How Long Could You Live Without Your Phone?

'We behave like nicotine addicts deprived of their fix.'

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When inviting close friends out for dinner, the last words you expect to hear are “F***k no” and “What?! Why?!” But ask them to leave their phone at home as part of the deal, and you might encounter something similar.

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Despite being part of a tight knit group of friends who like spending time with each other, scrolling through Twitter and Instagram or taking a phone call mid-conversation is absolutely the new normal. After discovering that the human attention span has gone from 12 seconds in the year 2000, down to just the current 8 seconds, I was scared enough into trying to change, at least a little.

I send out five invitations (by post) for my first Phoneless Supper Club and ask for RSVPs to come via telephone (#PhoneYourFriends). My girlfriends and I realise how rarely we speak on the phone when texting is such as easy option, and it feels like the plan is off to a good start.

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Ironically, the friend who is the guiltiest of being married to her phone fails to call me, and eventually on Friday I contact her so I can book the restaurant. “I wouldn’t leave the house without my phone. It’s not safe,” she says. I try and reassure her that I’ve deliberately picked a restaurant equidistant between us, within a ten-minute walk from the tube for 6.30pm on a Sunday (ie no booze and possibility of the night going wild). But she won’t budge.

Would we really get anything from this? Or would this just be like all our other girls’ dinners? After all, this was how our parents’ generation did it, and fifteen years ago it would have just been a simple dinner invitation. And the safety factor did play on my mind. Though with pedestrian casualties involving people staring at their mobiles on the rise, are our phones making us safer? Or are they simply comfort blankets, which give us the illusion of protection?

There’s no doubt this Phoneless invitation is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, but I don’t think it’s an unnecessary one. Saying, “I can put my phone down whenever I want” is very different to actually doing it. They’ve become our Get Out Of Jail Free Card. It’s so easy to text, “Oh, I’m running 20 minutes late” or say “I just have to take this…” And I wonder how much we miss by not just looking up, and around at the city we live in.

En route to dinner, a few of us get lost and panic we’ll never arrive, and behave like nicotine addicts deprived of their fix. Sat down, we were hyper aware of all the other patrons on their phones, and at one point were death stared by a couple who couldn’t hear their YouTube video because we were taking. We suffered from Phantom Phone Syndrome, never more so than when we attempted to split our bill five ways without a calculator. While the night may sound fuelled by anxiety, we all agreed that we engaged with each other in a deeper way, when we couldn’t chose to check out. While there isn’t a digital trail of our meeting, we do have some cute Polaroids, and all made it home safe at the end of the night.

The idea of our attention spans going down to just four seconds by 2030 is pretty terrifying, but doesn’t feel too unlikely. The overwhelming feeling my friends and I came away with was one of relief. We can consciously make time to do without our phones, break unconscious habits and experience a greater connection as a result. Our next Phoneless Supper is already on the diary.

Words by Olivia Grant

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