Lose your phone, find yourself

If a party happens, and no one Tweets it, does it make a sound?

by Sam-Omar Hall

Leave your phone at home.

March 6–7 were the ‘National Day of Unplugging.’ According to the organizers:

We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world…

Friday night, the group Digital Detox held an Unplug SF party. At this party, you’ve got to check your tech at the door — no phones allowed. Other rules include: no networking, no real names, no talk about work.

There were: arts and crafts, massage, a tea lounge, live music, face painting, board games, puzzles, typewriters, a cash bar.

More and more, I feel there’s something special about events and experiences that aren’t over-documented. It’s something I’ve written about before. Ironically, I went to Unplug SF as a journalist, to document it, and study the phenomenon.

What did I find? Overall, it seemed ditching the phones created a safe space where people felt a little more open and a little less self-conscious.


  • Grown-up people still want to draw, paint and do arts and crafts.
  • People were more focused on doing the silly (and fun) activities, not just documenting themselves doing the activities. (For example, friends might spend 15 minutes composing a story on a typewriter, not just snapping the photo op and moving on.)
  • There was great energy at this event. It’s hard to put my finger on it. Part of it was undoubtably the live music. Midtown Social rocked hard, putting on a funky, Stop Making Sense-esque dance party.
  • ENERGY: Let’s assume that at a party, we each have 100 units of energy to give. Let’s say each of us puts some of that energy into our phone — by texting, take selfies, Snapchat, Insta, etc — let’s call that amount of energy E.

Take E x (EACH PERSON AT THE PARTY) = EL (total Energy Lost)

That’s a lot of lost energy, when you add it all up. At a phone-free party, all that energy is saved, spread out, and multiplied.

Midtown Social rocked the house.
adults at play
Arts and crafts — those Gods eyes are harder than they look

At the end of night I chatted with “Honey Bear,” a member of the Digital Detox team. Yes, nicknames are required — it gives the event a sort of masquerade-ball vibe. I was “Clark Kent.”

At one point in the night, Honey Bear was on stage, riding a wave of energy from the crowd, who were still flying high after Midtown Social. H.B. led the attendees through a silly song with matching silly dance moves: “This is a repeat after me song / have you ever seen a penguin dancing? / take a look at me / a penguin you shall see.”

It’s something that wouldn’t be out of place in a kindergarten class. Still, most people in the crowd were following along, laughing.

I wrote in my notebook, “reversion to childhood.”

So, back to Honey Bear. I caught up with him at the end of night, and we chatted. He told me he’s been running camps all his life.

HB: “The moment we feel anything that isn’t comfortable, we bury ourselves in our phones. We use the phones as a shield from our true feelings.”

HB: At our core, we value FUN over most things.

HB: “We all pretend we’re a lot more grown up than we are.”

Me: I saw adults acting like children.
HB: They were adults acting like themselves.

Is an “Unplug” party worth the $15 to $30? Sure, if you have fun. Is Camp Grounded, the tech-free “Summer Camp for Adults,” worth the $500–600? Hard to say. It definitely sounds like an experience.

Sam-Omar Hall is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. He wrote about the Sunset Question: in this day and age, is it possible to just watch a beautiful sunset, and not document it or share it in some way?

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