What happens when a student doesn’t have any technical devices or internet for a whole weekend? Ronny Taferner tried it himself.

Text by Ronny Taferner

I hardly ever have a look at the statistics of the screen time on my phone, because I know the results are shocking. Apparently I spend six hours and 13 minutes looking at my phone, activate it more than a 100 times and get 285 notifications – on a daily basis. As an exchange student, I use my phone to keep in touch with my family and friends back home in Austria, to find new friends in Amsterdam, and to navigate through the city. I use it to communicate with classmates for assignments, read the news, listen to music, set an alarm… I must admit: I am addicted to this item that claims to be smart.

No smartphone, no laptop, and no television for 72 hours.

But how does it feel to not have any technical devices? I went completely offline from Friday 0:00 till Sunday 24:00: no smartphone, no laptop, and no television for 72 hours. During my time offline I wrote down my thoughts:

Preparation: Planning so I won’t desocialize

The decision to go offline is quite spontaneous, so I don’t have time to plan the weekend in detail. I announced that I’m going offline to my friends on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp. A couple of friends asked me why, my best friend was upset, because we would lose 486 snapchat-streaks, which we got by sending pictures to each other every day for one and a half year. I call my mum to inform her as well. She’s a bit anxious: “What if something happens to you? How can we reach you in an emergency?” Eventually, she urges me to cancel the experiment if I find myself in a dangerous situation.

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I have to make some appointments with friends for the weekend now, otherwise I will be alone in my small room for three days. I tell my friends how serious the situation is: “I will be completely offline, so you can’t cancel or be late.” During my last hours online, I permanently check the time and calculate how many minutes I have left until I am offline. It’s one minute to midnight, I hold down the lock-button on my iPhone and slide my finger towards “turn off”.

Day One (Friday): What time is it?

The first thing that comes to my mind, when I turn off my phone is that I don’t have a watch and an alarm clock. I always use my smartphone to check the time. I have to go to university in the morning, so I hope that I won’t wake up too late.

Normally, the first thing I do when I wake up is to check my phone.

It’s a horrible feeling in the morning not knowing what time it is. I leave my flat and wait for my neighbours to show up, so I can ask them for the time. Stress for nothing: It’s only 6:50am – I have four more hours to go to university. Normally, the first thing I do when I wake up is to check my phone – sometimes that can take an hour. But this morning, I have time to make breakfast, prepare food for university and tidy up my room. While eating, I feel bored. I miss the music, the news, and videos. It’s so quiet.

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I ask my neighbours three more times what time it is – Through the entire experiment, I never get the sense of time. 

In the metro I have time to think and observe. I count the people not having a smartphone in their hands: six.

I’m definitely able to focus more on my work today.

My classmate tells me that she notices how often she uses her smartphone next to me. I’m definitely able to focus more on my work today. There’s hardly any distractions. In the evening, I suddenly have time to cook a large meal, which I rarely do. I even start reading the book I brought with me to Amsterdam – I never found time before.

Day two (Saturday): A life with more time

I am a little bit nervous if the plans with my friend in the city-centre will work out. It’s a relief when he appears and I’m proud that we have managed to meet. It’s 5pm and I have the feeling that the day has more hours in it, now that I’m offline. I clean my flat and buy groceries. However, for the first time during this experiment, I’m feeling a bit lonely. It’s so silent. Fortunately, I am going out in the evening. That will distract me. I wrote down the address of my friend’s place on Thursday already, but I forgot to look up how to get there. I have to ask people on the street for navigation – it works but takes me an extra half hour to get to his place.

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I love to share moments with my friends when I am having a good time. Now, I have the need to post some stories on my social media accounts. Going home alone in the night without my phone makes me feel very uncomfortable. I remember what my mum says: “What if something happens?”

Day three: What are my friends doing?

It’s hard making plans for outside activities: I don’t know how the weather will be. I want to do my laundry, but it’s impossible. You need to book a washing machine with your smartphone. Again, I clean up, I go for a walk, and think about the past and the future.

The last hours are hard – I am just waiting until midnight.

But I want to see what my friends are doing, I want to see how much money is left on my bank account, and I want to break this silence, that accompanies me the whole weekend. I need a distraction. The last hours are hard – I am just waiting until midnight. The only problem: I don’t know when it will be midnight.

The day after: stressed again, but relieved

00:23 – I switch on my smartphone. 361 notifications pop up. I am too curious to go to bed. For two hours, I find myself checking all social networks and reading messages. I feel stressed again, but also relieved. The feeling of security is back.

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The experiment showed me that being offline made me very calm and stressless. It gave me a feeling of freedom and independence, even though it did make daily life harder. And: It gives you loads of time.

This weekend was an eye opening experience for me: My goal is to no longer spend more than four hours on my smartphone daily and I will plan to have an hour offline every day. I want to be in control of my smartphone, and not the other way around.