Could you live without your smartphone for a year? A filmmaker and YA fantasy author from New York is about to try in an effort to win $100,000.
Vitaminwater launched a contest in December, offering one contestant the opportunity to end up with six figures should he or she be able to go a full year without engaging with a smartphone or tablet.
After sorting through over 100,000 entries submitted on Twitter and Instagram detailing how they would approach the challenge, Vitaminwater named the company's chosen candidate on Friday.
Elana Mugdan, 30, submitted an infomercial-style video on Twitter that impressed the judges with its unique approach and humor. "She stood out for her originality and creative take on our challenge," says Natalia Suarez, associate brand manager at Coca-Cola (Vitaminwater's parent company).
Mugdan is trading in her iPhone 5S for a Kyocera flip phone provided by Vitaminwater. For the next year, she can't use any smartphones or tablets at all, even those belonging to other people. She will be able to use laptops and desktop computers. Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo are OK, too, as long as they're not hooked up to a smartphone.
Getting picked to compete came as an absolute surprise to Mugdan. "I really thought that I was a good fit for it, but this was the kind of thing I never expected that I would actually win," Mugdan tells CNBC Make It.
"At first I was in shock [when they called me]. I'm kind of an anxious person, so I was having a panic attack," she says. But shock quickly turned to anticipation, and now she feels she's up for the challenge.
"I'm kind of excited," she says. "I'm very conscious of the fact that I'm super dependent" on her phone, adding that she, like many millennials, wastes a lot of time throughout the day doing "mindless scrolling."
That's a habit she hopes this competition forces her to break.
The upcoming year without a smartphone will be "an adventure," she says. "It's a challenge for me, but I believe I'm equal to it."
The chosen contestant almost didn't enter at all, because she didn't know it was happening. "I kind of live under a rock," Mugdan says. "I honestly I would never have found out about this independently, but I had friends who messaged me and they sent me the articles."
Even then, she procrastinated. "I was distracted with book stuff, but it was always in the back of my mind," she says.
Finally, she sat down and filmed her entry while her friends were over for a holiday party. "I was just like, 'I'm going to have fun with it,'" she says.
The prize money was the biggest motivator. "I really need help — I'm mega poor," she says. "Writing is not paying the bills yet." To earn a living, she works as a receptionist at a luxury real estate firm out on Long Island.
But the idea of getting rid of her smartphone also appealed to her. Mugdan admits she's not the best in social situations and sometimes uses her phone as "a crutch." So she sees the competition as an opportunity to grow.
"I really need to get better with the human interaction aspect of my life," she says. "I think being without the phone and having to navigate the social waters on my own without the use of technology will be a really great learning experience for me, actually."
Mugdan is looking forward to her year without a smartphone. She plans to take the time she currently spends on social media and put it towards finishing her five-book, young adult fantasy series. She published the first book, "Dragon Speaker," last year in the U.S. and launched a self-organized tour to promote the series in January.
But while she loved sharing her book with readers in places like Ohio, Kansas and Illinois, driving to future engagements after Book Two comes out in May may prove challenging without her smartphone. "I mostly use the phone or our map directions and stuff to get around to my book tour places. So I think is actually going be a major roadblock for me," she says.
"It would just require a lot of planning on my part, so I will have to map everything out very carefully and make sure I know where I'm going so that I don't get lost," she says. "We'll see how it goes. Within a week, I might end up actually getting a TomTom or whatever."
The other challenge? Giving up her gaming community. Mugdan plays a mobile game called "War Dragons," which has connected her to players all around the world. This week, she bid farewell to her online friends, which was unexpectedly emotional. "It was actually pretty difficult in the end to say goodbye to people who've become my friends over the past three years," she says.
In addition to navigation and gaming, she uses her phone on a daily basis to set calendar reminders and alarms, but she's confident she can find simple workarounds.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking about being without my smartphone for the next year and I've become very cognizant of how I use my phone throughout the day," she says. "I got along without the phone for years so I'm pretty sure that I can re-adjust." But, she adds, she expects it will take a bit to get used to the older style phone again.
"I have big plans for the money," Mugdan says. The $100,000 would certainly help with her day-to-day expenses: "I have been struggling for a decade and I'm tired of it."
Should she win, Mugdan plans to invest most of the winnings into her small business focused around her books and publishing activities. "I would love to get to the point where my writing is what sustains me," she says.
Mugan also wants to help others. "I also realized that I am very privileged and I am very lucky, and I have a safety net that a lot of people don't have," she says.
So a portion of the funds will go to charities, she says, specifically ones that support environmental and human rights causes. She'd also like to do something to fight back against student loan debt, an issue that affects many of her friends.
While she hasn't worked out all the details, Mugdan says that she'd like to use some of her winnings as seed money to help fundraise for several organizations.
"I have this fantastic once a lifetime opportunity. You know you only get one chance, right?" she says. "So I want to use it for something good — I want to make a difference, make an impact, and get people talking about important things."
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