How long can you go without touching your handphone? 30 minutes, a couple of hours, half a day? In January this year we challenged a group of students and a long-serving member of staff to a phone fast for 5 days – 3 weekdays and a weekend.
Governed by a set of rules (see below) which included a social media ban on other electronic devices, each participant was given the leeway to inform family, colleagues and friends of the fast before embarking on it to avoid any misunderstanding.
Each participant was encouraged to pen their thoughts and frustrations at any point of the day.
Everyone had their fair share of unique challenges but the conclusion was unanimous – taking a long break from their handheld device allowed them to explore more efficient ways of communication and encouraged them to be more attuned to their surroundings. Will you do a phone fast soon?
Timothy Rusmin (4B)
With the rise of modern technology, we find that we have become accustomed to the many luxuries it provides us. Perhaps too accustomed. It simply makes our lives easier. Whether it be for our professions, social lives, or just plain entertainment, technology has become more pervasive than it has ever been before because of how accessible it has become. Perhaps it is because of this accessibility, that nowadays it is a common sight to see our youth hunched over their electronic devices, feverishly obsessing over the latest mobile craze, oblivious to the world around them. Besides the fact that it contributes to our high levels of myopia, is the prevalence of modern technology a serious problem that needs to be addressed? Have we somehow become slaves to the very devices we created to serve us? Or are these merely baseless preconceptions that skeptics have concocted about our technological age?
One poor, brave soul was given the task to conduct an experiment that was so unthinkable, no sane person would do it of their own accord (unless it was for an article). Just to see if there is any merit to these concerns, he was told to give up technology for five whole days straight. And sadly, that poor brave soul was me.
The experiment had one fundamental question to answer: “Has our youth become so addicted to technology and their electronic devices that they can’t live without them?” Technology is a very broad term, consisting of various machines and electronic devices, and so we thought that the way to make the experiment more pragmatic was for me to give up using my phone. Phones are essentially the epitome of the ideal capabilities of modern technology: they are multifunctional, extremely accessible, and highly convenient. Storing a wide range of data, music, and phone numbers that would otherwise not be present in a single object. Thus, the choice of what to give up was simple.
Of course, to start off: My experiences and thoughts are not a universal representation of the young technologically-savvy demographic. Nonetheless, I am still a part of that group, so I could possibly provide some insight into these claims which also concern me.
I was first told to give up my phone usage for five consecutive days. The conditions were simple. I was not to use my phone for five days but I was given two “breaks” of 15 minutes each to make the experiment more practical for a full-time student. I didn’t think much of it because despite the fact that I use my phone on a regular basis, I didn’t believe I was so consumed by my little handheld gadget that this would faze me. So I accepted the challenge.
The first day was a Thursday, a school day. What I realised upon waking up was that I was shocked by my alarm. It wasn’t by the pitch nor the loudness, but by the fact that my phone was my alarm. I’ve been using my phone as an alarm for so many years of my school life that I had forgotten that it served that purpose. So I tried to abstain from using my phone any further. School hours were fine since we are now not allowed to use our phones thanks to the new phone policy of not being allowed to use them in-between lesson transitions or recess (with the exception of emergencies). The problem only started when school ended.
At home, I was sorely tempted to check my Whatsapp messages and to text my friends, but I remembered that I had an experiment to conduct. Even though I had my two “breaks” to spend, I figured that it would be better if I minimised my phone usage, so as to make the most out of the experiment. So one day passed, and before I knew it, another began.
It was Friday.
Friday is a relatively short school day and so other than the minor upsets of unconsciously checking the time on my phone, the day went pretty smoothly. However, I was met with another temptation upon my arrival at home: my gaming apps. Either because it was still so early or because I was just bored, I was sorely tempted to play my mobile games. One game I was particularly fond of was one where I was supposed to tap small houses to get money – which i could then use to complete challenges in order to get more money. With which I could build more houses which I could tap to get more money (sounds stupid, I know). Its appeal to me was probably due to of the minimal use of brain power needed to play it, and the illusion that I was actually achieving something attainable. Unlike a 4.0.
Sadly, I gave into the temptation and spent my two 15 minute breaks on the stupid tapping game.
Soon, the weekend rolled in and so did the withdrawal symptoms. I wanted to listen to music on my phone as it had all my favourite Kpop playlists, and I also wanted to text my friends about random stuff, but, of course, I wasn’t allowed to. So instead, my brain found alternative means to cheat so that it could get its daily dose of entertainment by going on the computer and watching videos on my iPad. Unfortunately, I realised that despite their not being phones, they were still distracting electronics so I chose to cut those as well.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday passed by and, to my surprise, I felt relatively okay without the constant urge to check my phone or use technology. Without the temptation of texting, I got my homework done much quicker with little urge to procrastinate, and I felt more satisfaction when talking to friends at school. I developed a newfound appreciation for face-to-face interaction, compared to, say, mindlessly pecking away with Whatsapp.
BATTERY LOW, PLEASE RECHARGE
It sure was an interesting journey and what I realised was the benefits and harms that technology encompasses. On one hand, it gives us the means to communicate over long distances, and that we shouldn’t take it for granted. On the other, it does downplay the sense of intimacy between people when they text, as people are not aware of how lucky they are to get to talk over hundreds or thousands of metres. This experiment proves that people can overcome their addiction and that not all youths are slaves to technology. We do not use our phones because we are addicted, but because it is convenient and provides us with all the necessities we need at our disposal. And some entertaining distractions to boot.
And so, at the end of the day, it is really up to us to decide whether we want to be slaves to technology, or to use it wisely, and make the best out of what technology has to offer.
Alex Tan (16S03B), Louisa Li (16A13A), Adelyn Koh (16S06H), Lim Lex-xis (16S03M), Gladys Lim (16S03K)
A useful means of chatting and connecting with friends. A convenient platform facilitating work-related discussions and conversations. A trustworthy source of world news and road directions. A refuge from awkward social situations. A mobile phone might be several, or all, of these things to you, if you, like the vast majority of the student population, happen to possess one. No matter what, the fact that we depend on our phones with a near-total reliance is a matter that leaves little doubt. Eager for a challenge, the five of us decided to embark upon a five-day phone fast, in which we were allowed to use our phones for no more than two half-hour periods daily. How masochistic, you might think, but the phone fast induced us to ask ourselves certain questions about the way we spend our time and the role of technology in our lives. The insights proffered were certainly well worth the brief pain.
Conceivably, most of us felt a sense of frustration from being deprived of our mobile phones. Checking our phones had become such a habitual, and even subconscious, action and we performed it so routinely from day to day that their absence was acutely sensed when the phone fast was imposed. We could not mindlessly whip out our phones and casually glance at the messages we had received, or non-committally scroll through our social media feeds.
Instead, we were impelled to spend our time more mindfully and productively. Many of us reported increased efficiency and concentration, as our commitment to the fast allowed us to ignore phone notifications with a much greater ease than usual. As a result, Adelyn was able to pack in two undistracted hours of organic chemistry revision.
Some of us were annoyed because our peculiar habits of phone usage were denied. Gladys yearned to tell her friends about ‘all the weird things’ that had happened to her over the course of a typical day, as she was accustomed to doing. Louisa the workaholic had to constantly resist the temptation to efficiently reply to all her work-related messages. That we felt a strong sense of chagrin, and even pain, was testament to the integrality and importance of mobile phones in our daily lives. Adelyn echoed this sentiment, comparing the experience to that of a ‘drug addict experiencing withdrawal symptoms’.
Of course, one of the catches of this challenge was that whilst we were compelled to shake off every urge to use our phone, everyone else around us was not. Our friends continued to reply to WhatsApp messages, open Instagram, and take selfies in their normal, habitually frequent fashion. Against this background of incessant phone usage, we felt our inability to use our phones all the more glaringly.
These exasperated rants might lead you think that the phone fast was a tortuous ordeal. But it was, on the whole, far from that. Louisa found it ‘surprisingly easy and liberating’, while Alex thought the experiment ‘not an incredibly drastic change’. The difficulty of the fast also hinged on certain particularities, such as the day of the week and the time of the day. Over the weekend, avoiding contact with our phones was aided by strategies such as stowing the device away in a drawer, or simply leaving it out of plain sight. For Lex-xis, the real problem arose during the school week, as pressing deadlines and heavy workloads rendered it much more exigent and urgent to reply to messages promptly.
Indubitably, the phone fast entailed no small amount of self-discipline and tenacity, but the benefits reaped were of commensurate proportion. Besides helping us to eliminate a potent source of distractions, the fast also taught us the value of forward-planning. Alex planned his bus routes to the smallest, most intricate detail as he was prohibited from referring to the Google Maps app on his phone. To coordinate her group work, Gladys drafted an entire message on her computer before typing it into WhatsApp during the allocated half-hour block of phone usage. In short, we were forced to seriously consider how we should spend our two precious half-hour periods with our phones. The phone fast became, in effect, a sort of simulated worst-case scenario, in which we had to prepare for all contingencies. We were therefore keenly alerted to the possibility that our own mobile phones might end up failing us one day, and that we should be able to react with prudence and responsiveness.
This enhanced ability to respond to situations was no less evident in our day-to-day social interactions. Our conversations with our friends became more intentional as we invested more effort and heart in deepening our relationships with the people around us. In fact, many friends accommodatingly stowed away their phones upon hearing about our fast, and demonstrated a reciprocal interest in having better, more mindful conversations.
Yet we were, at certain junctures, ambivalent about the challenge. Being uncertain about how definitively it could produce a change in our habits and subconscious behaviours, some of us thought that the conversations were contrived. The concerted effort required was much more evident when our friends were disengaged, continuing to be on their phones as we endeavoured to talk to them. Moreover, we were prone to treating our half-hour periods of phone usage with excessive importance. On some days, we focused too intensely on our phone screens during those periods at the expense of the surrounding people and action. This seemed, ironically, to run contrary to the phone fast’s original purpose.
In sum, it would not be an overstatement to say that the phone fast was a fulfilling experience, encouraging us to resist the temptation of consistently engaging with social media. Having gone through it, a pervasive sentiment of cleansing and relinquishment was among us. In stripping away the inessential and giving up what we had no need of, we increasingly normalised the act of being away from our phones and, more importantly, from constant contact and social engagement. The school’s recent mobile phone policy, although very relevant and necessary, would mean nothing if we did not find the self-discipline within ourselves to reduce our mobile phone usage, and turn our attentions more wholly to worthier pursuits. We began a journey of learning to be more content in our separate realms of solitude, to better carve out impregnable spaces of silence and alone time. Today, we are still learning that.
Ms Melissa Lim, Dean/Character and Citizenship Education
We asked our Dean of Character and Citizenship Education, Melissa Lim (RJC’ 92), and she gamely agreed! Below are excerpts from a journal she kept over the duration of the Phone Fast.
6.50 – 7 AM
I woke up to a series of Whatsapp messages – my phone kept pinging! Decided to check use my ‘pass’ and check my phone. As I have disabled the message preview function for both Whatsapp and SMS, I am only able to see who has texted but not the content of the message. I had considered checking my phone later in the day at 9.00 am but changed my mind to do so instead at 6.50 am.
Also took the opportunity to inform various work chat groups about the phone fast so that colleagues will call me instead of texting for urgent matters.
Year Head 5 called me after they realised that I had not read many of the text messages that had been sent to my phone. We settled the issue over the phone. This is the first instance of a communication method changing due to the phone fast! It was a pleasant change to converse and hear a human voice instead of texting. Additionally, I think the issue was resolved much quickly this way.
I realised that having only two 10-minute ‘access to the phone per day’ passes was not possible, so I decided to conjure an additional pass at the mid-point of the day. There were tons of incoming alerts from both Year 5-6 and Year 1-4 colleagues/work groups, as well as my JC classmates’ group which normally is silent but suddenly became active! We are arranging a CNY get together.
10PM – 10.15PM
Home sweet home! Played some iPhone games to relax before going to bed – approximately 15 min. Decided that the phone fast is doable if the allowed access time is 15 minutes for three times a day. However, considering the size of our school and how Whatsapp is our preferred method of communication, maybe not.
Similar to the first day, decided to do an early morning check of messages.
11.30 – 11.40AM
Did a mid-day check on the messages and replied some of them. My father had messaged about a CNY gathering with some family friends.
Exchanged some work related messages regarding meeting the ushers for the Year 3 Level Briefing for parents.
Checked phone at the end of the day for messages and played some games before going to bed. Level Briefing for Year 3 parents went quite smoothly as it was the 2nd day of the level briefing week and the systems were in place.
Overall, I felt that not checking my emails on the phone was actually better as usually I can’t respond properly through the phone and need to get back to the desk computer to check things before decisions can be made and then provide a response. With the phone, our tendency is to keep checking and reading the emails as they come in, elevating stress levels as you know that there are things to respond to but are unable to respond to them just yet.
With the phone fast, I only read the emails when I was at my desk; so I could respond appropriately. The number of text messages requiring decision making was also reduced as many colleagues knew that I was on a phone fast. So this helped with lowering stress level too because it’s quite stressful to have to make decisions and respond quickly via text.
Started off the day similar to the previous two days but as it was the start of Orientation for Year 5, it became apparent fairly early that it was impossible to do a proper phone fast. Quite a number of student related issues cropped up in the course of Day One of the Orientation which required urgent action and communication to multiple parties. E.g. Orientation programme over-running and affecting the Year 6 assembly arrangements. Phone fast was, unfortunately, abandoned by 9.00 am. During the later part of the day, I also had to communicate with Year Head 4 about the Level Briefing and also Year Head 1 and HOD/CCE about the Level Briefing arrangements for Saturday.
Didn’t really have the time to use the phone the whole morning due to the Year 1 Level Briefing for parents and I think I only checked my phone after lunch time. By that time, I didn’t really write down the timings in my journal. Took a well-deserved nap in the afternoon due to exhaustion from the previous 3 late nights in school and the Saturday Morning Level briefing. Visited my Aunt’s place for CNY reunion dinner gathering which ended at 10 plus. For what it’s worth, I didn’t use my phone to take pictures which is what I would normally do, so… small victory 😊
Sundays are typically rest days so I took the liberty of using the phone as I would normally do – playing games and communicating with friends. Haha, yes I abandoned the phone fast. But I didn’t use Facebook or Instagram, so… another mini victory.