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No smartphone day

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Povilas S
Povilas S Aug 31, 2020
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Continuing the topic on how to reduce tech addiction, I think that no smartphone day is a good idea to start with. Especially because - there is no such thing yet, as far as I know. And if anyone knows something about such day already in operation, please share your knowledge. One thing is to make that effort as an individual and that‘s also good, but imagine how powerful and impactful would it be as widely recognized event. Of course the aim would be to make it international. I was thinking the date could be the day that first iPhone was officially released (June 29, 2007) or the day before it, to emphasize the absence, first iPhone being a symbol for the start of extensive use of smartphones.
First of all – does it seem like a good idea to you and would you like to participate in such event (not using any smartphone for a day)? Second – if you have ideas/experience in how to best popularize such thing and make it work, please share it. Some useful information I found:
https://www.nationaldayofunplugging.com/ --> National day of unplugging. Only in US, but good initiative.
https://medium.com/@sarahlafi9/no-phone-day-how-giving-up-my-smart-phone-for-a-day-helped-me-reconsider-my-lifestyle-327485814be --> A well written article on why it would be helpful.
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Identifying our underlying root problem/goal - draw a direct link between signifier and signified, eg “Social-Media free day” or “no screentime day” etc and using its specific data to motivate buy-in

salemandreus Jun 16, 2021
I feel we could benefit from refining our goals in making the awareness day catch on:
There are two reasons for this:
  1. To identify the underlying cause
  2. To more precisely frame the signifier metaphor to match the signified - to ensure the key message to change behaviour actively points to the underlying (signified) message.
What I mean by this is “smartphone addiction” is a phrase often used as a proxy for a number of behaviours but the meaning and our purpose would ideally be afforded by the event to make the movement take off.
My understanding is that smartphones themselves are not the underlying problem we are truly trying to raise awareness of, but in this case actually serving as a proxy metonymy for certain addictive behaviours they facilitate if not used responsibility?
We would be trying to discourage those specific behaviours in this movement, not general cellphone use (for example we are not discouraging the usage of apps like a GPS, google and online shopping or delivery services or decrying cellphones themselves as bad).
Since then a smartphone-free day would actually a symbol for an underlying problem. I will use the examples here of social media addiction and of people’s lack of engagement with the physical world through screen addiction as potential underlying problems.
In these examples proposing social-media-free day (or week, which would be easier with the focus narrowed to just social media) or setting maximum screen times (with a timer that activates and displays the moment you look at your phone) or other regulatory behaviours or better customising notifications or setting oneself unavailable would be the sustainable behaviours we would be wanting to promote people integrating into their lives as the long-term solution.
  1. Defined focus is far easier from a marketing stance. Historically drawing attention to the generalisation of smartphones themselves as a negative has become less successful in marketing due to their increasing inextricability from people’s lives with far more jobs being digital and remote in nature. Due to the associations with nostalgia and many of us having negative association of people complaining about the latest technology (whether TVs, the internet, games or phones) being “bad” as a blanket statement (humorously parodied by Adam Connover ), criticising phones directly without careful marketing may risk us being written off as simply anti-technology and potentially out of touch given it can be argued we’re conflating both the harms and the benefits including the multiple accessibility and vital communication needs inextricably tied to the use of smartphones.
  2. Defined focus to the specific harms would also allow easier gathering of wealth of data on the event itself, to be accumulated as the movement itself grows, in order to build momentum and buy-in beyond the “spare a thought” tendency: eg statistics on the harm of social media addiction - how it affects one’s psychology in terms of causing depression, the harm to productivity, what it costs companies, risk to life and physical health, impact on families, and other data on harm would be easier to find to motivate for a day targeting social media usage (or unmanaged notifications or more than a certain maximum amount of time spent per day on smartphone in terms of cost/benefit to one’s life) rather than the open interpretation of appearing to oppose the utility of phones in general.
This would bring a much larger buy-in - it is a lot harder to dispute the harms of social media addiction or the risks of inattentiveness to one’s surroundings than it is to defend the entire culture of smartphone usage as a whole - ie if a dramatic change also implies negative judgement about their existing habits (and many people are attached/self conscious about their phone lifestyle to the point of becoming defensive about it) they are tempted to jump to the most extreme and emotional interpretation in order to justify themselves, eg “You’re saying cellphones are bad? Well I need mine to look after my elderly relative and be available if my children need a ride home!” (Even if this is not their main use of their phones, their own needs are still technically indisputable).

By contrast if it is made clear the proposal is clearly defined to specific and well-documented harms we wouldn’t be opening it to interpretation (and thus easily strawman-able in debate) on what the actual harms are and what our message is - they will be less inclined to see it as a moralistic judgement/witchhunt on their way of life or freedom with drastically demanded change. People are more open to hard statistics as useful data to consider how they can improve their cellphone usage patterns. The data would be its own persuasion, similarly to how an alcoholic has to see evidence of the harms done by their addiction before they will admit they are an addict and seek treatment.
Once we’ve identified that we’re targeting the underlying cause this leads onto our method employed ie point 2: the relationship between signifier and signified.
Good examples of this are the difference between movember and earth day and also shaving heads for cancer drives. In the case of Movember, many people treat it as simply an opportunity to not shave, which is what it has become, as “no shave november” forgetting that it is a fundraiser. Even fewer people actually know what the fundraiser is actually for - that it’s about men’s health issues such as testicular cancer, prostate cancer and suicide prevention and that the money saved on shaving products is meant to be donated towards those causes. The lack of easy association between the event and the cause metaphorically has meant that

The same was the case in terms of the ice bucket challenge, which went viral but which few people would be able to tell you was actually to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and encourage donations to research and that people linked to the challenge were supposed to donate money. The exact correlation between the challenge and donating money is also less clear, some say only if they did not do the challenge within 24 hours they would have to donate the money. This made the relationship even more confusing as the incentive should then be to “lose” the challenge and donate, in which case one would not be publicising their taking of the challenge to raise awareness. Prior to that there was the “cold water challenge” and the consequences for not taking this were donating money to cancer research, however the meaning behind this became lost where
in some cases the penalty simply became buying drinks for friends
with no connection to charity whatsoever. Another origin of the ice bucket challenge is supposedly
as a means to support pet charities. Thus the distance between signifier and signified meant the precise message became open to interpretation and the intended good effect was largely reduced to a party game/ opportunity for social media narcissism completely devoid of its actual intended context and purpose: generating enough interest in a mass movement to raise awareness and donate. The purposes can be said to have failed due to the mechanism itself (ice buckets/cold water) not reinforcing symbolically the reminders of the actual cause.
The reason this is significant is for example the notion of cutting social media is a very direct relationship between signified (goal) and signifier (the event) as opposed to a cellphone-free day where depending on the underlying purpose it may lose meaning or become a symbolic gesture which becomes divorced from the original interpretation if the ultimate goal is not to get people to move away from cellphones but certain harmful specific cellphone behaviours.
A comparison here would be, if we identify that the main concern behind wanting smartphone free days is not the dependence on phones in all situations (as alarms, medical reminders and ability to keep track of children and caree’s safety or the ability to receive emails while out of office enabling more leave time to spend with family is arguably a good thing) but perhaps prolonged usage and disengagement from the world is the problem, or social media addiction, or unregulated usage, or the addictivenes of social media, or the underlying personal insecurities and other social factors which make social media addictive.
If we don’t address these underlying causes in the signifier itself we may end up failing to address this need - similar to the example of the ice bucket/cold water challenge becoming completely devoid of meaning, people might go off their smartphones for a day only to return with tons of photos (taken by someone else’s phone) tagging them on social media and leading to long conversation threads online which is just a reinforcement of “check in online” culture. In this case all they’ve succeeded in is avoiding their responsibilities for a day while still being active on and promoting social media through reinforcing instagram culture. Hence drilling into the underlying goals and then making sure the signifier aptly reflects the signified intent of this initiative to prevent the message becoming diluted, generalised and even counterproductive to its purpose, as in the above examples.
By contrast, examples of movements which have succeeded in preserving their meaning and association are Earth Day and
CANSA Shavathon
drives because the direct link between the action of head-shaving for cancer wigs AND the naming reinforces the exact cause being foregrounded.
It is impossible to “get your head shaved for cancer” or “donate your hair for cancer” without being reminded of the actual cause and the association with hair loss due to chemotherapy. If someone were to ask you what the CANSA Shavathon referred to and the underlying cause you could easily figure it out and remember it. Similarly, turning off the lights on a day called “earth day” forces us to remember this is for the benefit of the earth. This is a successful relationship between signifier and signified, hence it is so often cited as the key example of a successful awareness day.
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salemandreus3 years ago
I think a for-context practical example from my own life and what sparked the particular example of social media addiction will hopefully make reason 1 clearer and also shed light on the use of that example.

Recently I realised I was becoming increasingly depressed, distracted and unproductive in my smartphone usage and decided to dig deeper because my phone has traditionally been a vital accessibility aid for managing my ADHD.

I realised that while dealing with more depression I was more vulnerable to apps that provided the right “skinner-box” effect for me which is something studies have shown. Also being ADHD and more reliant on gaining phasic dopamine (dopamine due to a stimulus) as explained here by Hank Green due to having lower tonic dopamine (dopamine present between one’s neurons already) I was particularly prone to seeking that phasic dopamine stimulation from social media due to the reinforcing nature of that feedback. Similarly, ADHD/ASD people can often have Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, which made me particularly prone to internalising that negative feedback if it is ongoing. Due to the pandemic, I had been particularly involved in apps involving meeting new people and communities online meaning the anxiety of waiting for replies combined with the fear of rejection as well as the dopamine-deprived need to check responses and the resulting and addictive significance of those responses made a self-reinforcing cycle. This in turn was also impacting my productivity as well as my mental health. In this case, the real solution was not to avoid my phone entirely (impossible for me because my entire scheduling and work system rely on calendar reminders, digital planning for accessibility and Google Keep note-taking or I get very quickly overwhelmed) but rather to uninstall the social media apps and set in place new healthy patterns to overcome social media/(particularly chat app) addiction as that was the actual problem.

The point of this example is in illustrating the often individual and personal nature of people’s own struggles with smartphone dependency or addiction. Ie even though generalised the problem itself is often similar, the triggers and social factors reinforcing the specific behaviour differ and thus require individual approaches to make them usable to the individual and also something they are willing to invest in (similarly to how social media itself is so appealing due to the individual need for personalisation and customising in managing our spaces).

This life change fixed everything that was problematic for me about my smartphone usage in a way while still not removing any of the systems I rely on my phone to support and was actually surprisingly easily implementable through being so non-invasive to my routine yet also tackling the root of the problem (hence more than the 80/20 rule in this case).

Note- I am not arguing against smartphone-free being “the” solution, I am highlighting the importance of ensuring that method used addressing the underlying cause, whatever that may be, and foregrounding the specific behaviour to change/goals to meet/underlying philosophy to the movement to ensure we do not overgeneralise goals.

Some apps are actually really helpful to me in terms of focus and accessibility like Google keep and my calendar which actually makes it easier for me to be less distracted with ADHD and less stressed and through processing the relevant checklist items, etc I'm actually able to engage more with the outside world.

There were other apps like Medisafe which I use to remind me of when to take my medication and I rely a lot on calendar and time notifications to remind me when to do follow-ups.

If I don't use these things I very quickly run out of working memory and it becomes cognitive overload for me, which is far more distracting from my real-world interactions and responsibilities than quickly being able to jot down Google Keep reminders as I think of them and attach them to a snooze date so I can get back to whatever I was doing in the real world.

Relationship between signifier and signified
In this case the actual signified is our dependence on social media, (hence why that example’s signifier would be a social-media-free day) which is orders of magnitude more harmful for us and with the right mechanisms (Substitution and routine change) is easier to change than removing phones entirely.

If removing phones or reducing them from society is not the goal it is useful to identify what the specific underlying end goal is. For example with Earth day the symbolism is clear and direct- energy and sustainability the act itself forces you to think about clear intent of using less power unnecessarily. In this case it’s not so much less usage of phones (many of us cannot leave our phones at home) but different usage of our phones. My examples of social media and screen time were the examples I could identify as being most disruptive but again they were primarily just examples of our signified and thus applicable signifier day/action.

Many of us rely on accessibility apps for meds and appointments and to declutter our minds or as Pomodoro timers and alarms or check in on people dependent on us so we can work or relax effectively - how do we instead instill responsible use?

EG internet is a good example: we need it for online banking, trying to return to a cash society would kill international trade and services and also increase social risk exponentially or at least drastically change our quality of life if we couldn't instant transfer payments or send timeous instant communications.

Different people dependent on phones to different degrees - if I have kids/teens who I need to make sure are safe I can't reasonably go off my smartphone on that day, or if I do someone else needs to be on alert to ensure they get back safely. Thus building accessibility more direct link to the problems here and encouraging personal reflection and personal responsibility for those harmful habits without necessarily making it all-or-nothing as the only option would encourage ongoing and sustainable healthier patterns and a buy-in from our audience in ways that are practical and attainable to their goals as options, but also to facilitate the actual end goal pattern we are aiming for in the first place.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
salemandreus I read your first comment the latest. Will try to make the answer short. Giving up smartphones entirely is not the end goal - yes, but neither is giving up social media entirely nor giving screens entirely, similarly as Earth Day's end goal is not giving up energy use entirely. All those seek or would seek to lower specific activities, so there's no END goal per se. It's about bringing more of a healthy balance to those things, that's kind of the end goal, but it's rather abstract.

I understand that smartphone is immensely helpful in your case and that's great. I'm not against smartphones per se, not even against social media per se, well maybe against tracking per se :D But all those things serve many good purposes as well as some bad ones. So having in mind that we are not trying to eliminate any technology entirely, I think a single day without a smartphone wouldn't hurt anybody and would balance things a bit. It would mean less social media, less tracking, less staring at a screen, etc. on that day, but more importantly, it would make people rethink their needs and possibilities. And yes it would at the same time mean less comfort, less entertainment, less communication, etc., but that's the challenge and the price you have to pay for a good cause.

"if I have kids/teens who I need to make sure are safe I can't reasonably go off my smartphone on that day". Well not so long (a few decades) ago people used to have no cell phones at all, not to mention smartphones. Some more decades ago primary means of communication were letters and people survived, arguably generations raised without digital technology were even healthier and happier than the present generation. So I think we can handle a day without a smartphone. Going "back in time" by giving up technology for some time is also a unique and interesting experience, I wrote about it here:
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
Once again - good points. I agree with what you said, but there are more aspects to consider. First - the options that you suggest (changing the day to no social media day or no screentime day) in those cases there would be no signifier at all - there would be no physical object to associate the meaning with, social media is entirely virtual and reducing screen time is also abstract. Smartphone is very concrete and a rule to not use it for a day is simple. If you were instructed not to use social media for a day you might find yourself wondering what counts and doesn't count as social media and what you can still use.

Apart from social media use and screen addiction, smartphone is also a good symbol for another very relevant problem - tracking and data manipulation. Smartphones are the best tracking devices - all your data is in one place there and even if you don't use internet, you can still be traced and your data collected (so yes, GPS, google, and online shopping very much count in that regard). There is a big difference when you, for example, use ordinary GPS in your car solely for that purpose or go real-life shopping and when you use your phone for navigation/shopping and all that data is being fed back to google and processed together with the rest of your data to make your "profile".

I'm not even sure, maybe I would advocate to not use smartphones at all, this wouldn't work anyway, cause they are too convenient, but a day spent without it could make one want to use it less often and find alternatives for at least some of its functions.
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Everyone chooses their own day and announces it only after

salemandreus May 16, 2021
Prevention of planned crimes targeting people, and reduction of accidents in general
Social engineering - gaining insight into people’s movements and psychology and being able to exploit them - is often how scammers and con artists target people. It is also the biggest vulnerability in cyber security, more than other forms of hacking.
The easiest way to do this is mining publicly accessible information on social media and public forums, eg someone’s post that tomorrow they celebrate tech-free day lets you know they will be offline during certain hours tomorrow, that they will be unaware of news and not checking on or contactable to most of their friends, and may even notify you of their likely/intended location and activities, and the extent of their tech-free experience (eg avoiding phones and internet entirely or just social media?) and how difficult they will be to contact in an emergency.
Having a designated day for everyone in the world to do something tends to exacerbate the risk of such attacks and also to bring other risks when everyone follows the same anomalous behaviour - eg people being trampled on Black Friday due to unusual crowds, people dying on April Fool’s day and Halloween due to the high incidence of pranks, mass car accidents on New Year, and the surge of crime and accidents that occur during festive seasons in general when it is known that people are less vigilant, intoxicated, where tourist locations are crowded and people are more likely to have expensive gifts and extra money/holiday equipment lying around and to be in the same predictable locations (eg a Christmas church service).
Hospitals also tend to be full during the “silly season” (December/January holiday period) due to seasonal violence and accidents, which places a high load on those facilities.
I propose making it the culture for everyone to pick their own day(s) and explain how they celebrated them only afterwards. This would help to prevent the rise in crimes and accidents that would occur if there was a known day that most people did not answer their phones all at the same time - from hustlers to generally targeted break-ins to people being unreachable in accidents to insurance scams targeting on less tech-savvy/ social-media aware relatives while their family are unreachable to verify these are scams in their name.
If the tradition became to announce it publicly only AFTER the day (say, ending the day with mindfulness and reflection before you consider what to post publicly) there would be no heads up for criminals to plan to exploit this culture change, and also no single day for widespread targeting of people.
Accessibility and Service Delivery Remains
Many people rely on ongoing service through tech (eg elderly people, people with limited mobility or dependent on others or relying on delivery services for food, medication, troubleshooting of accessible tech, etc).
If companies en masse took a universal day off this means the load for availability-based services gets distributed, hopefully preventing potential catastrophes on that day (eg tech support are all off-duty while a medicine courier’s system starts malfunctioning).
People could also more easily plan for others to relieve them on their individual days in general (unlike having to find someone to work on a public holiday).

Building a Culture of Personal Tech Responsibility/Wellness - Awareness
Rather than people thinking of it only once a year there would be ongoing awareness shared of the need for setting one’s own personal wellness schedule concerning tech, and greater likelihood of it becoming a general culture change, as people would be encouraged to pick a day knowing they hadn’t missed the date if they forgot an established day.
Similarly to planning one’s own holiday it becomes something personal, that people “own”. Thus people recounting individual tech-free days at different intervals throughout the year reminds us ongoingly of their relevance, unlike earth day which people focus on once a year.

Additional bonuses:
Reinforces the “don’t announce/ pre-plan everything on social media” message
Announcing your future unavailability unnecessarily has a tendency to create additional last minute stress around the time and become counterproductive (similar to planning an elaborate vacation with such heavy logistics that you need more vacation time just to recover from it!) This forces people to think about whom they really want/need to know their availability/contactability and resist the urge to counteractively “check in” with social media before taking time off.

Positive promotion of the event
Similarly to hearing about a holiday AFTER the fact, you are more likely to hear the positives as the person has rested and recovered on their terms. If people broadcast their intentions before the fact you’ll more likely hear about the pre-planning stress of people getting in last-minute requests similarly to when a colleague puts in their leave - and the debates on social media on whether this is necessary or “too political”.

Similarly to the holiday situation, “I went to Disneyland and this is how great it was for me!” is always a more inspiring message than “everyone should try to make time and a budget to go to Disneyland” making people see it as a personal aspiration rather than something they’re failing to do and resenting the preachiness if they don’t have the luxury of taking time offline - positive goals based on people’s proven fun experiences tend to catch on and perpetuate more easily than negative or preventative goals. “This is what I did!” posts after doing something rewarding tend to catch on more easily than “we really should be doing more” appeals to obligation.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
You make good points here. Safety is important. However, the main problem with everyone having their own day instead of a coordinated day for all is that this wouldn't catch up as a cultural trend. Mass events celebrated together with other people have a big cultural impact, if everyone was doing it whenever they choose on their own this would most likely soon die out and be forgotten, whereas huge events have the potential to grow into something more permanent.

The day is not about not using any digital technology, it's just about not using a smartphone. It's now easy to get an "old school" mobile phone for a very low price. One could buy it especially for that day and once tried maybe they would use it more often instead of a smartphone. Some people do switch from smartphones to ordinary mobile phones for anti-tracking, anti-tech addiction, and similar reasons.

Computers can be used for internet while phones for mobile connectivity, separating the two helps maintain privacy and anonymity. Smartphone is the worst device when it comes to tracking - all your data is on a palm there, that's why I propose to start from them. Not using it for a day would mean less of your personal data collected on that day, so it's safer for you in that sense.

Also, it's very likely that people would tend to spend time in bigger groups on that day, meet with friends or just be in public social gatherings - when you have limited access to digital space, you tend to switch to physical, so it's not unsafe when you stay with people or/and in public places.
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General comments

Nitish3 years ago
This is indeed a good idea! Like today we have different activities for addictions especially Yoga camps, self-help groups, motivational seminars, and mindfulness etc. in future we surely need something similar to cope with these unprecedented technological addictions. Therefore, 'No smartphone day' will be a better choice. Kudos!
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Spook Louw
Spook Louw3 years ago
I think this is a great idea and I've recently come across some papers that support this. Dr Cameron Sepah created what she calls dopamine fasting. Essentially, she simply suggests that we cut down on the things we do for instant dopamine hits. Social media being one of the biggest, which of course works well with your idea to stay away from your smartphone.
Here's a nice summary of her idea - https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/dopamine-fasting-misunderstanding-science-spawns-a-maladaptive-fad-2020022618917

I've personally started trying to implement this into my own life and the effects have been phenomenal. As someone who has struggled with addiction before, it's frightening to see how easily tech addiction can take over your daily routine without the warning signs and obvious side effects of drug addiction, for instance.

It's even more difficult, as technology plays such an integral part in our lives and work. Nobody can argue against the benefits of technology, so much so, that it becomes difficult to see the negative effects. This results in this addiction going pretty much unchecked.

This is where the cliched balance comes into play again. Mindful use of technology can be extremely beneficial, but, in order to get into a position where we are able to make decisions on how to use technology in such a way, we need to break free from our addiction first. To do that, I think ideas like yours and Dr Sepah's are vital.

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jnikola4 years ago
Nice idea! I will share with you something I experienced. I was a participant on a 10-day project where the idea was to disconnect from everything and reconnect with yourself again. The first day, we put in a safe all the tech we got (phones, laptops, tablets, cameras, watches) and got only one clock per room. The next day, half of the people were late on a morning session, some people had serious problems missing their families and friends, got a bit depressed and bored. After a few days, things became interesting and interactive, we talked a lot, discussed and solved some local problems and in the end, everybody confirmed it was an amazing feeling to be without the technology. It was an incredible experience, but for people who applied for that project and wanted to participate. For the others, one No smartphone day should be a nice start.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 years ago
Promoting a day like this could be done by a higher net-worth corporation as a marketing campaign (on par with Coca-Cola's Christmas domination). A corporation that is in line with mental health, natural lifestyle, organic/bio/eco food, or something in that direction
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Anja M
Anja M4 years ago
Needless to say this would definitely be helpful. :) However, since smart technology's surrounding us so much (both as a necessity and a side-effect), perhaps it would be smart (pun intended) to promote the idea of one day per month somehow. For example, every 29th of the month, June being the "new year". Maybe having something fixed as a date, for the starters, would help people remember it and note it easily: even if the irony of syncing their calendars to notify of the day at midnight is the initial cost. :)
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