THERE ARE mornings, and then there are good mornings. A recent good morning for me looked something like this: sections of the newspaper, folded in half, lying in drifts on the patio table. A cup of coffee. Me, sitting in a woven chair staring at a fig—which had, over the past few days, ripened into the shape of a bulbous old-man nose—drooping from one of the dozen trees growing in pots on my balcony. It was the perfect time of day, too, that sliver of morning just before the sun pumps the sky with a more exuberant shade of blue and strips the cool from the air.
I’d like to say that this is a typical scene from my daily ritual, that I usually spend my weekend mornings in the company of fig trees clapping their fat-fingered leaves to the drum of the wind, or that I get my news from articles written in narrow columns on broadsheets. But that wouldn’t be true. In fact, if it were any other day, and if this were any other week, I’d probably be holed up in the living room, catching up on a favorite show or scrolling through my friends’ social-media feeds.
But I’d made the tough call to unplug for seven days, a whole week devoid of such distractions as TV, social media, texting and the internet. It was time to put my bad browsing habits to bed, tamp down screen time and make better decisions on how I spend sizable chunks of my day. It was important—necessary, even. I had read numerous reports on how taking time off from the digital world helps increase productivity, reduce stress, boost well-being, cultivate new relationships and relieve tech anxiety (which is very much a real thing) and was eager to give the trend a whirl.
Planning the experiment was somewhat of a conundrum because I knew I had to be realistic. I wasn’t going on a fancy tech-free retreat and had a few deadlines to meet, which is why I decided to tailor the experience to accommodate necessary activities like answering work-related emails and phone calls. At first, it was odd. Wait, I have to jog in silence? Do I know anyone with a record player? Does my Kindle count? It took me a day or two to adjust to having conversations without Google, the master fact-checker, which quells curiosity but leads most conversations into a sort of verbal cul-de-sac.
I can say without a doubt that not having access to the world’s largest encyclopedia made every exchange fuller, unhurried and free-flowing. (Not to mention, the whole “You’re wrong,” “no, you’re wrong” aspect of the debate game was exciting, to say the least.) Another upside? Not being diverted from real-life experiences, like my Sunday stroll through the farmers market, the evening I spent assembling puzzles with my fiance and neighbors, or that one afternoon I watched a snake knot and unknot and weave through blades of grass like a slow-moving current. I stood there next to my dog, her tongue lolling out in the heat, and watched—for close to 15 minutes. “What? You saw another snake in front of our apartment?” my fiance asked, expecting photo evidence (it was my second snake sighting that month). “Yes, and you’ll just have to believe me,” I said, finding peace in that concept.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING ON A DIGITAL SABBATICAL
Ready to put that iPhone on airplane mode? Read on
You’ll be the last to know everything.
And that’s fine, because you’ll finally conquer your fear of missing out. From what I’ve learned, if the news is big enough and important enough, it’ll make its way to you via word of mouth, aka the oldest and most tried-and-true form of communication.
Some people just won’t get it.
Case in point: By the time my mother remembered to call instead of text, my weeklong detox was already coming to an end. Some friends didn’t get the memo, either. Word to the wise: disable push-notifications. Or better yet, turn off the Wi-Fi for a temptation-free zone.
You’ll have to work on curbing your impulses.
Because withdrawal symptoms take a while to fade. Things I almost Googled: the shelf life of cucumbers, the plural of cul-de-sac (used here in this article), the current location of The Red Vineyard, the only painting van Gogh sold during his lifetime, and lastly, ways to stop my dog from trying to snack on dead squirrels.
You’ll notice just how much time other people spend on their phones.
It’s the equivalent of being the only vegan at a backyard barbecue shindig. Or a teetotaler at a bar. (You might even be tempted to recruit a digital carnivore to do your dirty Googling work for you. Don’t.) But if your experience is anything like mine, your case of odd-man-out syndrome will fade surprisingly fast.
Your patience will be put to the test.
You’ll learn a thing or two about practicing patience and the pains of waiting—for the next episode of your favorite show (that you know is already available to the rest of the world), for a rundown on the highs and lows of your significant other’s day at work or for that package to arrive without you tracking its every move.
You’ll have to plan some activities.
Find out what’s hopping during your cleanse week before you disconnect. Mosey down to the nearest live music joint or hunker down for some stand-up comedy. Plan shopping trips or coffee
dates with friends. Dust off the cobwebs from your stash of board games. Venture outside, stop and smell—not photograph—the roses. There are plenty of things to do that don’t involve a screen and power button.
MORE WAYS TO UNPLUG
Lucky for you the internet is a treasure trove for practically anything—even for tips on escaping the internet. If a week sans data doesn’t sound appealing to you, here are a few more ideas to help you find your zen and stay balanced in the digital world.
Eliminate your most-used gadget
If you are not too gung-ho about removing every ounce of technology from your life, stick to just one gadget. Determine which device is your biggest guilty-pleasure addiction, and then—and this is the hard part—stow it away for a set amount of days. Or better yet, leave it in the hands of a trusted friend or family member if you know you’re prone to cheating.
Limit hours of usage
Tots aren’t the only ones who could use a digital curfew. Enforcing a “no technology after (insert time here)” rule will help free your mind of its preoccupations and curb late-night scrolling habits. (Bonus points if you get your family members on the tech-free bandwagon). Similarly, you can dedicate just an hour or two to digital the world and scale back the rest of the time. When you know you have limited time with technology, you’ll find yourself watching something you genuinely want to watch or texting someone you really want to engage with. Time spent with your favorite screen will feel more like a reward rather than a banal pastime activity.
Detox from social media
Do you look at things through IG-tinted glasses, sharing everything from your culinary exploits to your latest Caribbean vacation? Have you fallen into a habit of lavishing too much attention on the feeds of well-heeled globetrotting social-media personalities? If you’re shaking your head no, try downloading one of the many apps that track just how many hours you spend perusing social media—Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram—over the course of the day. If the number staggers you, maybe that’s a good sign to hit the uninstall button.
Plan a tech-free getaway
Set up an out-of-office away message and put your vacation days to good use by opting for all-out escape from the pressures of swiping, commenting and liking. Digital Detox, “a mindfulness-based and psychological-driven program,” for example, hosts retreats jam-packed with meditation sessions, guided hikes and detox workshops across the country year-round (There’s one in Texas coming up in October). Alternatively, pack up your tent and sleeping bags and go on a camping trip for an experience that won’t break the bank.