2019 Cell phone Challenge Participants. Back row from left: Benji Pugh, Ezra Smith, Jarrett Gulden, Toby Seidel, Sam Russ, Jojo Martin, Brendan Walsh, Shay Pang, Lydia Tilton. Front Row from left: Jessica Uvivio, Marguerita Fairfield, Kai-Lin Shen, Filip Nguyen, Allison Manck. Not pictured:Isaac Powell, Owen Williamson, Maddy Mercer, Toby Newton, Fiona Liang, Madison Dodge, Brian Smalley, Shelly Richardson, Brendan Stone, Haley Clifford, Maisie Mathieu, Annabelle Benner, Logan Heath, Camden LeBel, Caleb Wight, Sunny Le, Cam Nelson, Jorge Pulido, Emily Harris, Leon Wang, Wenxin Liang, Alex Marin

Thirty-four students and two teachers gave up their cell phones last week as part of Lincoln Academy’s first ever Cell Phone Challenge. LA senior Ezra Smith was inspired to organize the Cell Phone Challenge after observing increasing cell phone addiction among his peers.

“I have been thinking about this issue since my freshman year, when I did a keynote presentation about how cell phone use was disrupting our relationships with our peers. A lot of people liked that presentation, but nothing actually came of it–there was no action step. The previous school nurse, Ricki Waltz, suggested trying a cell-phone free week, but we never actually made that happen. Then I spent a semester at the Island School [a high school semester program in the Bahamas] last year, where we gave up cell phones for 100 days, and that inspired me to actually make it happen.”

Caleb Wight ’21 (left) and Ezra Smith ’19 (right)

Smith worked with Dean of Students Jake Abbott to find event sponsors, including Sheepscot General, Healthy Lincoln County, and the LA Music Department. He invited local musicians the Oshima Brothers to play and speak to students on Friday, April 26. And he promoted the Challenge at assembly, citing data about cell phone use and teen anxiety and depression to encourage fellow students to unplug for a few days.

Participants who agreed to live without their phones for a few days were entered in a drawing for $100 cash, and their chance of winning increased with each day they left their cell phone locked in Dean of Students Jake Abbott’s office. “I think the prize money helped motivate people,” said Smith. “That really made a difference in how many people participated.”

After picking up their phones on the third day, participants filled out a survey about how it went. “I felt better – like I was taking care of myself,” senior Sam Russ wrote on his survey. “I started sleeping better. Not even more hours. Just higher quality sleep.” Russ was not the only participant who mentioned sleeping better without their phone. Sleep was the number one benefit people mentioned in the surveys.

Of course, there were hard parts, too. Several participants mentioned missing the content on their phones: music, audio books, easy access to recipes, etc. They also mentioned the “fear of missing out,” often referred to as “F.O.M.O.” “The hardest thing would probably not knowing what everyone is up to,” wrote junior Lydia Tilton.

Overall, however, most participants acknowledged that it was not as hard as they expected to go without their phone for three days.

“I always keep my phone in my pocket, so normal activities felt strange with the absence of my phone,” ninth grader Isaac Powell wrote in his survey. “This challenge made me realize I can go without my phone more often.”

While Smith is graduating in June, he hopes the challenge will become an annual event at Lincoln Academy. He has ideas about how to grow participation next year. “The more people do it, the more it will seem normal. Everyone was talking about it this year, even the people who didn’t give up their phones. That is key to having it be successful next year. Also, if everyone gave up their phones at the same time, no one would be left out! People would find other ways to connect.”

A few of the 36 phones left in Dean of Students’ Jake Abbott’s office as part of the Cell Phone Challenge.

“I was thrilled to have as many students participate as we had,” said Jake Abbott. “Interestingly enough, even though the challenge ended last week, I still have two phones in my safe keeping as some students have found their time without the phone to be something they are really happy about.”

Sophomore Caleb Wight of St. George won the $100 cash prize when his name was drawn out of a hat on Friday, May 4. He said that the three days were no problem for him because he participates in Trekkers, an outdoor-based mentor program that requires students to go for weeks at a time without technology. “After Trekkers, three days was no big deal,” said Wight.

As for Smith, who is off to architecture school at Rice University in Houston, Texas in September, he is just happy the Challenge got people talking about their cell phone use. “I wasn’t trying to tell people to change their habits or give up their phones forever. I was just trying to help people be aware of their habits. I think this did that–even for people who didn’t give up their phones!”