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Professor Challenges Students to Give Up Cellphones for a Week

It's old school in Jacob Dannenberg's college dorm room. He uses an alarm clock to wake him up, handwritten notes for reminders, and an actual wristwatch to keep track of time. No, it wasn't 1999. It was an Adelphi University course called "Life Unplugged" taught by Professor Donna Freitas, where students did the unthinkable--handing over their smartphones. One student said, "I'm freaking out, I could probably cry right now.”

The students voluntarily turned in their phones to the university's public safety officers so they wouldn't be tempted to cheat. Then they challenged themselves to wake up on time, take notes, communicate, and find their way around without the slew of apps they usually use for those things. They made plans to communicate with family and friends via email or land line phones, and designated emergency contacts to assuage any fears.

Professor Freitas also gave up her phone as part of the experiment. "I’ve become more and more concerned by my students’ inability to sustain attention. I’m interested in them just experiencing life and conversation and relationships without constantly grabbing for their phones."

The experiment was designed to make students ask themselves "What does it mean to live constantly interrupted?" At first, some of the students said they were worried about how they would fare. But a week later, they had seen some real benefits.

Jacob Dannenberg said, "Everything is perfect right now. I'm having a lot better relationships. It's a stress-free environment, no worries about social media." Student Adrianna Cigliano added, "I think it's really refreshing and relaxing … I was able to fall asleep a lot easier.”

They managed to find their way, even without GPS for a week. "I just had to take the same route everywhere," one student joked. They were also more productive. Adrianna said, “Doing homework was 100 percent easier. I got it done faster; I was in the zone.” Students said they look forward to living more in the moment, with their heads up more often, notifications off, and the "do not disturb" on.

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