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New York woman wins chance to ditch smartphone for $100,000

Screen time usage & smartphone addiction

A New York woman is trading her smartphone for the chance to win $100,000 if she can go an entire year without using with her -- or anyone else's -- mobile device.

Fantasy writer Elana Mugdan was selected from a pool of more than 100,000 applicants to VitaminWater's #nophoneforayear contest, the beverage company announced Friday.

Her winning submission stood out for its humor and brand relevance, VitaminWater told CBS MoneyWatch. The former filmmaker directed -- and starred in -- an infomercial for going phoneless.

"We were looking for creativity, originality, cultural or brand relevance, humor, and her post capitalized on all those criteria," said VitaminWater brand manager Natalie Suarez.

The competition's goal matched VitaminWater's: To break monotony. "VitaminWater broke the monotonous water category by adding vitamins and flavor to water. We have always stood for breaking boring habits -- and what's more mindless than scrolling on your phone?" Suarez said.

Friday marks the start of 365 days with access to only a 1996-era mobile phone for Mugdan, who said she's eager to ditch her iPhone 5 to adopt healthier ways of communicating with her friends. She also has her eye set on the cash prize, which she said she'll invest in her career as an independent author -- to help fulfill her dream of becoming a full-time writer.

"Many uses" for the money

"I have no doubt I will make it through a year because there's so much at stake here," Mugdan told CBS MoneyWatch. "Being an indie author, I could put the money toward book tours and marketing. This is my small business that I'm trying to get off the ground, so I have very many uses for it," she said.

Mugdan said she was a natural choice because she has long wanted to limit her smartphone use so that she can finally finish her young-adult novel series.

"I am definitely very, very attached to my smartphone, but I am also constantly complaining about how much my smartphone gets in the way of all the work I have to do. If I'm supposed to be sitting down and focusing on writing, I end up instead on Twitter or Instagram, and that's terrible," she said.

She's both fearful and excited to see where her mind goes in idle moments without the easy distraction. "Those moments are so important to the writing process," she said.

She'll hang on to her job as a receptionist at a luxury real estate company while continuing to write and edit the final three books in her series called "The Shadow War Saga." The first, "Dragon Speaker" was released in 2016, and the second, "Dragon Child," is set to be released in May.   

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Elana Mugdan poses at a book signing. She has been selected as the winner of VitaminWater's #nophoneforayear contest, the company said Friday. Courtesy of VitaminWater

Mugdan said her new no-smartphone-habit could even last longer than a year.

First though, she'll have to navigate challenges like rejecting co-workers' questions about how to set up email on their phones -- and what to do with her free time.  "I'll think about what we used to do for fun, before we had smartphones," she said.

Getting in shape and reading more books are among her goals for the year.

"Infinitely more productive"

"When I don't have this gadget to rely on, then I'll have to find other ways to spend my time that will be infinitely more productive than me scrolling through my Facebook timeline," she said.

Mugdan will rely on a flip phone to make calls while her iPhone remains locked in a "cell phone jail" provided by VitaminWater.

The ban includes tablets, but Mugdan will be able to use a laptop or desktop computer to maintain a social media presence.

She said she's already loathe to give out her new number: "I don't want to fall into the same habits of texting when I should be present in daily life, or writing."