Let’s fall in love with our telephones off – Langhorne Slim, “Never Break”
I’m not addicted to my phone. I mean, I don’t have to have it all the time. I don’t check it incessantly for no reason. I don’t have triggers throughout my day that cause me to look at it. I don’t get distracted trying to complete a simple task like checking the weather only to realize I’ve been scrolling aimlessly through Instagram for five minutes and I never ended up checking the weather.
Actually, I do all of those things all of the time, but many of them I didn’t realize until my wife and I took a weekend and turned our phones off and left town.
We needed a little getaway to reconnect after a busy season in our lives so I targeted this past weekend as a good time for it. And I wanted to make sure that we spent good, quality time together. And I mean, fully, completely, 100% together, not 80% with each other and 20% on our phones.
So, we decided we would turn our phones off on Saturday morning and turn them back on on Sunday when we needed to get back to the real world to get ready for work on Monday. And it wasn’t just phones, we wanted to avoid screens all together, so no TV, computers, etc.
I know, it’s absolutely ridiculous to think that in reality our phones were only off for a little more than 24 hours, but I learned some serious lessons in that time. They were sobering and eye-opening and I hope to take them with me moving forward.
The first lesson I learned was just how much my phone has become part of my life. If I get out of the car, the last thing I do is disconnect my phone from my charger and put it in my pocket. If it’s not in my pocket when I get out of the car, I can tell from the lack of weight and I panic.
It was freeing in a way to know I’d be alright walking around without it. There was some fear that I might need it in an emergency, but there’s very very few times that would have come up. I had it in my bag in the back of the car, just in case, but I didn’t take it into a restaurant or anything like that.
I also came to realize how often I reach into my pocket to pull my phone out just to look at it. There were situations that arose throughout the day where I found myself impulsively looking to get my phone.
For example, every time I stepped into the restroom, I had the urge to pull my phone out, even for a second to check it. It was like I was in school again and this was the one chance I had to look at it without a teacher noticing.
Another key time that I felt lost without my phone was when my wife would go to the restroom and I’d find myself alone in a restaurant or coffee shop.
What am I supposed to do by myself? I need to be looking at my phone like everyone else! Am I supposed to just sit here and soak in the atmosphere? Am I really expected to be present in this place when there’s an entire online world out there? There’s spam emails to be deleting, cynical jokes full of existential political dread to be reading on Twitter, there’s cute dog videos to look at on Instagram, there’s fake news being posted on Facebook, there’s a neighbor recommending Wal-Mart potato chips on NextDoor, and I’m stuck here drinking some coffee and enjoying the company of the people around me.
Honestly, that was by far my favorite lesson I learned: Be present. No one thinks you’re weird or creepy if your head isn’t buried in your phone. Just sit quietly, observe the world around you, talk with strangers, do something more beneficial with the precious few minutes you have alone.
The third lesson I learned was how tied our world today is to our phones. I had to do a lot of preparation for our weekend trip to be able to pull it off without our phones. Now, if you’re going to a cabin in the woods for the weekend, you can pretty easily survive without a phone. But we went to Fort Worth and experienced the city. We wouldn’t have been able to take an Uber or Lyft without our phones, so we drove ourselves and experienced the nightmare of parking at Sundance Square. Fortunately, they didn’t have the meters that Dallas has which requires the use of a smartphone.
But everything from maps to weather to capturing memories of the trip to even knowing what time it was would have to be done without phones. Spontaneity was essentially out the window for this trip, which was tough for me because I like to be able to think of things on the fly. It was a good exercise that took me out of my comfort zone.
Overall, my wife and I were able to reconnect in a very real way without being distracted with our phones. It was a really beneficial time and I’d recommend it to anyone. Even if you’re not trying to connect with a significant other. It can be a good way to reconnect with yourself, too.
Going forward, I’m deleting many of the apps that use my time up from my phone. I’m going to be more conscious of those involuntary times that I reach for my pocket, I’m putting my phone outside the bedroom so it’s not the first thing I look at in the morning and, most of all, I’m not going to bury my face in a screen out in public. I’m going to be present.
If you’d like to do something similar, here’s how we pulled it off.
Do’s and Don’ts of Screen Free Weekends
Doing a screen free weekend while you’re at your house would be much easier and require less preparation, but we did it on a weekend getaway to Fort Worth, so here’s what we did to prepare.
Do – Print everything out you might need.
I planned out each of our locations, starting with the restaurant we went to for breakfast, then to the Fort Worth Zoo, then to a lunch spot, and more. I Google Mapped each drive and printed out the driving instructions. As much as I could, I didn’t even want to use the car GPS system (though we had to a few times). I also printed out our zoo tickets and anything else we needed. However, I did forget to print out the AirBNB door code, which meant I had to pull my phone out one time. Which leads to the next point.
Don’t – Leave your phone at home.
As cool as it would have been to just completely leave the phones at home, it just isn’t practical in today’s world. I had it turned off in my bag and I did everything possible not to look at it, but when I realized I had forgotten to check the AirBNB code I knew there was no other option besides looking it up. So I turned it on quickly, checked the code and turned it off. I didn’t check any emails or texts or anything in that moment. I felt slightly defeated, but it was a good lesson to learn for next time.
Do – Buy a disposable camera.
If you’re going on a trip, especially to a cool place like the Fort Worth Zoo, you’re going to want to remember it. But these days, everyone’s camera is their phone so there’s no need to think about how you’re going to capture those memories. So, I bought a $12 disposable camera from CVS to solve that problem. Sure, the photos aren’t going to be super high quality, but it’s really about the memories more than trying to take a prize-winning photo at the zoo. I have a nice DSLR camera I could have brought, but I didn’t want to be weighed down by any technology or look at any screens, so the lightweight disposable camera was the right choice.
Don’t – Go off the grid without warning.
If you don’t answer your phone or respond to texts for a day there are likely people in your life who will start to get worried. It sounds ridiculous if you’re old enough to remember days before cell phones, but you know it’s true. Now, I’m not saying I’m popular enough that I had to warn the whole world, but I did text my parents and the friends I talk to the most about it. It feels a little narcissistic, but better that than someone freaking out for no reason.
Do – Provide an emergency contact.
Again, it sounds insane to have to do that for only 24 hours, but the incredible convenience of ubiquitous phone usage is the fact that you can be contacted in case of an emergency at all times. That’s saved countless lives (though texting and driving might have counterbalanced those). So we gave the number of our AirBNB host to my wife’s parents who were watching our dogs. Fortunately that wasn’t ever used, but it’s good to be safe.
Don’t – Worry.
You’ll be fine. The world will go on without your internet scrolling or posting for a day. All of this really does sound crazy to be saying about a short time without a phone, and maybe I’m more addicted than most. But I bet I’m not. Stop and think about the longest you’ve gone without doing anything, and I mean anything, on your phone.
Now think about the longest you’ve gone without looking at a screen, whether that’s a TV, computer, tablet, phone, GPS, etc. It’s impossible to exist in society without looking at a screen unless you’re a mountain man in the woods or something. We’re completely and utterly tied into screen usage. And, yes, I know, you’re reading this on a screen right now. So, turn off whatever device you’re reading this on.
Oh, wait, but first make sure to share this on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, NextDoor, LinkedIn, Xanga, Mastodon, MySpace, IMVU, YouTube, FortNite, or whatever thing keeps you stuck to a screen. Or maybe even print this out and hand it out to friends. Let’s start a screen free revolution. #ScreenFree2019
We fell in love, when I was 19 and now we’re staring at a screen – Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”