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
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT