A Digital Detox for Lent

I suppose it started when I spent a weekend in a monastery a couple of years ago. I remember needing a break from everything to clear the head. I had visited there as a teenager at a tough time in my life where I was rebelling against everything, including myself. Struggling with depression my wife had bought me a weekend in the monastic retreat outside Gloucester to try and solve some of the problems and demons I had been battling with.

It was great to be back. It reminded me of a time of peace and calm, a tiny little bubble of being in the moment. But then I realised every tool I wanted was now on my phone. If I wanted to set an alarm to wake up I needed my phone, if I wanted to take a photo I needed my phone.

Then and Now

Remember that picture that went around not so long ago about how great it was that we used to have to carry around lots of things for different tasks and now most of these could be performed by something that fits in our pocket. I was beginning to feel that this was no longer a good thing. I was starting to develop a love/hate relationship with my iPhone.

I had already decided never to take my iPhone to bed with me, to keep sleep sacrosanct and remove the compulsion to check the latests news or tweets or emails immediately before or after sleep. But by the start of this year I was recognising that this was not enough. Around Christmas I decided to make my Twitter and Instagram accounts private to see if that would help shape how I experienced and used these networks. I found myself less conscious of sharing with everybody and more focused on posting for myself. A small victory.

By the start of March, the idea of lent made me consider a break from my iPhone. I’m not a religious person but I liked the idea of sacrificing something important to me and something I was increasingly feeling I could do without. More so something that I was starting to feel that I was suffering because. So in the same way that some people might give up chocolate or alcohol for a month I felt a strange compulsion to give up my smartphone.

I didn’t want the hassle of changing my number so – being on the Three network – managed to find a 3G feature phone that could … drum roll … make phone calls, send texts and, in desperate moments, play snake or do sums.

Detox

So some thirty days later what have I learned?

Well foremost I’ve learned that I don’t really miss my smartphone. I was expecting to be frustrated but in fact I’ve felt quite liberated. It’s been more of a diet than a detox. With the exception of days when I’m travelling I’ve left my phone at home which has meant rediscovering how to be idle in those moments that pass between doing things: breaks, car and train journeys. The spaces and pauses which we seem so determined to cram full but leave us wired and yet unsatiated.

I’ve started reading more which is no bad thing. But I’ve also found myself wondering what did we do on the loo before smartphones?

So what do I miss?

Spotify although there is something nostalgic and charming about carrying a defined and delimited range of music with you. It reminds me of the days on the top of a double decker bus riding to school using a biro to rewind cassettes as my Boots Walkman could only fast forward.

I do miss Instagram. Of all the social networks I probably find Instagram the least toxic. There is something delightful in seeing the world through other people’s eyes and I do miss the serendipity of capturing moments you see in everyday life, as well as the convenience of being able to record those micro-moments of family life. But then I’m reminded of the time I was fortunate enough to go the Champions League Final in Hamden. I vividly recall the Zidane goal before half-time not just because it was simply sublime (it was) but because I was struck how many people there with cameras were so busy trying to record the occasion that they missed the moment.

So after a month I think I’m going to stick to this crazy experiment. It has certainly made me think about how I interact with technology and the internet. And the potentially toxic relationship we can have with things. It has also made me realise how dependent we have become on these small black boxes, from communication to orientation; from passing time to capturing moments. As the great philosopher Ferris Bueller once remarked, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it”.

Since giving up my iPhone life has slowed down and I’ve found myself looking around so much more. And I like what I see.

Comments

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Thanks for sharing your experiences Cole.
At the time you announced your plan I too had been having the same love/hate relationship with the technology in my life,

Struggling to let go of my devices due to running a virtual business from them, I decided to try a different approach. I went into the settings and disabled all notifications.

The result of which I have to say I have been astounded by. I now look at my phone/iPad at times during the day when I choose. I am a lot more productive in my days as I’m not constantly being interrupted and having my attention taken away from the task in hand.

One thing that has however hit home for me upon reading your experiences is that I will still, more often than not, turn to my phone at those in between times. Which, for someone who practices daily silence, gratitude and personal and environmental awareness, quite frankly annoys me somewhat that this tiny little pocket device has such a pull on me and renders me unable to simply be, in the moment, at so many times during a day.

I have decided to give this a go, mainly to be the example to my boys I want to be. To be more present in everything I do. I’m also going to take this opportunity to purchase a proper camera I have been procrastinating over for years now.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Let’s see how this goes!

Wonderful idea, Cole, thanks for sharing this! I’ve found myself going back to reading paper books and magazines, lately, which has been a lovely experience. I think I might try this myself.

What is this life, if full of care we have no time to stand and stare. Well done!

Great article Cole, quite thought-provoking. I’m just wondering if I could do it though – my reliance on Google Maps and similar services is too strong I think!

I love the then and now pictures Cole. The level of impact a single iPhone can have on your life (both good and bad) is remarkable — and even without noticing it. This experiment is a sure way to find out!! Excellent post.