A story of a (partial) digital detox.
Last week I decided to take an extra long Labour Day long weekend and submitted my request for a vacation day on the Friday. I hadn’t taken much time off this summer and felt that an extra long weekend was just what I needed. Especially before heading into September. Although September is my favorite month of the year, it still marks a transition into fall and I wanted to enjoy the “last weekend of summer” to it’s fullest! After I received the approval, I began planning, mostly in my mind, what I could possibly get up to with 4 days off? I mentioned this to the man I had very recently started dating and he was excited to have some time together. Within 48 hours of that vacation request, I had agreed to and booked a (very last minute and spur of the moment) trip to the other side of the country, with this new man. I was looking forward to getting out of town, meeting new people and relaxing by the pool.
After a long travel day, we finally arrived on Friday evening. Immediately I met several of his friends and felt very welcomed into their home. As I put my belongings and my carry-on (he is still impressed I managed to only travel with carry-on!) in the room I was going to occupy for the next 3 nights, I looked at my cell phone. I texted my best friend and my mom to let them both know that I had arrived safely and was looking forward to the upcoming weekend. I received an immediate response from both of them. My best friend replied, “Yay! Good to hear” and my mom replied, “Glad you made it safe. I hope you fit in well.” (Typical mother’s response…even though I’m now 40 years old!). I looked down at my phone again. I hesitated. I then threw it in my bag and went downstairs to join the make shift party.
For the next three days, I met many, many people. I talked, laughed, drank wine and listened to stories and dreams and ideas. As someone who generally has her phone in her back pocket, the first several hours of “no phone” were somewhat disconcerting. I felt like I was missing something. Every few hours, I would hike up the stairs and look at my screen. I contemplated texting friends back home. Just to give them the play by play of my spontaneous weekend. But I managed to refrain.
In a previous social circle, the cell phone was the center of the relationship and was constantly in use, even when we were all together. It would not be unusual to be sitting at brunch and for all of us be on our phones. Apparently scrolling through pages and pages of Facebook feed and Instagram photos was more exciting and engaging than the team sitting around the table. Perhaps this is part of the reason we all eventually went our separate ways. We were unable to connect in any real way. We were great together on text, tagging each other on Facebook and using the appropriate filters on Instagram. But we were not great at the real life conversation and adventure.
While I sat on a strange couch, in an unfamiliar city, meeting everyone for the very first time, I made an observation that many of these new friends did not have a phone in their hands. Yes, it was a party and the party had a Facebook ban (the host was sensitive to the fact that not everyone he knew in the world was invited and did not want to encourage feelings of exclusion for those who may view photos and tags on Facebook), but people were connecting. I felt this relief that I did not need to capture these moments on my phone for a Facebook or Instagram or Twitter post that would need to have the perfect photo and witty caption. Instead, I asked questions, I answered questions, I laughed and I was available and interested to meet this new group of people who had known each other for ages.
There is an increasing wealth of studies and literature on the negative health effects of loneliness and on social media’s contribution to social isolation and feelings of loneliness. The bulk of this literature indicates that humans have a need to belong, to feel part of something, a community. Social connection is the antidote to feelings of loneliness. The weekend without my phone in my back pocket gave me the freedom to be present in the moment and make social connections with real people in real life. Did I meet some amazing people? Absolutely. Did I make friends for life? I have no idea, I guess it depends how the budding relationship goes! Did I learn a valuable lesson about being present? The most valuable. I often speak of being present. I made a great effort this weekend. And although I checked my phone in the morning and at night and even sent an occasional text message to my friend (just to let her know I was still having a good time), this mini digital detox went a long way to encouraging me to do this more often. My best friend and I are going to a football game this upcoming weekend. After I take our traditional selfie and post it on Facebook, I’m putting the phone away for the rest of the night and practicing being present with her. I’m trying…but I am only human!