I recently spent a weekend without technology. Most people choose juice diets or going tee-total. But I needed a different kind of detox. I needed to leave the virtual world behind and find reality again.
I’d become obsessed with staring at an LCD screen. If it wasn’t my phone, it was my laptop or my iPad. When I was desperate, I’d even turn to TV. I couldn’t be disconnected; on the surface I said it was “just in case”, but underneath I knew it went deeper. I was emotionally invested in online relationships. With people I love, people I’ve met, and complete and utter strangers. There was an absolute fear of missing out – on what, I don’t know. But the truth is I never missed a thing.
I’m a Millennial. A Generation Y. I’ve grown up with the Internet as a fact of life. It was never the groundbreaking invention that changed everything I knew. It just was. From a young age I had a mobile phone thanks to my father’s job at a telecoms company. We had a family computer from the age of ten and when I turned 15 I got my own PC in my bedroom.
Most of the communication I’ve had throughout my life has been through technology. It has been immediate and instantly gratifying. It has been rewarding, mostly. But now it’s becoming destructive.
This became strikingly apparent after my three days spent in the digital darkness, offline for a whole weekend. Not only did I realise how unnecessary all these gadgets and gizmos we rely on are, but I also discovered how they change me as a person. It was a relaxing, rejuvenating and invigorating weekend right up until the night before we were due to reconnect. As I began to count the hours until I could log on again, I felt sudden pangs of anxiety at the thought of getting my phone back. I became distracted and irritable. I felt stressed.
The weekend away allowed me to take a step back. I looked at my former connected self and I recognised a number of traits that I could relate to my affinity for the Internet and technology. (Although that’s not to say I wouldn’t still be all of these things even without the digital sphere I live in; many of them are simply amplified by the connections I have.)
I realised I’m no longer in control. My life is dictated by notifications, tags, uploads, downloads, 3G, 4G and wifi and it’s become an unhealthy obsession. An addiction.
I realised something had to change. When I left Somerset I had it all figured out: no phone at least half an hour before bed; non work-related devices would remain on airplane mode for the duration of my 9-5; I’d read more; write a diary; get a map. These things would help keep me sane as I weaned myself off the connections I craved and eventually I wouldn’t need such drastic measures at all. I’d be completely secure in myself, on my own, in the now. I’d be back to normal.
I’d love to be able to tell you that it has worked. I’d love to say I have a new relationship with my phone. But in a wonderfully ironic reality, even as I sit here typing this on my laptop I’m switching between tabs to check Facebook; eyes flickering toward my phone looking for messages as the TV flashes silent pictures from the other end of the room.
My first digital detox wasn’t a failure, it was a learning curve. It won’t be my last, and one day I’ll find peace with my electronics.