The water trickled down my skirt and I thought little of it. An open water bottle in a canvas bag filled with toys to distract the youngest. But it wasn’t just filled with toys. My phone was also swimming.
I tried reviving it through the rice trick. The taking-the-battery-out trick. The hit-it-on-the-counter trick. The swearing trick. No tricks worked.
The Easter break and the need for a new SIM card conspired against me and I was without a phone for a week and half. For five days over Easter, I had no access to the internet at all.
There are people that are restrained with their phones. They check them sporadically. They leave them at home. I am not one of those people. I am a compulsive checker. Texts, email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Repeat.
Here’s what 10 days away from the constant cycle taught me:
1. I am not addicted to my phone – it’s just a bad habit. Back in the days before touch screen phones, I had a Blackberry. A novel piece of shiny equipment that allowed me to remain in constant email contact with work. I became a Crackberry almost immediately. Compulsively drawn to that red flickering light alerting me to a new email. Despite moving away from a job that required me to be constantly available, I retained that compulsive behaviour. After so many years of constant checking, I thought I’d suffer some kind of withdrawal. Some kind of itchiness. I was surprised to find I did not. This is not addiction – it’s a habit. And habits can be broken.
2. Breaking the cycle, breaks the cycle
I did experience some anxiety, but it wasn’t related to missing out or a lack of connection. It was the fear of what would await me once connectivity was restored. How many emails would I have to deal with? How many comments would I need to reply to? I begged my husband to loan me his phone – not to check my email exactly but to check how many emails I had piling up. In the end, I had a great deal of junk to delete but the number of actual, actionable items was smaller than I expected. By taking myself out of the cycle, I gave myself a break. My lack of response had created a buffer.
3. Urgency is an illusion
When I managed the tech of a fairly large law firm, it was important that I was contactable. I received genuinely urgent requests regularly. That is no longer the case. Yet I behave as though it is imperative I am available to everyone on my email list and social media feed at all times. It isn’t. I have created a constant feeling of urgency, of pressure, a need to constantly stay on top of all content thrown my way. It’s a tiring illusion that doesn’t benefit my life.
4. I am missing more than I realise.
I was more mindful without my phone. I noticed things. I paused and breathed. There are voids of time that I would normally fill with checking social media. Rather than checking the news as a passenger in the car, I played games with the boys and chatted to my husband. When I was in queue for something, I would look around and just “be”. There are spaces in life, periods of nothing, that lend themselves to conversation. To observation. To rest. I thought I’d miss things without my phone. But it left me wondering how much I was missing by having it around.
5. My phone costs me more time than it saves
When I didn’t have my phone with me, I was on-time (even early) to appointments. I didn’t fill imagined spaces of time with scrolling. I didn’t pretend to check the time and then check dozens of other things before panicking about being late. I had to plan how to get places, rather than rely on an app. I knew I didn’t have my phone to alert anyone about a change of plans. All around, I was more polite, more considerate and more organised without my phone.
Maybe ‘easy’ isn’t everything. Maybe having the entire world at my fingertips is blinding me to the smaller, more immediate world around me. Maybe I’m not really that busy – or stressed – but my phone habits make me feel like I am.
I could sum up my ten days in one word: liberation. Which is strange. No one is forcing me to check my phone, yet I do and I now realise there is some resentment about that. Maybe I need to re-establish who is master and who is servant in that particular phone relationship.
I am happy to be reunited with a working phone, but ten days away was no bad thing.
Have you ever been forced to take a break away from social media?
More ways to switch off:
- How to Slow Down in a Culture of Busy
- 3 Tricks for Fitting Family Dinner Into Your Busy Schedule
- What A Family Sea Change Really Feels Like