Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

A day without a cell phone

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
September 26, 2012 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: As an experiment, I didn't use my cell phone for a whole day
  • Obeidallah: At first I felt liberated, but then I worried that I was missing important e-mails
  • He wondered if we would talk to each other more if we're not hooked to technology
  • Obeidallah: I realized that without my cell phone, I felt unconnected to the world

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog "The Dean's Report" and co-director of the upcoming documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy

(CNN) -- There are millions of cell phone users in the United States. But one day last week, there was one less: Me.

My CNN editors asked me to participate in an experiment where I won't use my cell phone for one whole day. I thought: How hard could it be? I know many of you, like myself, are old enough to remember America B.C., as in "Before Cell phones." We made it through just fine.

Special series: Our mobile society

So off I went into the streets of New York City sans a cell phone. At first, I felt liberated, like Neo in "The Matrix" when he took the red pill and could finally see the "real world."

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Instead of texting or checking my e-mail, I began to actually look at the people I was sharing the streets with. It truly resembled a movie set filled with extras from all walks of life. A beautiful woman walked quickly past me while fixing her make up. Asian tourists were busy snapping photos. A businessman looked busy talking on his phone. A group of Hasidic men were kibitzing while an Arab man sold falafel from a cart.

It was truly exhilarating. For about 14 or 15 minutes or so. After that, I began to worry: What if someone needs to reach me? What if there is an important message waiting for me?

Opinion: Do you remember your mom's phone number?

Being a stand up comedian, I run a unique small business. I'm not only president of my company; I'm also the only product. While I have an agent, I still need to be able to respond quickly to certain booking offers or just move on to the next comic opportunity.

Open Mic: Is cell phone dependency bad?
Some planes allowing use of cell phones
CNN Explains: Cell phones and radiation

I soon began to feel phantom cell phone vibrations in the front left pocket of my jeans where my phone usually resides. My stress level started to escalate. I had to check my voice mail. But doing so would require me to engage in an activity I had not done for many years: Use a payphone.

While there's no short supply of pay phones in the Big Apple, there's apparently no one charged with cleaning them. The pay phones I saw looked and smelled like homeless people had confused them for bathrooms or had used them to clean certain parts of their anatomy.

Despite the stench, I held my breath and made my call to retrieve my messages. How many did I have? Zero. This instantly took me back to memories of life in B.C. America when I would call my answering machine to retrieve messages and often be met with the (gleeful) robotic voice stating, "You have no new messages."

Have smartphones killed boredom (and is that good)?

While relieved, my anxiety over my unchecked emails began to ratchet up. Please keep in mind I'm a NYC comedian. I'm hyper neurotic by nature.

I needed to find an Internet café. Sounds simple enough. But it's not. While establishments offering free Wi-Fi are everywhere, venues with computer terminals to use are not.

I began walking the streets asking people if they had seen an Internet café, like I was searching for my lost dog. The responses ranged from "no," to odd looks like I was a time traveler from the 1990s, to offers of stories on unrelated topics. (One man had no idea where an Internet café was located but enthusiastically suggested a great Turkish restaurant that I should check out.)

Fourteen blocks, two avenues and 45 minutes later, I finally observed a sign outside a slightly run-down deli that read, "Internet." And there I saw three computer terminals, whose best days were clearly behind them, available for rent at the reasonable rate of $2 for 12 minutes.

So what e-mails had I missed? Nothing pressing, to be honest. They all could have waited until I returned home.

Photos: Re-enacting a simpler time

As my cell phoneless day continued, I began to wonder: Would we actually talk to each other more if we weren't so attached to our gadgets? Would we be better people without our cell phones distracting us so often? Better spouses? Better sons or daughters?

But I also realized that without my cell phone, I felt unconnected to my friends, my business, and the world. I began to feel lonely in the most crowded city in America.

Riding the subway home later that day, and without my beloved baseball game to play on my phone, I had time to really look around the subway car. And there I made a startling discovery: I had never read the emergency evacuation sign posted in each subway car. That knowledge could very well save my life one day.

My experiment without a cell phone taught me two valuable lessons. One, my cell phone is not just a piece of technology; it is like Linus' security blanket in the "Peanuts" comic strip. Without it, I felt less comfortable. Less confident. I felt alone.

Photos: Our mobile addiction

And two, in case of fire in the subway, don't panic. Wait for instructions from the train conductor. Help is on the way.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT