KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Hey, this is Shannon. I’m a reporter with WBIR and am – full disclosure – a millennial. I got my first iPhone as a freshman in college back in 2011. It was an iPhone 3, the indestructible kind with no front facing camera but full access to the worldwide web.
A lot of us have smart phones now, whether you got the first iPhone in 2008 or just joined the smart phone world today.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve really become dependent on our phones. We use the GPS apps to navigate the world. We text information and messages to our people. We rely on the Facebook app to remind us when our friends have birthdays. All your contacts, addresses, emails, pictures, music, and anything you need to Google are all one tap away on that metal rectangle in your pocket.
So what happens if you try to go smart phone-less in a smart phone-dependent world? Could you take a road trip using only a paper map? Commemorate it all with pictures you have to develop later? Do you even have a paper phone book anymore?
Well, I tried out. My coworker Tate Johnson and I ditched technology for a day to try to see what we could accomplish.
Spoiler: it was harder than we thought.
We were given a list of tasks to complete throughout the day:
- Acquire a map and a disposable camera
- Find a payphone or public phone
- Order a pizza
- Drive to Norris Dam
- Develop our photos
The only technology we used on our journey included a self-check out station at Target, a copy machine at the library, a landline phone to order a pizza and the cameras we used to document the whole experiment.
No computers, no smart phones, no GPS devices.
Our day started out at 10 a.m. when we decided we should buy a map and a disposable camera to remember the day by. We headed to Target where we learned very quickly from the employees that Target sells disposable cameras, but it doesn’t sell maps. I was shocked. Like, what? Isn’t that a pretty normal thing to sell?
Looking back now there were several other places we could have checked for maps of the East Tennessee area. Triple A, Barnes and Noble, and Visit Knoxville were a few that came to mind. But we decided to try out the Knox County Library next.
Tate and I went to the Bearden Branch Library where branch manager Susan Poorbaugh helped us look through a state atlas. We needed a map from Knoxville to Norris Dam, which I could not for the life of me place. I thought it was on Douglas Lake near Dandridge, which was super wrong. Clearly a map was needed. Susan photocopied the atlas for us, highlighted our route, and we were on our way.
Before we headed to the dam, we decided it was time to order our pizza. So we had to find a number for a pizza place.
There are only a handful of phone numbers I know off the top of my head, and they’re all my family members and they all live in Florida. We were going to have to find a phone book or a flyer for a pizza place in order to know who to call.
Tate and I headed to Sequoyah Hills. We reasoned as an older Knoxville neighborhood, maybe we’d find a payphone with a phone book attached? We landed here after scouring Kingston Pike for a payphone to no avail. I’m convinced payphones and phone booths are totally a thing of the past. Where is Superman supposed to change now??
We had no luck driving around, so we stopped by the Sequoyah Hills Branch Library while we were in the area. We happened to show up on a day the library was closed.
This is when I really start getting annoyed.
Why is it this hard to find a phone? I mean, yeah, we could walk in to a business and ask to borrow one. But they don’t have to say yes. And we didn’t want to give up that easily. With no pizza number and no phone, we carried on.
And then, something truly serendipitous happened that I will never forget.
Driving down Cumberland Avenue by UT looking for a payphone, a Domino’s Pizza delivery car merged in front of us.
On the back of the car, a small magnet with their phone number printed on it.
It appears there is a purpose for advertising on cars.
I ecstatically reached for a pen, which I couldn’t find, so I reached for my lip gloss and Susan’s business card and wrote down the number.
Who needs a pen and a phone when you have lip gloss and your eyes?
If anyone cross-stitches that on a throw pillow, send me a picture.
While rejoicing over our small victory, Tate remembered she may have seen a wall phone inside the Knoxville Convention Center. We were feeling like winners, so why not give it a try?
After being thrown off by a couple of lying signs, we did in fact find a phone on a wall in the convention center, and I was able to order a pizza.
We went with a medium cheese pizza, and added some Diet Cokes to meet the delivery fee minimum. We ate our pizza in the car victoriously.
Now it was time to head to Norris Dam, which honestly was much easier than I expected after learning which direction I needed to drive.
Shout out to road signs and Susan for making that trip pretty smooth. We drove across Norris Dam, and were feeling on top of the world! Or, on top of the dam, rather.
After documenting our day and sometimes grabbing for my cell phone that wasn’t there, we made the trek back to Knoxville to develop our photos.
Disposable cameras are rare nowadays. Doris Distefano at Fleetwood Photo says they used to get hundreds of them and develop them all in house. Now, they get a handful every now and then and send them off to an outside developer. It takes about a week and a half to get them developed, and they don’t print them for you anymore, just load them onto a CD. At the time of my writing this, the photos have not come in.
Of all the people I talked to during this journey, they all kind of realized along with me how dependent we all are on our phones. It took us about 5 hours to do all of the above tasks. With a GPS and online pizza ordering and taking pictures on our phone, we would have cut that time down drastically.
It definitely made me think twice about the reasons I’m picking up my phone. Do I need it for something? Or am I just looking at the screen as a force of habit?
I realized there are a lot of places around Knoxville and the surrounding area that I can get to without the help of a GPS, but there are more that I can’t. I realized I should maybe memorize more phone numbers in case of an emergency. I learned how much the internet has truly helped us as a society, but at times made us a little blind to the natural world we live in.
In hindsight, I’m sure there were easier ways Tate and I could have ticked off that list of tech-free chores. But that journey was so fun going on that scavenger hunt together, with no phones barring our conversations with each other and the people we met along the way.
So if you’re able to cut yourself off from your phone for a day, I say do it. Challenge yourself to live like you used to before your phone was glued to your hand, or your wrist, because smart watches count, too.
Thanks for reading my rant. Happy navigating!