I was driving to my weekly volunteer event when the voice of my digital guide chirped, "You have arrived at your destination" — but I was nowhere near where I needed to be.
Instead, with the slip of a finger on my driving directions app, I'd driven 25 minutes in the wrong direction to the neighborhood where I'd had my taxes done a few days earlier.
While there's no doubt that "smart" technologies have benefited our lives in myriad ways, my GPS fail was a wake-up call to just how over-reliant on these powerful (yet hardly foolproof) devices I'd become. And I'm not alone in finding it difficult to put them down; it's estimated that on average, we check our phones 2,617 times…not every week or month but every day.
Which is why I resolved, in the wake of my misadventure, to experiment with a "digital detox" and attempt to go screen-free for 48 hours. I was skeptical that two days could make a real difference, but excited to leave emails and the turbulent news cycle behind. What follows is my account of how I did it, what I learned and ways to approach your own tech timeout.
Before you surrender your phone, I found it's important to set some ground rules. Be flexible and create a plan that makes sense for you. Here's how I prepped for my digital detox:
Put some thought into what is motivating your break. I wanted to clear my mind so I could be more present with my children and model more Zen-like behavior to them.
Arrange a solid block of time. My detox took place over a weekend. I disconnected at roughly 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and did not touch my phone again until 9 a.m. on Monday morning.
Take time to really ask yourself, What am I going to do with the time I reclaim? I wrote out everything I wanted to do, from actions that could become habitual (cooking from a cookbook, cleaning out my closet) to activities I've been meaning to start (experimenting with essential oils, meditating).
I told friends and family of my plan before putting my smartphone into Do Not Disturb mode. I allowed phone calls from only my "favorites" — which I designated as my ex-husband, who had the kids for the weekend. Then, I hid my phone in the closet.
Two days might not seem like a substantial amount of time, but the impact of looking up and away from my phone and out into the world was immediate. Within an hour of waking up in the morning, I felt more relaxed and mindful. Unburdened of the immediate distraction of checking emails, I was more respectful of myself: I drank a large glass of water and enjoyed a revitalizing 20-minute outdoor meditation.
Streaming music online is great …but so is listening to a classic vinyl studio album, start to finish, with no interruptions. I found myself really hearing and absorbing the lyrics — imagery of shining lights filling dark streets and feeling the earth beneath one's feet. It filled my soul with happiness.
As it turns out, lavender oil behind the ears and on the wrist is indeed calming — more so than the trigger check of email or texts. Also, turning inward and away from a screen gave me undivided attention to my thoughts. While alone at dinner and immersed in thought, I uncovered a repressed memory that will be helpful in my memoir-in-progress. (It is said that tech addiction can cause impaired memory.)
I was also reminded that I can, in fact, cook unaided by the Internet. I made two wonderful meals during detox: a tofu scramble from my imagination and a warm kale salad from a cookbook. I was thrilled to learn that I still know how to use a physical map to get around. I charted a trip from my home in Los Angeles to Redondo Beach to meet a friend for a hike. In reengaging this somewhat lost art of navigation, I gained a great sense of satisfaction and self-sufficiency along the way.
I'm going to continue to make space for breaks from continuous connectivity in small ways every day. I spoke with others who encourage the occasional tech-break to get their advice and go-to techniques.
Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher and author of The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, recommends keeping screens out of the bedroom and bathroom. She also says to embark upon a tech-free walk once a day, and take an occasional five-minute "sense loop," during which you ask yourself what you're feeling, seeing, tasting and hearing.
Kids and adults alike can benefit from time away from their devices. Illustrator and children's book author Jill Dryer suggests parents allow screen time only if it can help your child learn or build things. Leave out stuff like cardboard boxes, tape and scissors, Dryer suggests, and see what happens. "Before you know it, robot costumes, airplanes, tiny concert stages and bug houses will magically appear," says Dryer.
Painter Dede Gold has a tech-free exercise that you can do with your hands. "Take a mirror," Gold says. "With whatever medium you have — pen, pencil, charcoal, anything goes…and express your portrait. Look into your own eyes, breathe deeply and calmly and just be. Really see what you're seeing." She says the practice can be a disarming, very meditative exercise. "And you might just create something beautiful in the process."
Despite it just being one weekend, I learned a lot about my relationship to technology during my two technology-free days. And I highly recommend it to anyone looking to reset and enjoy the slower, sweeter things in life.
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