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Can You Survive the Phone Separation Anxiety Challenge?

Do you feel naked without your phone, too?

I’m skeptical of digital detoxes, but it’s hard not to notice how naked I feel without my phone — unmoored, lonely, twitchy. I’m going to start writing a book soon, but when I actually lie on my sofa to read a book, I need my phone resting on my chest.

A lot of people are of course worried about what our attachment to devices might be doing to us. No one quite knows how to slow the impending march of personal technology that will most certainly end up with gadgets worn and then embedded. But that doesn’t mean people won’t try.

Manoush Zomorodi, the host of a popular podcast in New York, is starting a valiant campaign to pry smartphones from our hands. Through her WNYC podcast, “New Tech City” (tagline: “Digital gets personal”), she has already gathered more than 8,000 participants for a week-long “Bored and Brilliant” challenge that begins Feb. 2. Throughout the seven-day challenge, her followers will complete increasingly difficult phone-detachment feats such as keeping their phone in their bag or pocket while they walk, deleting a single app, noticing something (anything) in the real world.

“I realized I hadn’t been bored in seven years since I got a smartphone. Is that bad? Is there a reason why we get bored?” Zomorodi told me today on the phone. “We do our most original thinking when we stop the constant stimulation.”

“It’s so much easier to just play Candy Crush than to do some of the hard work it takes to think through your problems or work through your shit,” she said.

Manoush Zomorodi
Manoush Zomorodi

When the mind wanders, it engages in “positive constructive daydreaming” and “autobiographical planning,” and we get more creative, she said. With cellphones in hand, we don’t allow ourselves a moment for boredom to sneak in — we fill every space and second with something on our phones.

I, for one, recently started playing a crosswords app in more places than I feel comfortable admitting.

Until the challenge officially kicks off in February, Zomorodi and her followers are in an “observation period” to “establish a baseline.”

She said that our phones pair well with the popular “live in the moment” ethos of our day. This is a problem.

“What does it mean about setting long-term goals if you don’t even think about the goals, or don’t have the patience to see them through if they happen?” she said. “We hear ‘Live in the moment, live in the moment,’ but that means you’re not thinking about what you really want to do.”

Zomorodi said she realized the importance of boredom after having her first child, who had colic and needed hours of walking each day. She started her radio show in 2012, expanding to a longer podcast in 2013.

“Some of the basic things we take for granted are being disrupted,” Zomorodi said. “Not just the way we get taxis.”

Zomorodi asked me if I wanted to try the challenge, and I just laughed and told her to leave me alone.

For anyone who wants to take the “Bored and Brilliant” challenge, here’s the schedule:

Feb. 2: “In Your Pocket” — Keep your phone down while walking down the street or in transit.
Feb. 3: “Photo-Free Day” — See the world for a day just through your eyes, not through your phone’s screen.
Feb. 4: “Delete That App” — Choose the app that you are most addicted to and waste the most time on, and delete it.
Feb. 5: “Take a Fauxcation” — Schedule an away message telling the world you are focusing on offline projects. Even for just an hour.
Feb. 6: “One Small Observation” — Take your newfound phone-free time and notice something you would have missed before.
Feb. 7 & 8: “Get Creative With Nina Katchadourian” — Get bored and take on a creative task, inspired and guided by artist Nina Katchadourian.

This article originally appeared on

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