Screen-Free For A Day, Teens Try Life Without Phones : All Tech Considered A Nashville high school tried out a "digital cleanse" recently — a group of students stopped using their phones for 24 hours. They missed a lot of messages, but got a lesson in return.

Screen-Free For A Day, Teens Try Life Without Phones

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Give evolution a chance and humans may grow a third arm and eye - to look at our screens. People cross the street these days and never look up from their smartphones. Try talking to a teenager whose eyes don't wander to their tablet. Groups from churches to schools to gyms now hold digital cleanses for people to try to survive without screen time for a weekend or so. Tony Gonzalez of member station WPLN was on the scene when 42 Nashville students turned in their phones and when they got them back.

TONY GONZALEZ, BYLINE: The clock is ticking for Maplewood High students Destiny Davis and Jamya Whitmore. They're about to give up their cellphones for 24 hours. They clutch them as they get mentally prepared. Davis says the good part will be talking to her family more. And the bad part, kind of the same.

DESTINY DAVIS: Because we always communicating on our phone. Like, your family could be in the next room, and we texting them, but now you have to get up and walk and go get them (laughter).

GONZALEZ: Then it gets real. Teacher Jarred Amato gives the five-minute warning.

JARRED AMATO: Put up a picture on Instagram.

GONZALEZ: Their last Facebook updates and Snapchats for the next 24 hours.

AMATO: Say goodbye. Five minutes - five minutes and I'm going to start to pick them up.

DESTINY: What? I got five minutes.

JAMYA WHITMORE: She already can't go without her phone. That's sad.

DESTINY: (Laughter) Five minutes.

JAMYA: How we going to live? I need my phone.

DESTINY: Oh, my God.

GONZALEZ: The girls put their phones in Ziploc bags. Then, it's time for the group to take a pledge about technology addiction.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We are spending more time communicating with our screens than with each other.


GONZALEZ: Single file, they stack their phones in a cardboard box. Some even kiss them goodbye.


GONZALEZ: Yes, that student just said, bye, baby. The phones will spend the night locked in a cabinet. This attachment between students and their phones is nothing less than addiction, says Amato, an English teacher still in his 20s. He relates to his students about the awesome power of smartphones, but he at least remembers a world before they were in every pocket all the time.

AMATO: There's always a text message to send. There's always a new picture to see. There's always a new Snapchat to send, that they never get a break. And if you ask them, they really don't like it, but they almost feel powerless to it.

GONZALEZ: Fast forward to the next morning. Amato senses something different in his classroom. It's louder because the kids are talking and making eye contact. Destiny and Jamya are comparing how much extra sleep they got without their phones around.

DESTINY: I went to sleep at 11, looking for my phone...

JAMYA: No TV, no phone, no nothing.

DESTINY: ...And I was just bored after that. I don't care. I was bored.

GONZALEZ: By morning, she felt something unusual.

DESTINY: I was ready to get to school to get my phone (laughter). If the bus could just move a little faster (laughter).

GONZALEZ: To milk the moment, the teacher asks a few more questions as the phones sit just out of reach. Most say unplugging is easier than expected. Several played outside for the first time in a while. And then, at long last, they tear the bags open.

AMATO: One, two, three.



UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: (Unintelligible) My baby.

GONZALEZ: First order of business, count up the missed messages, likes, Snapchats and Kiks.

JAMYA: Got one from Facebook, six from Kik, two from regular message, seven from ooVoo.

GONZALEZ: OoVoo, that's a video calling app. It turns out the group was missing messages, but they were still there, waiting to be read, after everyone had unplugged to live a little. For NPR News, I'm Tony Gonzalez in Nashville.

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