My forced digital detox: a month without a smart phone

A while ago I read a blog from a fellow copywriter – Kate Toon. She talked about going on a digital detox, ditching the digital space for an entire week. No laptops. No tablets. No smart phone. No desktop. Instead, she was going to “exercise, play dinosaurs with my son, take long walks on the beach with my overweight dog, meditate, do some dance lessons, cook real food from scratch, work on the garden”.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I applauded Kate at the time. I knew it was a great decision. One that I’d like to make myself but, in my heart, I also knew I wouldn’t be able to do the same.

My smart phone is one of the tools I couldn’t live without. I check it when I wake up. I check it before I go to sleep. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I have it within arm’s reach all day – even while I’m sitting at my desktop.

The idea of not being connected to everything all the time sounds good on paper but it made my scalp itch a little…until my smart phone died.

The day my smart phone died

It was a new phone I bought off eBay, and a big old hardware failure rendered it useful only as a paperweight. It wasn’t even a good paperweight.

I’m not ready to sign up to another contract so I opened my “old phone” drawer and pulled out my Sony Ericsson something or other. I remember thinking it was so cool when I got it but accessing the internet wasn’t part of its regular functionality.

I was disconnected.

I could call. I could text. But what about Twitter? Google +? Emails? What exciting nuggets would pass me by while I woke up properly, or had breakfast? Or when I left the house?

But then, I survived

It wasn’t a complete digital detox. I was still on my desktop all day. I was far from disconnected, really. But with temptation taken out of my reach I wasn’t working all the time. I actually found time to be idle before and after time in the office.

My brain had time to clear. I daydreamed, I pondered, I played with my dog and chatted to my husband.

It was marvellous!

What did I learn?

I’ve since been able to borrow a smart phone. I spent an evening glued to the screen, installing apps and customising my settings.

What I didn’t do was set any notifications.

Now when I check my phone first thing in the morning, I can’t tell if I have a new email, tweet, Facebook message or G+ comment. Until I make the conscious decision to check any of those things, I’m none the wiser.

Until I go to my office to start work, I still have time to ponder and daydream, to play with my dog and chat to my husband.

It’s the start of a new normal and I think I like it.

26 Responses

  1. Secretly we all dream of the smart phone dying or Facebook crashing for longer than 10 mins and be able to take a break to allow the brain to recuperate from brain fry! I wish my daughter’s smart phone would die. I checked her usage and she has now sent 4455 SMS in a 3 week period… that can’t be normal? 😉

    1. I couldn’t help but laugh Kirsty. That seems a lot but it’s all relative!

      Have you heard of Viber? Free SMS (and calls) over th’internet. If she signs up and gets all her mates to sign up they can text to their fingers content and it won’t cost a dime.

      1. Her plan is unlimited SMS so all’s cool it’s the data she ploughs through each month. These smart phones just make it all too easy! I think I’ve sent 63 SMS in 3 weeks and I thought that was a lot!

  2. Great hearing how you got on without your smart phone, Belinda. My housemate recently returned from a volunteer stint in Africa and I guess the experience put a lot of things in perspective, including how reliant she is on her iPhone. She’s reverted back to an old Nokia (it has
    Snake 3 so not all bad) and only checking social media when she’s on her PC. She said she’s really appreciating watching the world go by…when she’s not playing Snake 🙂

    1. My experience was but a drop in the ocean compared to going to Africa but it gave me some perspective on the “noise” that constant notifications can introduce.

      Time to be idle is something worth cherishing!

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. I recently lost my phone for a morning (turns out my son had moved it!) and it was BRILLIANT! I did have an initial “OMG how am I going to manage?” moment, but once I’d got over that I loved the freedom of not having to constantly check my emails and social media accounts. I’m even thinking of downgrading to a “normal” phone once my iPhone contract is up…

    1. I’m not sure I could go that far Bridie – downgrading I mean – BUT if the constant checking creeps it’s way back into my life, I’d consider it.

      One function I really missed was having GPS/maps. I kept getting lost and having to call home!

      1. It has got to desperate measures in my house!

        Must admit, I do like the map feature – although always find it slightly disconcerting seeing that blue dot and thinking “That’s me”. It’s a bit Big Brother…

  4. I’m not that reliant on my smart phone but I certainly feel lost without it. I do take the precaution of turning it off overnight.

    We had a scheduled power outage a few weeks ago, it went from 9:30am to 1pm and I struggled to find something to do that didn’t include using electricity. Even our hot water needed electricity so I had a choice, either have a cold shower on an icy cold day or just put some clothes on.

    1. Yeah, having no power sure makes you realise how dependant you are on it! We have regular power outages during Winter (with trees on lines etc) and the first time it happened, I didn’t know what to do with myself!

      I am liking the disconnect though…. even if it’s just in downtime. It actually feels like downtime and the shocking part is, I’m not missing out in a single thing! 😮


      Thanks for commenting.

  5. I love the notion of disconnecting from notifications! It’s so challenging to disconnect from technology, as we are so reliant on it. Great effort Belinda.

    1. I think that’s my small concession Merryn. No notifications means I can try to enjoy my mornings and evenings without any knowledge of emails that really can wait until I’m in the work zone.

      So far so good!

  6. I’m in charge of some clients’ social media accounts so unfortunately I need to check my phone regularly in case I need to respond to something.

    But like you, I also recently turned off notifications on some of my own social media accounts, because it does have a way of interrupting and dictating your schedule. It’s much healthier to decide for yourself when you want to spend some time on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

    I don’t think I could live without email on my phone any more though – and I wouldn’t want to. To me (running a business but not sitting at my computer 9-5 every day), that has been the most useful invention in a very long time.

    Hope you’ll enjoy and manage to stick to your ‘new normal’ Belinda.

    1. Hey Micky, I’m not sure I’d even go so far as removing my apps but turning the notifications off so I can enjoy my downtime a little more has been lovely!

      Now that I’m borrowing a smart phone I’m trying to be very good and not even log into email or social media until I’m out of bed, at the very minimum. The challenges of modern life eh?

      I think the effort to disconnect, even if it is just for short bursts each day, is worth it though.

  7. I decided not to buy a smart phone. The main reason was I don’t want to be always on, carrying my work wherever I go in my pocket. I feel sorry for kids today. It’s like they can bear to take a single moment for reflection. Life just passes them by as they make another status update.

    1. That’s very profound Charles! I agree with you though… and it’s not restricted to the young folk. Sometimes I feel like I have a room of chattering monkeys in my brain letting me know I have updates, emails, likes, retweets, pluses to respond to and moments to immortalise with a click.

      Those monkeys should be writing my great novel!

      PS thanks for commenting!

  8. Sorry it’s taken me a while to post. Thanks for mentioning me B and for NOT mentioning the fact that my detox was an abject failure. I too loathe my smart phone, apart from the camera function. I try very hard to leave it at home, at least when I’m walking the dog. But it’s hard. The beach is so lovely and his russet fur glinting in the morning light makes such a good timeline picture… sigh… technology why do you torment me so!

    1. I found the camera and the GPS were the two functions I missed most but it not having them did make me pay more attention to the moment.

      Thanks for opening your soul and sharing the result. I think it’s still a worthy goal and we should all keep on trying!

  9. Great post, Belinda! In the high-tech era we live in, it’s truly essential that we all find some time for subjecting ourselves to a digital detox! As you mentioned in the post- it’s a marvelous thing to do! In the fast pacing reality of Today, we do need some time to enjoy nature, get thrilled by the scent of flowers in the garden, feel excited about the smell of our home-made chocolate-chip cookies, waiting in the oven. We all need our sweet moments of daydreaming, delightful getaways and smiles to share with our family and friends! So your article had a great bottom line for me loudly saying: take due control over your digital life and be a great time manager to also live your real life! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for commenting Velly!

      You’ve painted a picture of Utopia!! It’s ridiculous to think that simply not being “on” all the time is seemingly unachievable or unavoidable. Or that someone not having a smart phone at all (like Charles down below) seems almost unbelievable.

      But I absolutely agree with you. Taking time out IS essential for a more fulfilling existence and the first step is to create a little more non-digital time! *nod*

  10. Hi Belinda,
    It definitely sounds like a learning experience. Similar to the situation with so-called social media addiction, I guess my feeling is that most of these technologies are tools. If we use them that way, we’re fine. It’s when we let them get beyond the tool stage and become our whole lives that we get into trouble.

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