Have you ever been excited about a red light because it meant you could use your phone for 34 seconds while driving?
Have you ever developed the sleight of hand skills of a card shark so that you can hide your phone when a flight attendant comes by to check that you’ve got it in airplane mode before takeoff?
No? Just me then? Fair enough. You’re a bastion of Luddite technological resistance. You probably printed this article out on homemade paper you dried in a backyard kiln next to your suburban chickens. Ten days off of social media is laughable to you.
To me, it was a marathon of epic proportions.
In case you didn’t notice the more than 40,000 tweets sent from my account @JonAcuff, I use social media a lot. I also get lost mentally in email when I check it on my phone. A single message can parachute me right out of a vacation moment if I dare to sneak a glance at it.
So for 10 days I didn’t check any social media or my email. I had some pre-scheduled updates already going out, like tweets about a charity event I did, but for that 10-day period I didn’t touch any social media or open my email.
Here’s what I learned during that experience.
1. Putting your phone down doesn’t trigger an avalanche of creativity.
We sometimes demonize our phones, as if they are singlehandedly ruining our lives and blocking us from untold moments of quiet reflection and the creativity these always carry. Maybe my break wasn’t long enough, but upon putting my phone down, I did not find in its place acres of new ideas. I had no single eureka moment that will forever change my life going forward. Disappointing, I know, but there it is.
2. I’m not that important.
I often respond to email in the middle of dinner as if I’m a brain surgeon who must reply less people perish without my witty remarks. But not a single one of my followers online noticed. Get this, they apparently have their own lives and families and jobs. Turns out I’m not that important.
3. I use work as my identity too much.
If you want to find out where you are placing your identity and self worth, stop doing something for 10 days and see if your soul pitches a fit. I’ve long known that workahol is a tonic I’m prone to imbibe, but I was not aware of how deep the addiction ran until I took some time away from email.
4. I use my phone as a force field against the quiet.
If I get the slightest hint that I’m about to be faced with a quiet moment, I reach for my phone. Restaurant taking four minutes to seat us? Grab the phone! Going to the bathroom? Grab the phone! Red light? Grab the phone! Despite not having a big eureka moment of insight, I did find that small moments of quiet without a phone allowed small ideas to walk back into my head.
5. I read more.
Instead of taking my phone to bed, I took a book to bed and ended up reading more. It’s hard to say if I had better sleep since we were in weirdo hotel beds with lumps and whatnot. I do know that I’ve never slept well when I bring my phone to bed though. I’ve never said, “Oh good, I looked at all my emails to create a list of things I failed to get done today. What a relaxing final thought as I drift into slumber.”
6. I realized how many other people are on their phones.
When you take a break from your phone you get to judge other people who are on their phones. It’s delightful and also a little scary. At restaurants you can watch whole tables of people just stare at their phones, clumsily trying to stab food into their mouths without really looking up. If someone ever said to you, “Hey, want to go to a restaurant and not talk to each other?” You’d think that person was a bit of a lunatic, but that’s what we’re all doing these days.
7. I don’t need a phone to hide from being present.
You can be perfectly absent without a phone. In the 1970s, parents would come home from work and hide behind newspapers. A dad would stroll in, put his hat somewhere (everyone wore hats in the 70s) and then disappear behind the day’s news. Hiding from the moment you’re in is not a phone problem, that’s a human problem. As I grabbed at anything I could find to distract myself (book, magazine, brochure about the country’s only underground zip line course) I realized fighting for silence is harder than I initially knew.
I think I’d have a difficult time telling my grandfather, after he returned home from Germany fighting the Nazis in a tank, the tale of my 10-day exit from social media and email. He’d listen patiently while I extolled the many hardships I faced, because he was a kind man, but deep down I don’t think he would be that impressed. Be that as it may, I think I’m going to do it again. I might even get into a regular rhythm of taking some days off.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go tweet a link to this article and quietly wait for someone ignoring their dining companions at a restaurant to point out the irony of tweeting an article about not using social media.