I never realized how much my iPhone has affected my life until I decided to do a 72-hour digital detox. My parents, who live in Portland and are self-proclaimed hippies (the kale-eating, poetry reading, meditating, nature-loving kind of hippies), attended recently their second silent poetry retreat where attendees are asked to hike through the woods, eat morning meals and listen intently as poetry is read to them while staying silent. When my parents told me about this very granola-y retreat they were planning to attend, I definitely rolled my eyes but seeing how rejuvenated, calm and happy they were post-retreat got me thinking perhaps there is something to be said for reducing noise (whether digital or vocal) in ones life. Spurred on by their experience, I decided to do my own version of a silent retreat – a digital one – and commit to 72-hours of no social media, no iPhone apps (generally, no iPhone at all except for brief contact with my husband while he traveled for work), no television, no radio, and no laptop other than to check email 1x per day. The experience was tough, but eye opening. Read on below for a recount of each day’s high points and low points while going digital-free and what I learned.
Day 1 – “Anybody can do anything for one day”
Feeling present with my husband: The first night digital-free, my husband and I sat down for dinner with the television off and minus our phones. We talked about our day as usual, but I felt more engaged, more present. While he glanced at his phone periodically, since I wasn’t on mine, I think it encouraged him to engage with his less.
For years, I’ve been complaining that I feel like our daily conversations have waned because of his phone addicted. But what I realized sitting there at dinner without my phone, is that I have been just as, if not more, unavailable to connect with him due to constantly engaging with my phone.
While most dinners I check my phone periodically, having my phone completely removed from the table and my mind, made me feel incredibly present. I sat up straight, ate mindfully and enjoyed my husband’s company.
Better sleep: Removing my iPhone for just one day and I noticed improved sleep. During the daytime when Chloe naps, I almost never nap because I don’t feel tired. But what I realized quickly is that I am tired, but my mind is so stimulated from devices that I don’t feel it. On the first afternoon digital-free, I felt fatigued and decided to nap during her naps. Usually naps are difficult for me (probably because I lay there trying to nap while on my phone), but on this day, I found sleep easily. I napped almost unheard of four times and almost eradicated my dark circles!
That night, the good sleep continued. I laid in bed and read a magazine around 9pm, at which time I would usually be watching the television. After an hour or so, my eyes felt droopy, my mind relaxed and I slipped into slumber after setting down last week’s New Yorker and turning off my nightstand light. Why this is so amazing: Typically, I head to bed around 10pm only to lay there scrolling through Instagram or surfing the web for 1-2hrs. Finally, when I force myself to set down my phone, I find my mind is so stimulated that I lay awake for yet another 30 minutes before sleep finds me.
Walking in the dark: Our neighborhood is dimly lit which is good because it hides all of the spiders and beetles that come out at night, but is bad because it hides all the spiders and beetles that come out at night. Without my phone I had to walk our dog, Cheddar, in near pitch black darkness. I heard one or two crunches with my steps and walked into one or two spider webs. *shudders*
WHAT I LEARNED
Anybody can do anything for one day.The first 24-hours was a breeze. I did not for one moment miss checking Instagram or watching yet another Netflix show. My mind felt curious and happy to be entertained with the stack of New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines I’ve been neglecting to read. And feeling present with my husband and able to find sleep easily had me thinking perhaps I should continue this forever…
Day 2 – “An at-home vacation”
Connecting with strangers: It is shocking to think about all of the little moments in a day that I fill by looking at my phone. Many of these times are transitional: when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, stopped at a red light while walking, or in the locker room after finishing a workout class. I never realized how important these moments of pause are for connecting with strangers until my phone was removed from the equation.
On day two, I was standing in line at the newly opened Erewhon organic market. Typically, my head would be down and my mind occupied with my phone. But today, it was not. I looked around and my eyes made contact with the woman standing behind me. She smiled. I smiled. I saw she was holding a mason jar of soup. I too was holding a mason jar of Erewhon’s fresh soup. I struck up a conversation with her about which soup she had chosen and why. We nonchalantly bantered about how overpriced yet delicious the soups were and it was the briefest, but pleasantest momentary exchange. I realized how much I miss these exchanges.
Less anxiety: I’m an anxious person. I’ve had exactly two panic attacks in my life. The kind where I feel like I can’t breathe, border lining hyperventilating. The first was while in a crammed elevator in China. The Chinese love to pack an elevator tight to optimize each load’s carry. Good for efficiency, bad if you’re slightly claustrophobic.
The second instance was while standing in line at customs to enter St. Petersburg, Russia. My passport photo is rather outdated failing to capture the lip filler and double eyelid surgery I had post renewing it. So of course my anxious mind began weaving a story of how customs agents would for sure detain me for having a false passport. Sounds ludicrous now, but the anxious mind is never logical.
In my day to day life, my anxiety is manageable if almost imperceptible. Flashes of irrational, anxious thoughts pop up here and there, but I suppose no more than a normal human. What I did notice on day-two of my digital detox is how calm my mind felt. It had the same feeling I get when I’m on a long vacation. I felt present, relaxed, calm and at ease.
Better posture: I am a hunchback. But I always assumed it was due to poor core muscles and habit. What I realized quickly is that interacting with my phone constantly throughout the day is one of, if not the biggest, contributing factors to my poor posture. Without my phone in my hand, I walked my dog standing straight upright looking forward. I stood in line looking straight ahead. I sat in my car at stop lights not peering down at my phone. All of these little moments of stretching my neck downwards were removed and the impact was hugely noticeable.
Feeling isolated: As a stay-at-home mom and a beauty blogger, I spend most days at-home alone. Being able to connect through social media or chat apps with my friends enriches my day with human interaction that I don’t have without it. By the end of the second day I started to feel lonely, especially since my husband left to go out of town for work.
WHAT I LEARNED
Like everything in life, there needs to be balance. While day-one had me singing the praises of life digital-free and thinking I could do this forever, day-two made me realize there are some benefits to technology, like connection, and when used in moderation, good can be had from our phones.
Basically, I started to miss my phone.
Day 3 – “I have an addiction”
Enjoying my daughter: She laughs, I pull out my phone to capture it. She cries, I pull out my phone to capture it. She does something new, I pull out my phone to capture it. Using my phone camera to record moments with Chloe happens all day long. I do enjoy going back and watching old moments, but I realized while going digital-free is that I enjoy each present moment so much more when I’m not worried about capturing it on my phone. I just sit there quietly and watch her intently as she processes the world. Going phone-free around her has enhanced my experiences with her so much.
The web is knowledge: Moving into day-three, I started to feel the pangs of missing the digital space. Countless times a question popped into my head, like “Holy shit, what kind of spider is that black and red one crawling on my ceiling and is it poisonous?!” I wanted to look it up but couldn’t. (Ugh, so I did actually give in and look this up on my phone! Had to. I was so freaked out.)
WHAT I LEARNED
Digital devices allow access to an infinite amount of knowledge readily at our fingertips. I found I began to seriously miss being able to look things up I wanted to know throughout my day.
But I also found that being in the moment with someone rather than trying to capture that moment, is much more rewarding.
I finished my 72-hour digital detox around 12pm today, and since entering the digital space again, I’ve noticed some huge shifts already in how I feel. My eyes feel fatigued just from being on my computer for a few hours typing this blog post. Time seems to fly by. Sitting in front of my computer I glance at the clock every so often and find myself stunned by how quickly time is passing. My computer and my phone distract me so intently for so long, the day flies by. I am less productive. I am more anxious. I check my phone randomly and think about checking it when I am not. I flick on the television and the quickly moving images, bright flashing lights, stimulating sounds overload my senses even though I’ve only been away from them for three days. My eyes dart from one image to the next. I feel mentally fatigued and overstimulated. I shut off the television and feel stunned.
Going digital-free for 72-hours has taught me a lot about how devices impact my life in ways that are so subtle to be almost imperceptible. I’m not sure where I go from here, but I know for sure I will be figuring out how to reduce screen time in my life and capture more of what I felt during day one and two of this digital detox. I’m going to see if I can cut off screen time at 7pm each night and only check my email 1x per day. Let’s see how this goes.
And one final note, if you read this and got to the end (thanks for reading!), I challenge you to try a digital detox yourself. For years I’ve been hearing about how important it is to reduce screen time for better sleep, improved relationships and to feel less anxious, but it wasn’t until I took the steps to actually experience what it felt like to go digital-free that it’s made me a believer, and ready to take action to reduce the amount of time I spend in front of screens. So try it, you may be shocked by what you find.
Written by Amy Chang; Photographed by Wing Ta for BOND EN AVANT