I Took A Tech Fast For 6 Days. It Changed Everything.
Last week, I was forced to temporarily quit my tech addiction.
I locked my phone and laptop in the trunk of a rental car and boarded a plane headed for a family camping trip on the Salmon River in Idaho.
As we rose above the clouds and tilted towards the forested expanse, I thought about my phone and laptop, rendered mute many miles away from me.
My devices and I had not been apart in many years. How many? Ten? Twenty?
Never? Yes, never.
If I force myself to think about it, I’ve spent more time with my phone and laptop than with anything or anyone, ever. From the moment I acquired them years ago, we’ve been literally inseparable.
I admit to an addiction; I just can’t see another way. How does one function in a society that expects constant access? Where in order to be seen as a professional, you better respond within 24 hours? Where in order to be a good friend, you better be reachable?
And yet, for six days, a group of four families, 20 people in all, lived with zero technology between us (save for cameras).
Here’s what happened instead of technology. Every morning, we woke up and felt withdrawal as we could not reach for our phones. We lay in sleeping bags and talked until we got up to pour coffee that was boiling on the stove over a fire. Then we had breakfast and watched the mighty river before us, alive with a world of life above and below its surface.
And then we got into rafts and drift boats and floated down the Salmon River. For hours, we floated. We fished and paddled through rapids and when we got hot, we jumped in the clear, bracing waters. We watched flocks of birds glide through the sky. We sat in silence and watched the pools and eddies and talked about everything and nothing.
At night after dinner, we did not, like many of us usually do, drop off into rabbit holes of tech oblivion populated by emails and texts and Facebook and Netflix. Instead we sat around the fire getting to know one another, sharing stories, exploring thoughts and ideas and world events.
We drank wine and hot chocolate, played cards and watched the darkness set in. When a subject came up that presented a question, we did not google it with phones lying six inches away face down on the table. We just discussed the question till something else came up. And when we ran out of words, we went off to lie under the stars or go into our tents to read our books.
I know. This is not real life. But being cut off from technology made me realize just how much it robs us. It exposed how our devices dominate and commandeer our thoughts and behavior. It exposed how technology devours our mental spaciousness, our ability to hear our own thoughts, our ability to be fully present with others.
For me, six days away from the endless loops of communications had a sweeping effect on my nervous system. I could actually feel my brain chemistry settle into a different state of consciousness. I wasn’t thinking on 26 cylinders. My mind didn't buzz with the infinite pending correspondences. I was able to read a book without my mind racing in the background, forcing me to re-read what I'd just read. Inside my brain, for the first time in I don’t know how long, there was peace. There was space.
Like, here is your brain…not on technology.
I have an app called Moment that tracks how many times a day you check your phone. My average is between 40-60. Get that? 40-60 times a day. Like most of us, I feel I have no choice. I need to stay on top of my game! I need to get right back to people!
Only after breaking from that mental slavery do I see the delusion of that thinking. We create this sense of urgency. This state of urgency is a fiction invented by us as individuals and as a society. And for what? To create a sense of purpose through the rush and the busyness and the whirl of digital communication? No one really needs us that badly, unless it’s an emergency, which it rarely is.
When our kids were little, we had a babysitter from Latvia. Frida is her name. She is ageless, either 60 or 80, and she is like a machine of efficiency, a blur of activity at all times—right next to my own blur.
“Frida,” I said to her one day, “Do you notice we’re always rushing?”
She looked at me and her blue eyes twinkled.
“Yeh, yeh,” she chuckled. “We are all rushing, rushing to the grave.”
I think about that a lot these days.
“Take email off your phone,” my husband suggested.
But I want more. I’ve been back in civilization now for two days, and I still can’t bring myself to turn my phone back on.
I know that once it’s on, I’ll be instantly sent into the relentless, foaming surf of modern life, the sirens calling us all away from all that goes on without consent or witness, the wind in the trees and the sun dappling the hills and the feeling of being truly connected to one another and ourselves.
One more day, I think. One more day it can all wait.
Tell me, Friends, how do you put boundaries around technology?
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