I vowed to go screen-free this past long holiday weekend. I made the decision last Wednesday feeling the need to make a holiday a holiday. A real, unplugged one. My rules for a digital detox were simple:
- Use my phone only to make calls. Since it’s my primary camera, I could use it take photos, but I set a limit of 5 a day. (A big victory: I didn’t take a single photograph Friday through Sunday! Read my essay for The Huffington Post on this issue: Put Your Camera Down. Now. And Your Smartphone Too).
- That meant no checking email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or anything else I might be tempted to check, even if it counts as “fun” not work.
I even left my phone at home on Saturday, knowing that if anyone really needed to reach me while I was at the (wonderful!) 4th of July Hollywood Bowl celebration, they could call my husband’s phone.
It was definitely liberating. In some moments, there was a slight feeling of emptiness, of having nothing to do. We’re so used to looking down at our phones every free minute we have, even if we’re in line at Starbucks. What happened to just looking around and letting our mind wander? That’s supposed to be the recipe for creativity after all.
Going screen-free for a long holiday weekend put into perspective how silly our attachment to our smartphones can be. We don’t need them as much as we think we do.
I first became conscious of my over-dependence on my phone when I read this piece on how everybody should, and could, go “screen-free” for a week, with tips and advice to do so. The tip that resonated the most with me was not to look at my phone while “waiting,” whether it was at a grocery story check-out line, a coffee shop or at a red light (I know! I admit it was a bad habit.) Once I made the resolution not to do that, I became aware of just how much I looked at my phone during any spare minute I had. It was freeing, and relaxing, not to.
I learned another great tip from Gretchen Rubin, author of one of my favorite books, “The Happiness Project” (more on that very soon). She visited Santa Monica this spring during the tour for her new book, “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” During the event that I attended, she spoke about having “quitting time,” after which she didn’t look at her phone until the next day.
Rubin said she leaves her phone inside the pocket of her coat in the closet, or somewhere just as out-of-the-way; not checking her phone before bed or first thing in the morning—allowing for a grace period after waking up before she checks her device. Arianna Huffington has mentioned this too (more on her book “Thrive” also coming very soon!).
After hearing her talk, I started to leave my phone in the living room at night, or in the pocket of my purse when I get home in the evening. I realized that if anyone needs me, I’ll hear it ring! It don’t need to have it right next to me at all times.
To be sure, smartphones are great tools, both for work and play. I personally enjoy scrolling through Instagram, reading my Twitter lists and taking photos. It’s also the main way I read The New York Times and news articles. But I don’t need to be doing that ALL the time. In fact, I now know that it’s important to go out of my way to create time during the day when I specifically don’t do all those things. If you’re out to dinner at any restaurant, you’ll notice often that more people are looking at their phones than at each other. That makes me want to put my phone away even more.
It’s worth noting that even Steve Jobs, arguably the inventor of the modern smartphone, restricted screen time for his children.
I find that managing my screen time is a very important component of finding the right work-lfe balance. When I don’t make the conscious effort to put my phone away, I feel more stressed and anxious, because I feel like I am always “on.”
It’s not just smartphones, of course. It’s also about not lingering on my lap top too long in the evenings, or watching too much TV, which takes up free time, in the mornings and nights before and after work, that could be used for other hobbies, pursuits and conversations. My husband (henceforth referred to as N on this blog) and I have become better about not watching TV just to watch it, but enjoying a few good shows together. (The Daily Show With Jon Stewart–yes! We’re mourning the end–and these days True Detective, Ballers, the Brink, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.)
I challenge you to choose one weekend, any weekend, to try this screen-free challenge.
More importantly, I challenge you to:
- Try out not checking your phone while “waiting,” allowing for some empty moments when you’re mind is resting.
- Give yourself some time before bed and once you wake up without your phone every day.
That way, we can use our smartphones (and the corresponding digital and social media world), with all their advantages, in full force during the day. But we can also give ourselves quiet moments throughout for our minds to rest and to be fully present wherever we are, and time at night and in the morning to breathe and be with ourselves, friends and families.
Photo credit Victor Hanacek, Picjumbo.