About Me, ditching my smartphone, mindfulness, technology

Smartphone detox update: 5 months in

August 29, 2017

So, remember that impassioned resolution to ditch the tiny supercomputer in my pocket?

Surprisingly, so do I.

I am the queen of failed resolve and best intentions cast aside in a moment of stress or adversity, so I’m as surprised as anyone that this little self challenge has “stuck,” though perhaps not in the exact way I’d envisioned it initially.

If you’ve been reading along this year, you know that back in the spring, I grew dissatisfied with the way I’d been using the internet and social media (more to the point, the way I was allowing it to use me); particularly the endless vortex of time suck that was the smartphone in my hand at any given moment of the day.

No matter what I was supposed to be focusing on, whether it was the kids, bath time, a writing deadline, a walk, a simple trip to the park or library or 30 seconds stuck at a traffic light, my phone was in my hand, faithfully shielding me from the possibility of ever having to experience boredom or inefficiency.

Except you know the real story: that I was a distracted, disjointed and anxiety-ridden mess prone to losing 20 or 40 minutes of time slumped over the kitchen counter “just plugging my phone in for the night” only to look up, bleary eyed, and see that it was now 11 pm and that Instagram was pretty much exactly as I’d left it last.

Something had to give.

I made the semi dramatic move of downgrading my Samsung Galaxy something to an itty bitty Samsung something else (prepaid from Target, runs on the Verizon network) in exchange for a $35/month phone bill and the ability to still text and use GPS (< my biggest hang up to going back to true dumb phone. Directionally challenged R Us.)

So far? So good. I’ve had a couple dalliances with the devil, most notably when I misplaced my phone backstage at Red Rocks in July (hi Blythe!) and had to schlep down to Target for a replacement, which I was too lazy to immediately equip with the same self-sabbotagoing adjustments I’d made to the original. I told myself “I’m strong now, I can use this in moderation” and wouldn’t ya know it, before a day’s time had passed I was back to my old ways, sending memes to my siblings, checking non-work emails at stoplights, and reading blogs at the table during lunch time while the kids ran in circles around my chair.

After about a week of these shenanigans and fed up with my technological backsliding, I went carefully through my settings deleting and disabling all the tempting internet connectivity, dumbing down my phone to the previous model’s level. The only real problem is that 5 months ago I didn’t really know how I’d “broken” the internet on my phone, and I’d believed it to be irreversible and therefore completely foolproof, even in moments of weakest willpower. Now I know exactly how I did, so in theory I can enable the little bugger to be connected again “in an emergency,” which I’m not thrilled about because I know myself, and myself is a weak willed wuss in emergenci-ahem, moments of ill-planned-for “crises” slash boredom.

Overall, the results of ditching the smartphone have been remarkably positive. I have averaged about a book every 4 days all summer, which works out to roughly 8 books a month. Now, I’m a fast reader, but that’s at least double – if not triple – the amount of reading I’ve been doing in my entire years of mothering. And it’s not just because the kids were needier at younger ages, but because all my “leisure” time and pockets of opportunity were being sucked into the phone.

Am I reading the Odyssey and great spiritual works every moment of the day? Nope. I spent all summer ripping through the collected works of Rosemund Pilcher, which is the literary equivalent of hostess cupcakes in terms of ease of digestion and nutritional content, but at least I was reading again. And it has really helped to rebuild my flagging millennial attention span. This week I’m halfway into Graham Greene’s “The end of the affair” and I am 100% sure I could not have handled his level of writing or his style just a few months ago, so prone to wander was my inattentive subconscious.

I’m even experiencing a resurgence in my ability to read the whole article when I click on something, rather than mentally crapping out at 1000 words and idly clicking away on some other shiny link. (Is that a problem for you? I’ve become like a 9th grade level reader on the internet, and it’s kind of depressing.)

Best of all though? The time with my kids I’ve regained. And the moments of boredom I’ve been “subjected” to which have come to fruition as opportunities to pray, to connect with fleeing moments with other irl people (particularly the short kind) and, honestly, earlier bedtimes.

I’m not doing it perfectly. The first couple months in particular I way overcompensated by spending more time on the laptop. But I’m coming to a better balance and finding my social media appetite decreasing and becoming, frankly, more rightly ordered. I don’t post on Instagram anymore (the most distracting of the big 3 for me) but I still log in once a week or so to peep at friends. I don’t use Twitter or Facebook at all on the weekends, except on rare occasions. And I just find myself generally living less of my life online than before (types the selfd-disclosing blogger.)

The apps I do still have on the moderately dumb phone: WhatsApp (for friends outside the US and an obnoxious group text with my siblings); Voxer (for bi-coastal friends in different time zones with many kids and zero time for phone calls) Gmail (but only for personal email, not for work) and Maps.

And that’s it. And it works for me. The first 3 months I was totally hardcore and deleted WhatsApp and Voxer, but I found myself unable to maintain the relationships that depended on being able to connect across timezones, and so I relented that these particular apps, rather than being a distraction to my “real life” were actually major enhancers, especially when I couldn’t call a friend in real time or visit in person.

Maps is self explanatory. And Gmail may or may not stay, but was desperately necessary when we were signing and updating a billion real estate contracts a week.

So that’s the state of the smartphone update. I would like to continue to pare down on usage by initiating “checking boundaries” whereby there are hard and fast limits to when I reach for the phone and check in, just to further detach from the stupid thing. Interestingly, when I lost my phone earlier this summer at the concert, I had exactly zero panics over it. My husband was honestly more worked up about it than I was, and couldn’t believe I wasn’t freaking out (not my first misplaced tech rodeo, people). But I just wasn’t. The phone wasn’t a big deal to me, and since it was a less than $50 expense, it wasn’t a financially ruinous dilemma, either. (Update: they found the phone and returned it to me, and I was able to swap the old for the new with Target.)

Anyone else out there taken the digital detox plunge? Care to share what has worked or what has been confounding in your own experience? I’m all ears (but don’t expect prompt replies to comments ;))

  • Nikki August 29, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I have been using an app called “Freedom” after contemplating the dumb phone leap and sadly realizing my job couldn’t hack it. I LOVE it. I set it to block certain apps and websites (Facebook, insta, etc…) for large chunks of time and no matter what you do they cannot be accessed. It has been life changing. Cheers to detaching!

  • Jen August 29, 2017 at 11:32 am

    June of 2016 my 1 year old threw my iPhone into the pool. After months of longing to rid myself of this distraction and break the iPhone addiction, I finally had the opportunity. I couldnt do it on my own. I needed a broken phone to finally do it. I got a dumb phone. It took about 2 weeks to detox and I haven’t looked back. Not only has it freed up time that I had been wasting on my iPhone, but the mental clear up has been so refreshing. I no longer think about checking my email, Facebook, etc all the time because I can’t!

    I would love for my husband to do the same. He is an attorney and swore he needed a smart phone for his job. I disagreed so I challenged him to disable the smart settings on his phone for lent (only I knew the password) and he went for 46 days without a smart phone without any issues.

  • Jen @ Into Your Will August 29, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I recently read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and it was both fascinating and disturbing – and also one of the (many) reasons I deactivated Instagram and Facebook for a bit. It’s been almost 2 weeks and I honestly don’t miss them as much as I thought. I would like to find a balance with social media (since I do love me some Instagram and a few awesome groups on FB), but I honestly don’t trust myself to activate them again just yet. Or ever. I do appreciate you sharing your journey with us, as I’m kind of going through one myself and your posts have been encouraging.

    I also find myself reading a lot more and just in general being a better wife and mother. Now whenever I get sucked into my laptop (also a problem I have now that I’m on my phone less), my hubby gently points out: “You’ve been plugged in for awhile, babe.” Gotta love accountability.

  • Hannah August 29, 2017 at 11:40 am

    I work in education research and we’re just starting a project looking into strategies to help high school students reduce their social media use and improve their self-control, so this is topic is at the forefront of my mind! I highly recommend reading the book Irresistible by Adam Alter. It’s all about our collective addiction to our technology, and the specific ways that tech companies design their products to be maximally addictive. You should also check out Tristan Harris, a former Google ethicist who writes and speaks about similar things. It’s not just that we lack willpower (though, speaking for myself, that’s true). It’s also that Google, Apple, and Facebook purposely exploit human weakness to increase profits! So, really, you’re fighting The Man with this detox 😉

  • Emily S. August 29, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    I was hoping to get an update on this! I downloaded an app called moment that helps you track your time. I can’t BELIEVE how much time I spend on instagram! It was kind of disgusted.

    Anyway, thanks for the update, I appreciate it and am coming to follow your ways.