I needed to disconnect. Recharge my batteries. Get a whole host of ‘home-work’ done. So as a family we took a few days off. On one of those days, a spur of the moment idea to go ‘phone free’ and ‘give my laptop a rest’ really tested me. It was a lot more difficult than I imagined.
Physical separation was important. I had to put my phone in a drawer away from me and ensure my laptop was in its bag and out of sight. For a few minutes after I put them away I had a strange sense of satisfaction. Half an hour into this experiment and I was completely at a loose end. Just could not figure out what to do with myself.
The emotions kept changing through the day. I felt guilt. What if someone needs to reach me urgently? What if I miss out on responding to an important message?
I felt relief. This feels weirdly nice. Like the tentacles of the World Wide Web of connections I am a part of have suddenly let go of me. I am free to do as I please.
I felt disconnected. I didn’t know what was going on. No Twitter feed, no LinkedIn and FB to keep me up to date. No email to make me feel important and in control.
I felt connected with myself. Slowly my mind settled. I asked myself what I wanted to do that I had not found the time for ? I had a pile of books waiting for me. So that’s what I did. I read a few chapters of a book called ‘Flow’, which sparked a few ideas. I spent time with my thoughts.
I felt irritated when I saw other’s around me tethered to their devices. A silent smile lost to me as they connected with others. A sudden burst of sound as a video from the social media scrolling that captures fancy of someone nearby plays aloud, interrupting my chain of thought. Sometimes there is an apology and a turning down of the volume or a plugging in of ear phones. Sometimes my glare of indignation is lost on the person who is so caught up in the web.
My world Vs. The world. Shared screens are different from personal screens. I enjoyed watching a show on Netflix with my wife and son. It was a simple story based in the book ‘Anne of Green Gables’, called ‘Anne with a E’. Interestingly it was a time before high technology and these awesome devices had got hold of our attention. I enjoyed being transported back to that world and being reminded of the fact that the things that are really important in life have not changed. It also made me think about the difference between ‘my device’ and a ‘shared device’ – in this case the television enabled us as a family to connect with each other and the world.
Five tips for anyone who plans to disconnect from their device.
- Put the device out of reach and out of sight. The temptation to dip into it for a quick dopamine hit is very high, so ensure you make it difficult to sneak a peek when no one is watching.
- Give people a heads up. As difficult as it is for you, it may be even tougher for those used to having you at their fingertips.
- Set out of office alerts for email. I am not sure what the equivalent is for social media, but that is worth thinking about too.
- Expect to feel a bit lost. In the first few hours, my hands were empty and I was literally fidgeting to find my way. It got better towards the evening and I daresay I could get used to the idea of exploring the space it frees up.
- Prepare for re-entry. This was tougher than I thought it would be too. After just a day away there was a fair bit of apologising to be done to people, calls to be returned, fires to be doused.
In the end, it’s what I make of it when left to my own devices. I feel that I must make a more measured and mindful choice. Have I gone back to the way things were? No, I have not. It made me think how I could integrate this idea a bit more into a day in my life. For now, I no longer pick up my phone before I brush my teeth and have a brush with the real world. I choose to enter the day through a different door now. My one day experiment has opened up a new path for me to explore. I am now screening my early morning screen time.
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