What I Learned From My Digital Detox
It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.
I'm willing to bet that wherever you are right now, there are at least two or more screens in the same room with you. First, you're probably reading this on your phone, and then there's your laptop in the corner—Oh, and your tablet's sitting right next to you.
The fact is our devices are now involved in nearly every part of our lives. We depend on our smartphones for everything from staying in touch with co-workers and friends to tracking our workouts to waking us up. (Admit it, you sleep with your phone, too.) And social media? There's no denying it, we're completely addicted.
Technology has its upsides (cute cat videos, having the whole of human knowledge in your pocket, etc.), but it also causes more stress. In fact, due to this constant connectedness, Americans are more stressed than ever. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 48% of workers said they check e-mail outside of work "frequently," and these people unsurprisingly reported more stress.
Like everyone else, I rely on technology for everything from driving directions, to e-mail, to taking photos of you know, literally everything for my Instagram. And to be honest, I'm not sure how it affects my mind and body. Certainly I am familiar with the wired feeling that's a side effect of scrolling through Facebook for too long. But as a young person, I don't really remember what it was like before technology reigned.
In this age of digital addiction, I decided to do a detox because I wanted to test myself. I wanted to know: how reliant am I, really, on these screens? And would I feel better?
So I went “off the grid” for one whole weekend (as with any challenge, it's important to have a realistic goal): I shut off all of my digital devices, dodged TVs, and even ran for the landline phone when it rang. From Friday evening to Monday morning I was 21st century incommunicado—no Internet, no text messages, no nothing.
Here's what I learned, sans Google and Kardashian headlines.
I missed information the most
It wasn’t the missed texts, emails, or movies that I missed the most; it was the loss of the connection to limitless information. Three out of four times that I reached for my phone and stopped myself, I did it because I wanted to look something up. When Googling isn’t an option, you have to actually talk to someone. Instead of looking up the definition of a word in the book I was reading, I asked my roommate if she knew. And she did! This is a great reminder to communicate with the actual people around you. They might surprise you.
Sleeping was heavenly
And so was waking up. I went to bed when I told myself I would go to bed, not an hour of Instagram lurking later than I said I would, and I woke up refreshed. Instead of being roused by an angrily ringing alarm set on my iPhone, I woke up when my body told me to wake up. This, of course, is mostly a weekend luxury, but it also felt incredible to wake up and look out my window instead of immediately checking my e-mail and any overnight notifications.
I do have time to read!
Surprise, surprise. When I turned off my devices, I stopped wasting time aimlessly browsing through the Internet, giving me more time to relax with a good book.
I actually don't care what everyone's doing
To be perfectly honest, my biggest fear going into this was how much I would miss out on while unplugged. But I didn’t have much FOMO at all during the weekend. Going without devices forced me to plan out my weekend in advance, where I would meet my friends and at what time, and remind people to call me on my landline instead of my cell if they wanted to reach me. My days were totally uninterrupted by mobile alerts, and I enjoyed feeling totally present in every situation I was in.
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I have to admit that as soon as I picked up my phone when it was all over, the FOMO hit me hard. Just waiting for it to turn on gave me anxiety—I'm embarrassed to say my heart actually raced—about all the messages and news I missed. But this was fleeting once I realized none of it really mattered.
I’m not nearly as dependent on my devices as I thought I was
The biggest surprise was how little I missed my electronics. I definitely wasn’t constantly thinking about checking Instagram or my news apps. Sure, it wasn’t ideal going for a run without my Spotify playlists, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.
All in all, this digital detox definitely put technology in perspective for me. It was liberating to not think about it, and so much fun to have longer, uninterrupted conversations with the people I was around.
The best part is this feeling bled into the rest of my week; my serene weekend allowed me to focus better when I went back to work. Not only was I more rested, but I also didn't feel the need to constantly check my phone, thanks to what I learned.
While it's totally unrealistic to quit technology completely, my experiment suggests that even a few days off the technology sauce can work wonders in terms of having a truly restorative weekend.
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