48 hours without my smartphone: I survived
Read this report in Italian: 48 ore senza smartphone: sono sopravvissuta
I survived 48 hours without my smartphone, for the Digital Detox Challenge with Punkt. and the new MP01 Mobile Phone. The story went something like this: “young woman alienated – positively – from the world, takes refuge in books to avoid the people around her”. To be honest there were even times when I felt a bit like an eagle, pausing to scan the horizon or observe people, as though they were prey. I still haven't decided whether I should be happy or worried about this.
48 hours without a smartphone? You need to be organized
In my response to the post from Punkt. which briefly explained what the challenge is about, I explained that 48 hours without a smartphone would mean no access to social media from my mobile, and no use of geolocation or devices with an internet connection, to do anything that would require network access.
So: on my bedside table just an alarm clock and the MP01 (which has an alarm function), during the day around Milan a D80 SLR camera for taking pictures, my iPad with all the notifications off – for playing music, a Field Notes notebook and pen for jotting things down, and a zen mindset.
The weird and the unexpected: prepare for the worst
Prepare for a combination of delight, anxiety and panic. During my first day out and about, I had virtually no contact with the outside world via messages or calls.
I had organised to meet some people, and alerted them in advance that I would be available by text message only, and not via instant messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram etcetera etcetera). The problem is that no-one does normal texting any more. It's the last resort for communicating, given all the alternatives.
I certainly didn't, and neither did my cell phone plan.
My two main problems were: trying to relax every time I had the urge to say something to a friend using an IM app: I didn't do it by text because it felt like it wasn't “important” enough to merit an actual text. What's more: I remembered too late that I had a cell phone plan that did not include texting.
So for the first time in ten years I had to top up using a pre-paid card, undeniably one of life's minor annoyances.
And along with this little taste of 1998, the other stresses were:
- worrying about not hearing the phone's ring tone while listening to music
- having to use a 12 key keyboard for texting
- T9 (part of the previous problem, but prompting a whole chapter of swearing in its own right)
- the fact of writing anything, and I mean anything, that came to mind using a pen or pencil and notebook. I love writing by hand when I have the time, but not when I'm walking down the street
- having to use the maps in the underground to figure out which junction to get off at (luckily the Milan ones are well-designed)
The moment when you realize the true meaning of a digital detox
After about five or six hours of feeling alienated comes this incredible sensation of peace. That's when you finally get the whole purpose of doing a digital detox. After my initial panic I achieved a state of inner calm that enabled me to: take decent photographs, not driven by the idea of having to find something worth sharing, read a whole book in a day (something that had not happened for at least 10 years, not even when I had the flu in 2001), and above all to be much, much more relaxed about social media, something which lasted through the following day too.
What happened, in fact, was that I adapted my need to monitor the online activities of my contacts to my new pace of life, without worrying about missing anything (maybe the fact that no-one told me about something meant that it wasn't that important, right?), and used my computer to check up on most of what was not text messages or phone calls.
And I have to admit that I slept much better too.
Doing a detox means time out from devices, technology and the internet, but also detaching from that futile desire for information that is not of vital importance to your life in the present moment. Maybe this was a predictable consequence, but I only had a hazy idea of it until I actually experienced it on my two-day challenge.
A digital detox is a fantastic way of cutting out distractions and focusing better on your real-life activities, yourself and other people. And understanding what you're better off without. Like checking your phone constantly if no-one has written to you.
If someone has posted something on Facebook that is destined for everyone, but not you in particular, you can decide whether you have time to invest in reading that content. And if you decide not to, your life will carry on more or less exactly the same.
Undoubtedly the main thing is figuring out how to set up a digital detox in a way that is both healthy and convenient for you. The QWERTY keyboard, for example, is magic. A keeper. What I would really like is for phone companies to come up with smartphones equipped with a new mode, along with flight mode, detox mode: one simple click to turn off incoming internet.
But I can't see it happening any time soon.