The recently viral video below inspired me to write a piece I’ve been sitting on since June. Take a look (warning: you might feel a little sad), and then read on…
Unsettling, right? Let me begin…
In 2010, when I was
debating agonizing over quitting my public relations job (and steady paycheck) to pursue writing full time, I got an IM from my good friend and editor at AirTran’s GO Magazine (which I occasional freelanced for). It went something like this:
Brooke: We want someone who is super attached to their Blackberry/computer and connected at all times to take a trip to this remote area of California called The Lost Coast without ANY technology and write about it.
Me: I’m your girl.
Brooke still had to confirm everything with her higher-ups, but I told myself that if I landed the assignment, it would be a sign to quit my job and take the leap.
And I did. And I left my Blackberry Curve on my bed, flew across the country, and navigated The Lost Coast (sans GPS) all by myself for eight days (I mean, what?). And the experience was a life changer…and not just because I hung out with this guy:
It turned out to be an 8-page spread, which is one of the largest (or THE largest) features the mag ever published (!!!). Here’s the link (PDF with big, pretty images or online) if you want to read it.
I returned to civilization (reluctantly) and, over time, reverted to the same smartphone-reliant person I previously was (especially when I got an iPhone in 2012), but I never forgot the experience and what I learned about the importance and benefits of technology detox.
Fast forward to this past June–my friend Chesley’s bachelorette weekend in Vail (I mean, remember the BEST THING EVER?). The very first night (as in, I’d been at the house for three hours max), my phone drowned in a freak water bottle accident while I was showering. I came out, saw the damage, probably dropped my towel surprised-movie-style, internally freaked for a second as I was all the way across the country without an old phone to activate, then thought to myself, No, Ashley, this is good. You’re in this beautiful, new place, there’s no one you need to be in contact with this weekend except the girls you are with, and you need to remember what it’s like to not grab your phone for Instagramming, emailing, or texting every five seconds. And I crawled into bed and fell into a peaceful slumber (minus one metaphorical nightmare about those AT&T kids turning into zombies and trying to steal my iPhone while simultaneously devouring my body).
Admittedly, the first half of Day One was a little tough. I mean, I went cold turkey, you guys! They don’t even recommend that for alcoholics (or so I learned in DUI school). I kept reaching for my nonexistent phone and mentally slapping myself on the wrist every hour (ok, half hour), but it got easier as every minute/conversation/Instagram-worthy happening went by.
I experienced the breathtaking beauty of Vail without thinking, Ok, how am I going to capture this for Instagram and what filter am I going to use? I engaged with the girls without thinking about the #Bachelorette pics and witty remarks I would post on Facebook (and more importantly, how I looked in said pics in case my crush/ex/etc. sees). You know you’ve all thought it.
The main vacay takeaway: When you’re in a situation, yet worried about your phone and what’s happening in the outside world, you’re not fully present in the moment. PERIOD.
I hate to say it, but I feel as though not having my phone in those 2.5 days let me bond with the girls (many of whom I didn’t know that well before) on a different level than if I’d had a mobile device within reach. There’s no disappearing to a corner to check your texts or social media comments; if you’re retreating from the group, it’s to fill up your wine glass and return to the conversation. If there’s a lull or quiet moment, you can’t whip out your phone “real quick” to check your email. Instead, you spice things up and ask everyone what kind of vibrator they’ve been using recently. Or something.
I got to sit next to Chesley during the Saturday night dinner and really talk, even with all her best friends surrounding her. I can’t imagine if my phone had been within reach, or even worse, sitting on the table (gross). And on the 2-hour car ride to the Denver airport, when I normally may have been catching up on email/Facebook/Lulu, we reminisced about the incredible weekend and shared some serious baby waker laughs.
Not only did I develop friendships, but I saw a new place through my own eyes, not through an image I was trying to project on the Internet. Plus, when no one can reach you, it’s freeing. Obviously I let my mom and dog-sitter know the sitch, but aside from them, I was totally off the grid and it…felt…awesome.
And it makes you think, why DO you need to check your phone all the time? What could you possibly be missing that can’t wait an hour (or more)? Why do you NEED to capture every single moment (and let everyone know how ahhh-mazing it is) instead of just experiencing it? Just like in the video, you may miss the joy on your best friend’s face as she makes a wish and blows out her birthday candles because you’re too concerned about letting your Twitter followers know you’re out having fun at a fancy restaurant. #YOLO
I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this, because we all know I am, but I’ve also seen the light of tech detox and how healthy it can be, and I’m trying to be better about my phone habits. Our friend (and male contributor) Trey is making a pact (for the time being) of putting his phone away during all meals, and he did abide by it when we dined together the other day (albeit, it was at Whole Foods and we probably both scarfed our salads in four minutes flat). But it’s a good start! And we did have a nice conversation about relationships (which, in case you don’t know us, is like two blind people talking about seeing a laser light show).
(Obviously, we’re crushing it on Tinder right now.)
Last night, I celebrated a friend’s birthday at a restaurant that’s a total black hole for cell reception and I was glad for the off-the-grid opportunity rather than being annoyed I couldn’t get a signal for social media’ing. We ate, drank, chatted, and laughed, and I didn’t worry about my phone until I got to my car. But of course, the birthday girl took the one group pic and she’s notorious for choosing the WORST FILTERS EVER, so we have pretty poor documentation of the night, but that’s not the point.
The point is: Tech detox. Just something to consider if you’re ever in a faraway land (or your hometown!) and can stand to immobilize your mobile for a couple days.