- by Alyson Shane
Stunningly accurate image via iam-kerri on DeviantArt
I'm addicted to social media.
Most of us don't want to say it out loud, but we're addicted to the info/updates/likes/comments cycle that social media and mobile technology has brought into our lives.
As someone who spends the majority of her time thinking about branding and generating social content (both personal and professional), I may be a bit hyper-sensitive to this reality, but it's true: most of us are addicted to our smartphones.
I've known this for a while, but earlier this summer I read an article on CNET that really bothered me. The TL;DR is that our phones make us stupid. Whether they're on, off, turned face down... whatever; having your smartphone in the room with you decreases your ability to think and concentrate, making you less productive and inherently less capable overall.
With this in mind, I decided to run an experiment of sorts: I made a commitment to myself to find opportunities to physically distance myself from my phone in order to be more engaged with the world around me throughout the summer.
It's been an interesting few months, and here are the takeaways:
I Read More Books
On average, I read maybe half a dozen or so books a year.
I'm not sure what you read on an annual basis, but I've always been a voracious reader and could easily power through a whole novel in a few sittings (I read all of Stephen King's "The Shining" in a day when I was a younger) so I've definitely noticed my declining ability to sit down and read a book in the last few years.
I do most of my reading before bed, which is problematic because I use my phone as my alarm clock (a bad habit that I'm not ready to let go of, if I'm being honest) so I had to set aside time to read during my days instead, or make a point to leave my phone in another room while I was reading.
Here's how many books I've read and finished in the past 4 months:
- On Writing - Stephen King
- Lady Oracle - Margaret Atwood
- Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
- Women - Charles Bukowski
As you can tell, I averaged about a book a month, which is well beyond my annual average. I'm still significantly slower than I used to be, but it reminded me that in order to enjoy and make your way through a novel you have to sink down into it, which is something I struggle to do whenever my phone is present.
I honestly thought that it wouldn't be as noticeable as the CNET article made it out to be, but I was floored by how much more easily I could enjoy a book when I couldn't just reach over for my phone.
**I should point out that I read on average 6-12 articles a day; some for work and some for leisure, so I don't think how much I read has decreased; only what I read, and in which format.**
I Was Fully Present
This one was the hardest.
We go to a few festivals a year, and do some camping with friends in addition to those events, and I promised myself that I was going to keep my phone in my tent and on airplane mode (because I still have to check work from time to time) instead of keeping it on my person.
I realized that I'd been using "taking photos" (something I do, but not as regularly as I used to) as an excuse to keep my phone - and the comfort it gave me - around even when I didn't need it.
The hardest part of this exercise was "memory FOMO" or, worrying that I wouldn't have anything to populate my social feeds with when I returned to my everyday life. I saw people taking photos and videos on their phones around me and would often self-judge for not doing the same, which was a new and unpleasant feeling.
Instead, I'd just take a deep breath and experience as much of the present moment as possible. It was hard but, you guys, it was so good.
I Enjoyed Myself More
The biggest change (and challenge) was allowing myself to live in the present moment as fully as I possibly could.
Because of what I do for a living, I often frame content (photos, and the like) with a plan in mind: how do I want this to look? How does it reflect my personal brand? Which hashtags can I use to connect this with a broader community?... and so on.
Not having my phone glued to my palm the urge to check updates, post photos, and record my life for future social media content didn't entirely eliminate my FOMO, but it did act as a reminder that the only way to hold onto my memories was to immerse myself in what I was doing, or what was happening around me.
In a world dominated by Snaps, Boomerangs, and hashtags, it was nice to find a few moments of solitude where my digital life didn't interfere with my physical one.
Wanna Try, Too? Here's What You can Do
Going "unplugged" doesn't have to be a totally terrifying prospect (as it was for me before I started this experiment) but here are a few things that I did to help lessen my dependency on my phone that you can try, too:
- Keep your phone out of sight, or in another room, when not in use.
- Don't browse before bed! Instagram black holes steal your sleep. Read a book instead.
- READ MORE BOOKS. I prefer fiction but choose the topics you love best.
- Leave your phone in your tent while camping.
- Alternatively, leave your phone in your car, or in your purse/bag, while out with friends.
Of course, there are lots of other ways you can go "unplugged" for any extent of time, but these should set you on the right track!
Do you have any experience "unplugging" or ditching your digital device? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!