Fantasy or reality? Going without smartphone for 1 year

YA author, in Perrinville Sunday, promoting her magical book, adjusting to life with a dumbphone
By Brian Soergel | Apr 25, 2019
Courtesy of: Elana Mugdan Elana Mugdan will be dressed in full costume for her appearance April 28 at The Neverending Bookshop.

Taking away a smartphone from millennials is kinda like depriving them of food and water.

So why would a 30-year-old named Elana Mugdan, a filmmaker and young-adult author from New York City, ditch her iPhone 5S computer-in-a-pocket for – yikes! – a flip phone, endearingly known these days as a “dumb phone”?

There’s a good reason – 100,000 of them, really.

Mugdan was chosen from 100,000 Twitter and Instagram entries in a contest sponsored by Vitaminwater to go one year sans smartphone. That year started Feb. 15. At the end of the year, Mugdan will take a lie detector test to determine if she followed the rules.


If she passes, the money is hers. If the scroll-free journey is too tough to take after crossing the six-month mark, she can tap out and claim a $10,000 consolation prize.

If she succeeds, most of the $100 grand will go toward Mugdan’s ongoing book tour, as well as her plans to donate copies of her books to schools and libraries across the nation to promote the love of reading, fantasy, and imagination.

Of course, it’s all good publicity for her book tour, which stops in Perrinville 1 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at The Neverending Bookshop. She is promoting her book “Dragon Speaker,” which follows the quest of Keriya Nameless, a young woman unable to wield magic, and therefore crippled in her culture.

As her promo material states: “Her quest begins with a god – a mysterious dragon – who seeks her out to defeat an evil in the world. As Keriya ventures through her realm, it becomes clear that not all is as it seems …”

“I'll be attending the event in full medieval costume,” Mugdan said, not through her flip phone (a Kyocera donated by Vitaminwater), but via her laptop. She can’t use tablets, either – just a laptop or desktop. “The event is kid- and family friendly.”

“Dragon Speaker” is the first in a cycle of five novels in Mugdan's young adult fantasy series, “The Shadow War Saga.” After having been published in 2016 by Pen Works Media in England, the book was accepted as an outstanding independent work by DartFrog Books, a leading sponsor of indie authors and booksellers in America.

The challenge

On Sunday, Mugdan will certainly talk about her experiences living smartphone-free, #nophoneforayear.

“It has been surprisingly easy,” she said, again, via email from her laptop. “It has given me a breath of fresh air. Like most millennials, I was addicted to my old smartphone. It came everywhere with me; I used it to amuse myself (read: distract myself) in ‘boring’ social situations, and I even slept with it in my bed.”

(All those who can relate, please raise the smartphone in your hand.)

Mugdan, or course, did have practical uses for her smartphone, namely navigation, as she’s been traveling alone across the country on her book tour.

“But the usefulness of the tool was outweighed by how much time I wasted on social sites, mobile games, and mindless texting or scrolling,” she said.

“I was aware of how much time I wasted on it, and how it was affecting my writing productivity – and yes, even my personal relationships – but I would never have given it up without the impetus of the challenge.”

Now listen to this.

“Now that I have given it up, I am considering never going back to smartphone use,” she said/wrote.

The horror.

But wait.

“I've seen an incredible increase in my productivity, I'm spending more time writing and reading, and I'm focusing on how I interact in social situations and improving my attitude and engagement with others.”

She finds that – surprise – she’s happier and less stressed now that she’s not glued to the screen and feeling the need to constantly check her notifications throughout the day.

“In the first few days of the challenge there was a lot of FOMO” – that’s Fear Of Missing Out – “on what was happening online, but I quickly realized that online notifications will be waiting for me at the end of the day when I return home to deal with them. But if I miss a moment in real life because I'm fooling around on my smartphone, it's gone forever.”

Kind of like Snapchat, but we digress.

Mudgan, who says she lives a quiet but eccentric life with her pet rescue snake, Medusa, continues: “I can see positive changes in my life, and I believe I can make them permanent after the challenge is complete. Overall I'm incredibly grateful, not only to have been given this opportunity, but to have learned something important from it.

“Without the smartphone I feel better, and I also feel like I'm becoming a better person. Every day is a learning experience, and I am no longer taking those experiences for granted. It's been a wild ride so far, and I'm excited to continue my adventures.”

Mugdan’s second novel, “Dragon Child,” book two of “The Shadow War Saga,” will be published May 17 with a celebration in the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City, the world's largest bookstore.

If you want to follow Mugdan’s adventures, you can check out her weekly vlog of her phone-free observations and experiences on her YouTube channel at

The Neverending Bookshop is at 7350 Olympic View Drive, No. 105, in Perrinville Village in Lynnwood.


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