Yesterday was the happiest day I’ve had since moving to Germany. And all I did was turn off my damn phone.
I knew I spent a lot of time on my phone. It’s the first thing I check in the morning—before my eyes fully unglue themselves—and the last thing I see before bed. When I hit work exhaustion mid-day, I pause to scroll through Facebook. When I’m eager for a “productive distraction” I Google things like “how to remove mold from walls” and “writing retreats in Europe.” When I’m bored I watch Trevor Noah be adorable on the Daily Show. When I’m inspired I use Pinterest.
Back in San Francisco, Elliot and I would camp on the weekends, phones in the glove compartment, spending our days hiking and cooking and reading by the fire. On the drive back home, every mile closer to internet access churned my stomach. I worried how many new emails had come in and how long I’d have to spend tackling them all. But the only way I could deal without burning out was regular weekends of complete disconnect in order to support my near-constant life spent in front of a device.I needed weekends of complete disconnect in order to support my life spent in front of a device Click To Tweet
After attending a talk last week by Brit Stueven of The Break Changer and hearing her suggestion to turn off your phone for a few hours, it came to me: I don’t need to travel to some remote location for it to be okay I’m not reachable.
Look, if I’m being honest, I’ve tried this before. Elliot and I created a no-phones-after-9pm rule. That lasted a few days before we grabbed at them again. We deleted Facebook from our phones, but used Safari to visit facebook.com. I can’t eat one cookie, I need 12. When it comes to the internet, I need to turn off my phone or I’ll find a way to sneak back in.
So this Sunday—everything in Germany closes on Sundays anyway—Elliot and I decided to hide our phones. We’d spend the day together, building things and celebrating the Christmas season.
I woke at 8am and immediately reached for my phone before remembering. Shit. No internets. Okay.
What am I supposed to do? I’m not awake enough yet to be productive. I’m anxious lying here.
When my eyes cleared, I turned on my bedside lamp and read a real-live book. I read a lot, but lately I’ve found myself Googling things while reading (What else has this author written? Was it really like this in the 40s?), so I’m always halfway between reading for pleasure and frantically trying to learn something in order to maximize my time. It’s exhausting.
But yesterday morning I finished my book and started another.
Our dog got on the bed with us and we had a family cuddle. I made a giant breakfast of eggs and bacon and hash browns and toast. I turned on Christmas music and danced in the kitchen.
We ate at the dining room table. Our mouths were full of maple bacon and coffee so we didn’t talk much, but we didn’t distract ourselves either.
After breakfast we busted out our ornaments and decorated the tree while listening to Bing Crosby. For two years we’ve collected ornaments from everywhere we’ve traveled, so on Sunday we talked about that beach where we found those shells during our honeymoon in Vietnam. We laughed at the number of owl ornaments I buy. We played tug with Homer and he almost skidded into the tree.
We spent a few hours building a Lego Christmas set. More Christmas music. More coffee. We talked about the cuteness of Lego Santa. We sang along to Mariah Carey. We built a thing with our hands and enjoyed each other’s company. We put on Nick Offerman’s Yule Log and laughed every time we saw him sitting there, smirking.
We baked cookies, lit apple-cinnamon scented candles, took Homer for a walk in the park, held hands while we watched Bad Santa, made dinner, put on a real Yule Log (I clearly need a fireplace) and read our books for hours.
I didn’t think about Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or email. The later it got though, the more I stressed about the emails I’d have waiting for me in the morning, but on Monday I didn’t reach for my phone until halfway through the day. I read my book instead and jumped right into work.
Sunday is now No Phone Creativity Day.
All we have to do is shut off our devices and spend time together. We can read, listen to music, watch movies, but we can’t scroll through Facebook and argue with people about gun control or Google things we’ll forget the next day. And we have to create something together. Laugh all you want, but Legos are awesome and I loved spending the day making something with my husband for no other reason than the joy of creation. So next Sunday we might make a meal, paint a picture, write a story. Maybe I’ll teach him to knit. Maybe he’ll teach me how to play Rock Band.
None of this is surprising.
People have been writing about device addiction since smartphones became a thing. I didn’t get an iPhone until recently for this very reason, but I still find myself tethered to it now. It scares me. Sometimes I give myself excuses: Scrolling through Facebook and talking to Elliot about it is no different from reading the newspaper! Sitting on the couch to check Instagram for 15 minutes is like a water cooler break!
Except it is different.
No matter what I tell myself, it’s not the same. Being on my phone doesn’t feel good. I’m not a jealous or competitive or political person, but scrolling through Facebook makes me anxious and upset and resentful in ways I wasn’t a few years ago. It feels ugly and I don’t want it in my life.
I’m not about to turn off my internet or cancel my phone contract, but on Sunday I learned I can be mindful about my time and relaxed without turning to my phone. And it’s easy to turn of my phone and put it in a drawer.
Chime in! Do you have a phone addiction? Are you doing anything about it? I want to hear about how others are handling this in their daily lives.