left me wanting to do reframe some of my interactions with it.

If you’d like to cut back on your phone use or take the challenge a step further, WNYC provided some follow-up suggestions: try things like placing a thick rubber band on your phone as a reminder to put it down, setting usage limits on your phone’s timer, using social media via your phone’s web browser rather than on the app, wearing a watch so you don’t have to check your phone for the time, and avoid carrying your charger with you so you’re forced to conserve battery power. Phones aren’t the enemy, our addiction to wasting time on them is. If you’d like to try out the challenge for yourself, you can check it out here.

[Image via Shutterstock]