February 8, 2019
Last night my husband and I decided to try a little experiment. We went technology free. No phones. No television. No tablets. No desktop computers. The basic rule was this: no screens.
Why on earth would choose to give up these modern conveniences? Aren’t phones, and televisions, and computers wonderful things? Without a doubt our answer to that question is yes. In fact, it’s perhaps that we are too enamored with screens than otherwise against them. Case in point: we spend the majority of our time with our eyes glazed over at least one of our devices. That’s exactly why we decided to try our first tech-free day.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were sitting at our kitchen table around midnight and having a talk. You know, the kind of talk that only exists in the empty silence of late nights and early mornings. It was during this chat that I had a bit of a revelation. I wasn’t happy.
I felt tired. Worn out. Wrung too tight. The reason? Almost every waking moment is filled with some sort of noise. When I work during the day I have content playing in the background, whether it be a podcast or a YouTube video. When I wash the dishes or vacuum, or perform any of the minutiae that it takes to run a household, I have headphones on. Heck, even when I’m watching TV night I have to really fight myself not to also be scrolling through my phone at the same time.
When did I start feeling a need to fill the silence? When was the last time I really sat with myself, no modern distractions?
Do you remember when you were a kid and you spent eternal days without all this extra stuff? If you were a kid of the 90’s or before, I’m guessing this might sound familiar to you…
…what I guess I’m really asking is this: do you remember how bored you were? I mean really, really BORED.
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If you were anything like me, you probably recall long summer days in which there was absolutely nothing to do. No friends around to play with. The T.V. wasn’t on either because it wasn’t allowed by your parents or your young mind had grown tired of constant commercials and cartoons. Home computers were barely a thing and you can bet we didn’t have a cellphone. So what did we do in times of extreme boredom? I can’t speak for you. But here’s what it was like for me: I stared out a window and daydreamed, made art, went for walks, widdled sticks, talked to trees, picked flowers, tried new things, questioned myself, reflected over previous days, thought about the people I loved and how we were connected. Sometimes I just stared up at the sky. These were all quiet moments, moments that forced me to reason with myself and myself alone. I’m fully convinced that we need time spent in boredom for self-reflection, for new thought, for advancement to our better selves. But these times of exploration, both internal and external, do not so easily come about if we do not first give ourselves the chance to become truly bored.
In today’s world your mind can be stimulated by external forces whenever and however you like. All day, every day, for eternity. As a global society we are faced with more content at our fingertips now than ever before.
In some ways that is an incredibly beautiful thing. When used the right way, we have technology to thank for connecting us to friends old and new, for finding community and purpose online, for learning about anything we can type into a search engine, for providing us with endless resources that can help us become better. Unfortunately though, I think very few of us use technology “the right way” even a fraction of the time. There’s just too much noise, too much static, too many clickable links.
I wanted to connect with myself in an older way, one that feels so foreign to many of us today. It was my husband who suggested it, “What if we had a no-technology day? What if we just turned everything off?” So, we made some ground rules.
No screens of any kind. No phones, televisions, tablets, computers. Nada. No streaming music, no taking photos with a phone, not even a spare DVD. This left us with only a few electronics remaining: our kitchen appliances and our record player.
We decided the time length would be from when my husband got home from work in the mid afternoon until the next morning (with the exception of quickly checking our alarms before bed). Rules set, we decided to try it out just a few days later on a quickly-approaching Thursday night.
When the day came and I was busying myself with work in the morning, I couldn’t help but think about the night ahead. I felt a strange mixture of excitement and nervousness. After all, we rely on our phones for so much. Possibly too much.
Maybe you’re reading this right now and thinking this wouldn’t be such a big deal. But let me ask you this, when was the last time you went even half a day in the comfort of your own home without any sort of screen to distract you? When was the last time you let yourself be alone with your own thoughts? Really alone, without even a glance to “quickly” check your Instagram feed, refresh your email, or text message a friend? Can you even remember?
Neither could I.
The time came to put our experiment to the test. At a few minutes to three in the afternoon, my husband and I plugged in our phones out of reach, silenced them, and put them face down. We shut down our computers, folded up our tablets, and shut the door to our office.
I had a suspicion in the days leading up to our experiment. I thought it wouldn’t be hard at all for the first few hours. After all, we’ve gone that long before. But I knew after dinner, when we usually watch tv or head back to our computers for a few hours of work, that it was going to get a bit harder. I was right.
The first things we did that night weren’t at all out of the ordinary. We started some laundry, changed into casual clothes, and went for a walk around our neighborhood. That’s a pretty typical 3-4PM in our household, so nothing really felt all that amiss. I have to admit I did miss my phone when we were on our walk. I like sharing a few nature shots in my Instagram Stories, hoping that a bit of beauty will brighten someone else’s day. There are beautiful grey herons on the lake where we live and we got surprisingly close to one of the regulars. It stood, stoic and proud, perched on a small tree limb rising out of the water. Usually one of the first things I would do in this situation is reach for my phone to grab a photo. Isn’t that kind of sad? Instead of just taking a breath and letting that experience happen, I felt a need to document it. I feel ashamed even admitting that, because it goes against so many of my values. Yet, sadly, I don’t think I’m alone in this. Sometimes the temptation of technology is just too great. But this time? There was no other option. My husband and I sat on a low stone wall not twenty feet from the heron. He looked at us, we looked at him. Minutes passed. Then he raised his great, gray wings and took flight, staying low across the water. We watched as his reflection matched his pace, beat for beat, and, for a few moments, were swept up in the awe of a February afternoon in Virginia. What’s having a phone versus a few moments like that? There’s no comparison.
We returned home and started to prepare dinner, lucky to have a few more minutes of work to keep our hands occupied and our minds distracted from the want of our phones.
Usually when we eat dinner we are also watching reruns of one of our favorite shows, the characters of The Office or Friends are our typical dinner party guests. But last night was different. We sat at the table, something I think very few families do anymore, and took advantage of the one piece of technology left to us: our record player. Frank Sinatra crooned to us over homemade plates of pad thai and our conversational laughter filled in the gaps. We did something almost no one does during anymore: we talked.
I noticed something interesting as the meal went on. I was eating less. Why? Because I actually had to look at my plate, not the TV screen. I’m not sure why such a small change surprised me so much, but it did. We can’t be the only people in the world who eat more just because they’re watching TV. That sort of eating is just out of boredom, not because we’re actually hungry. Maybe in the recesses of our mind we feel a need something more to do that just stare as pictures flash across a screen.
The urge to check my phone became more noticeable after dinner.
As I cleaned the dishes I longed for the familiar voice of one of a podcast or audiobook. Even as I read my book I itched to refresh my Instagram feed. I have a bad habit of taking social media breaks between chapters. It is just that: a habit. It is almost reflexive. I would finish a chapter and reach for my phone only to remember it wasn’t allowed. I missed it dearly during those moments. It’s experiences like this that make me think of my phone as an addiction. At a certain point it becomes less about choice and more about need. Of course I don’t really need my phone, but my mind seems to think otherwise.
I’ve had numerous discussions with friends over the years who fully admit they can’t stop scrolling through their phone even when they’re doing something else. How many of us have started a watching a movie only to press play and then sit down on the couch, phone in hand, for the next hour and a half, barely ever glancing up at the television screen. I noticed this habit in myself about a year ago and will go so far as to hide my phone (yes, from myself) under a couch cushion, just so I don’t have to look at it and see my screen lighting up with notifications to tempt me.
As the hours went by I had another realization. I don’t have any tech-free hobbies. In the summer months you can find my husband and I outside often: playing games, hiking, and the like. However, it’s February the night of this experiment. The sun sets at 4:30 PM. Suddenly the options seem small when you’re homebodies like my husband and I. In a world of modern technology where we can be entertained for hours upon hours with never-ending content, you’re never forced to take a moment and actually think of something different to do. That’s probably a big reason why so much of our time is spend on our screens.
I started to think of all the things I used to do as a teenager, before social media and smartphones were as advanced as they are now. I actually had the urge to draw. I haven’t felt that in years. Yet I used to draw almost every day. I suddenly missed my journal, my knitting, my letter writing—just the simple act of creating something by hand. Why? Because it was quiet. Because I had time to be bored. And I realized that the night was mine.
It’s amazing what you can get done when there’s nothing to do.
I went through my memory box and reorganized it, talked with husband between chapters of a book, cleaned the kitchen early instead of leaving it til the last minute, finished laundry, and read hundreds of pages. By the end of the night I was already making plans for what I’d want to do on our next Tech-Free Thursday. After all, this was only our first time.
I can already see the potential.
As the night came to a close, I began to wonder what we would feel like in the morning when we returned to our screens. When I first checked my phone again this morning, I was amazed at how differently I viewed content, even after just half a day away. We already know we’re in charge of which content we view and engage with online, but in the whirlwind of options available to us that’s a fact easy to forget.
I believe we need tech-free time for our own well-being. It forces us to think of our day in a different way, makes us reflect on our choices, and reawakens a desire for the simpler, but more fulfilling, entertainment that exists beyond a screen. I hope as we continue to practice an analog lifestyle one day a week that we will find more and more benefits from time spent tech-free.
My goal is to find a better balance with the incredibly technology that surrounds us every day. I want to use it in the best ways I can, and try to remove myself from its more negative aspects whenever possible.
A Brief Summary of What I Noticed On My First Tech-Free Day
- We need tech-free time to better connect with ourselves and the world around us.
- Leaving screen-time behind is easy for the first few hours, but it does get more difficult.
- It’s an excellent practice in self-discipline.
- You will miss your devices, but the experience you get instead is so much better.
Have you ever gone tech-free or thought about trying it yourself? I’d love to hear about your experience. Drop me a comment below. Let’s chat.
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Til next time,
Bex Skoog (formerly Bex Gorsuch) is a Book Blogger and Instagram Influencer who strives to connect readers with their next favorite book and encourages avid bibliophiles to make use of the inspiration found in fiction by implementing story into their day-to-day lives.
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