About six weeks ago we were sitting around the conference table spitballing ideas on New Years’ Resolutions when my name was volunteered for a week-long, tech-free social experiment. It’s a little hypocritical for our workplace—we’re active contributors to non-stop screen face. But, hey, I’ll try anything once. I gleefully agreed to the story centered around giving up my iPhone for a whole week, imagining a Simple Life kind of throwback, bedazzled Razr and Von Dutch hat, included. It fit right into this unhealthy tendency of mine to package moments based on how they’ll appear on social media—aka, ‘doing it for the gram.’ It didn’t occur to me until a few weeks later that without a phone, there would be no ‘gram to do it for. And there began the most deeply existential week of my life.
It might not sound like much, but it got me thinking: if no one knows that I’ve gone phone-free, then why go phone-free at all? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? As a company that revolves around the consumption of media and all its platforms, how would a story denouncing its very own essence pan out? I had a lot of deep-think questions for a challenge so seemingly straightforward. But, I’m nothing if not a woman who sticks to her word, so there was no turning back, and I chose a seven-day period precariously wedged between my birthday and a long weekend in Mexico, both occasions where I felt I’d need an on-the-go method of communication.
I think many people would scoff at the idea of going phone-free, citing safety or accessibility or even gasping “my whole life is on my phone!” which is testament enough to how dependent we’ve become on technology. Yet in this Goop-y, wellness-obsessed new age, the mention of detox of any kind is just as mundane and expected as ‘hello.’ Falling somewhere in the middle of that dichotomy—I am both entirely dependent on my iPhone’s calendar and have my shaman Whitefeather on speed-dial—the thought of giving it up didn’t inconvenience me. It was the prescience that my social currency, and, in turn, a large chunk of my public self was most likely dependent on a pocket-sized piece of plastic and glass. As the week approached, however, this small challenge became a mental beast—it had led me down a black hole of self-absorbed introspection with a newfound knack for dramatizing the prosaic and inflating everything, and I mean everything to an investigation of the point of life.
“It was harder than I thought, actively avoiding the reactions of my peers and loved ones on my venture into tech-free life. I wanted to know what they thought, wanted the validation that what I was doing was interesting or exciting or crazy.”
When D-day arrived, I was in full swing melancholic depression and hadn’t bothered to even notify my social circle that I’d be unreachable for seven days. ‘What’s the point’, I moped, ‘I’m one year closer to 30 and nothing matters anymore.’ I quickly slapped together an Insta-story prompting people to email me and sent some quick fire memo-like texts before plugging in my phone and getting in bed to watch Grace & Frankie.
Image Via Sex and The City Movie
The next morning I woke and reached instinctually for my phone, royally fucking up my challenge before it had even begun. I had a screen full of notifications, and though I desperately wanted to check, I pulled out the sim card and stored the useless device in a used Ziploc sandwich bag. It was harder than I thought, actively avoiding the reactions of my peers and loved ones on my venture into tech-free life. I wanted to know what they thought, wanted the validation that what I was doing was interesting or exciting or crazy. Peering down at my sad sandwiched iPhone, I knew I’d have to wait for these answers, whatever they may be. My day plowed on without too many hiccups; I missed my train, was late for an interview and visited four different bookstores trying to find a copy of Stoner, nothing out of the ordinary. I was so caught up in the minutia of my day-to-day that I didn’t realize how quickly time had passed.
“Falling somewhere in the middle of that dichotomy—I am both entirely dependent on my iPhone’s calendar and have my shaman Whitefeather on speed-dial—the thought of giving it up didn’t inconvenience me. It was the prescience that my social currency, and, in turn, a large chunk of my public self was most likely dependent on a pocket-sized piece of plastic and glass.”
Truth: I’ve always struggled with being present—living in the moment and giving my current activity its due attention. I gravitate towards the rush of anticipation, bypassing moments of pensiveness. And, by eliminating my phone, it was interesting to see that I was able to do this without even thinking. Essentially by removing this “distraction” from my hand, I brought myself more into the present moment.
So, before I knew it, it was day six and I gave zero-shits about the brewing anxiety of disconnection. It was there, sure, but like everything else mildly inconvenient in my life, I knew that I was well-trained to suppress the feeling. And then it hit me; this unwelcome sense of reassuring calm. I’d given up on trying to cure the curiosity of outside opinion and in the quiet of my own company felt just fine.
Socializing isn’t one of my god given graces, and maybe that’s fueled my insatiable desire to seek the energy of others. On the inverse, filling voids is something I excel at—whether on my screen, in my arms, my lips, up my nose, or at the end of achingly long bar tabs—I’ve tried every method to count. And it’s wild how much value I’ve placed on the retinue of others, while seldom stopping to consider that my own presence has worth, too. Because it’s simpler to replace our own thoughts with those of others. Self-assessment is messy and frightening and oftentimes we come out of it with more questions than we had going in.
“It’s wild how much value I’ve placed on the retinue of others, while seldom stopping to consider that my own presence has worth, too.”
We’ve become accustomed to a life lived by data, where the word metrics is used colloquially and in turn, a concept so nebulous as happiness becomes harder to grasp. It makes everything in life that isn’t quantifiable by a tiny heart icon feel immensely overwhelming. Unable to process the gravity of something that can’t and won’t ever be measurable, it urges us to seek simple comfort in things that can—likes, followers, matches, messages. We’ve reduced our social interactions to moments that can be captured on camera, adored by the online handles of friends and strangers, optimized for a life lived on-screen.
Image Via Sex and The City Movie
But it’s only when you dive into the annals of loneliness that you begin to understand the wealth of solitude. In the past six months, I’ve rid myself of a lot: I gave up drugs and drinking and sex, said goodbye to all the dealers and friends and late night texts that made it all so easy. And without the warm codeine blanket of others, I’ve given myself more love than ever in my life. It took a week of total disconnect for me to validate my life changes, and further cemented in me a need to self-center. Amazing how a small plastic device can truly clutter our thoughts that much, right?