I love technology. I love making connections, learning, reading, finding inspiration online. I’ve loved creating this blog, and empowering myself and my business by tapping into online resources, mentors and programs. What I’ve discovered, on the flipside, is that all of this time devoted to technology has sapped me of my time to just be — in nature, with others, by my self.
I wrote the following a year ago, and I wanted to share it with you today, so that you too might consider the role that technology plays in your life. I highly recommend planning a technology detox at least once a year – in the coming weeks we will be sharing with you the tools to help you make this happen. Watch this space! V xx
It began as an off-the-cuff remark from my partner, who was tired of interrupted conversations, interrupted meals, interrupted general flow of life, thanks to my somewhat consuming relationship with my phone. “You need to learn to disconnect,” he said. “All this stress you’ve been bottling up is probably linked to your bad phone habits. You’d be surprised how much time you’d have if you just switched it off once in a while.”
I’m sure I would’ve wrinkled my nose in response. How could I just switch it off? My whole life is in there – my daily schedule, my emails, my friends’ phone numbers, my music, my Facebook, my banking, my google maps, my meal planners, even my exercise videos and diary entries. I adore having conversations with Siri in the morning.
“Siri, what is the weather today?”
“It looks like it’s going to be a nice day today. 33 degrees and sunny.”
“Thanks Siri! Now, what does the fox say?”
“Hahaha. Siri, I love you.”
“I hope you don’t say it to those other mobile phones.”
And so it goes. When I decided to switch off my phone (and Facebook, that wonderfully addictive online drug of choice) for a whole month, I was taking the lead from a friend who’d done the same. I remember thinking she was incredibly gutsy to do so. How else would you coordinate lunch dates, Friday night drinks, share the latest goss and petitions and life events – I rarely know peoples’ emails anymore thanks to Facebook Messenger, in the same way that remembering people’s phone numbers became obsolete with the mobile phone.
I began to wonder – what are the true repercussions of disconnecting from your social network? The more I thought about it, the more I felt prepared to give it a shot. I wanted to read more, to do more, to live more, to be more. This was my chance to prove to myself that I am more than what is within my phone. At 11.59pm, I slid my finger across the screen to switch off.
I blame my iPhone alarm, but by default the first thing I do each morning is check my phone – to hit snooze, to check random Facebook and text messages received after midnight, to gaze bleary-eyed at emails from U.S. agencies sent during their otherworldly working hours.
This morning, I didn’t, and couldn’t reach for my phone. It was already switched off, stored away in the back of my wardrobe. That thing isn’t coming out for a month, I promised myself.
Instead, I reached for my work mobile. I couldn’t switch that off, I reasoned. I was obliged to keep it on for work purposes. What if someone rang from work? Or a client? What if I got an important email? I went straight into my work emails, feeling virtuous that I didn’t have access to Facebook or any of my other personal apps. It took all of two minutes to feel guilty. What’s the point of a phone detox if you’re just going to use another one? It’s like an alcoholic putting down one bottle of spirits with good intentions and picking up another.
I made a deal with myself – I would switch it on only during work hours, hide it in a drawer and disable access to emails. I felt a dull sense of anxiety throughout the day, like something was missing. When evening came, I was at a loss as to what to do with myself, without the pull of Facebook or people to call. I lay on my back on the floor of the living room, eating handfuls of rice crackers whilst swilling cheap champagne and listening to Mike Patton. The restlessness remained, but it was kind of nice to feel a little purposeless.
I get to work with an urge to check Facebook, but don’t want to face the embarrassment of having my online status seen now that I’ve publicly declared my techno-detox. I even have a shockingly fleeting thought of sneaking online in the middle of the night just to change my status to offline, so that no-one could see me check in intermittently. Sheepishly, I talk myself out of it.
By the end of the day I find myself emailing funny online videos to my friends, with the disclaimer that I can still waste time online if I want to…right??
I wake up with no real agenda, and take a lovely walk in the Autumn sunshine with my flatmate. She asks about how the detox is going. “I can’t explain it,” I say. “I just feel like I have the capacity to think all of a sudden.” I tell her how much time exactly I spend plugged in. “Well, I wake up with my phone in my hand to switch the alarm off, check emails…then I’m on the train with my headphones in, iTunes and Facebook running simultaneously. Then, I get to work and spend 8 hours in front of the computer – navigating Outlook, databases, spreadsheets, social media – then I jump back on a train with my headphones back in, get home and chill out in front of the computer until bedtime.”
I turn to my flatmate, feeling a little embarrassed. I’d just realized that I spend up to 15 hours a day in the virtual world. Minus 8 hours of sleep, that leaves me maybe one hour of free time “in the real world” per day. Little wonder I’d been feeling stressed.
I’m asked by one of my dear friends why I haven’t been replying to his Facebook messages lately.
“Dude. You know I’m not using it at the moment, right??”
“Well – Facebook says you’re online! Are you lying about your status to me?”
I’m a bit perplexed – have I been logged in without realising it? It’s not until I open Spotify that I recall that I usually login via my Facebook account for ease of access – same as my Airbnb, Outlook, Instagram accounts, and so the list goes on. How entwined is Facebook into our virtual accounts and signatures? I realise that all these linked applications mean I’m never truly offline on Facebook unless I fully disable my own account – a disconcerting thought.
It’s been two weeks, and the frustration of being disconnected from my friends via the usual communication channels starts to feel overwhelming. One of my ready-to-pop pregnant friends is due any day now, and the fact that I can’t contact her directly makes me uneasy. I buy her a post-pregnancy Pilates book to send with a card.
The friends who said they’d email me haven’t, nor the friends who said they’d even go so far as to write to me. I ask my partner to write me a card because he can’t call or message me. He writes me a little note on the back of a postcard, and promises a longer letter is on its way. I gratefully receive it, and keep it safe in my pocket for the rest of the day, where my phone would normally go.
It’s been three weeks, and whilst I don’t miss Facebook, I do miss my phone. I make a drastic decision – the phone is coming back on, if only to be switched off during certain hours of the day. In all honesty, it doesn’t sit well. I feel like I’ve failed my quest by caving in early.
I get the phone out of the cupboard, press the top button and wait for that familiar apple icon to appear, slowly loading the contents of my past. The first minute is a whir of messages, voicemail alerts, call notifications. Nothing important, no-one died, no disasters. Just a few nice messages from friends, and a million missed calls from mum and dad. After making a few calls to check in on friends, I switch it back off. I decide that maybe I don’t need it after all.
Logging back into Facebook for the first time in 30 days is exciting for all of 30 seconds. My first 1/2 hour is spent responding to the myriad messages and posts sent whilst I was away. And then I start scrolling. It’s lovely to see familiar faces, but I can feel time evaporate in that familiar way it used to. Is it that easy to fall back into habits?
I make a decision. I get up. I switch the computer off. And go outside to do something real with my life. It seems life goes on, beyond the grid.
First published in The Australia Times – Life + Love Magazine.