On December 29th 2015, our family downsized from a 2000 square foot home in Athens Georgia to a 950 square foot cabin in the middle of the woods. We sold or gave away half of everything we owned, got rid of three computers, downgraded from iPhones to flip phones, and tipped our hats to our former life. This is a series of reflections exploring our transition as we make our home in the North Georgia Mountains and our thoughts detailing what we are learning along the way. You can read Log One here.
Do you want the caveats now or later? I have a lot of them. Like I still own an iPad. I have a really nice desktop computer. I run a pretty fast growing digital content site with equally fast growing Instagram and Facebook accounts. My full time job is building websites and serving as a social media consultant. And despite living in the middle of the woods, I spend upwards of eight hours a day in front of glowing screens.
I don’t want to bore you with the middle gray areas of my digital life that would take me a novel to unpack. I did however want to give you some reasons to roll your eyes at me, just in case you wanted to take what I am about to write with a grain of salt.
But four months ago I got rid of my smart phone and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I was the guy who had notifications turned on and every time my Email, Messages, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or any variety of dozens of other apps vibrated in my pocket I had to stop what I was doing to immediately find out what I was missing out on. Have you ever heard of ghost vibrations? Yeah. I had that. Real bad. My phone was always vibrating and even when it wasn’t, I thought it was.
While many people are able to use smart phones in a healthy way and view them as a tool and a means to an end, there are others of us where the “challenges” have the potential to outweigh any of the benefits. Challenges like constant notifications, access to instant information, our addition to distraction, fragmented communication, the list goes on and on.
Whatever the challenge may be, the common theme was their ability to take me out of the moment. And for some reason one night it hit me like a hurricane of bricks. I was out with my friends. Group selfies, constant texting through dinner and staged photos of our food aside, we were having a blast. Then the eye opening moment came.
We were at a bar for drinks. After laughing and having a blast for hours, somehow we all ended up on our phones for over 15 minutes before any of us realized what had happened! It started with somebody Googling song lyrics. Someone else used it as an opportunity to respond to the texts that were building up. While someone else threw up a Snapchat and Instagram photo. Someone was checking Yelp for a review of the next bar. And two of our girl friends were swiping left at a never ending barrage of dude pics. Naturally, I was checking the app on my phone that let me view our baby monitor back home.
What had been a crescendoing wave of happiness (and drunkenness) turned into a downward spiral of lost momentum and an ever growing time trap. Our group of nine was in a zombie-like stand still for 15 minutes before one of of us was brave enough to stumble out of our cross eyed stupor and reengage with the rest of our table and the world.
As I realized how odd and strange this was, I was immediately flooded with all kinds of other random examples. That 15 minutes of silence was just the tip of the iceberg for me.
- When I was driving, I immediately checked my phone at stop lights and stop signs to see what I had missed in the last few minutes.
- When I was riding as a passenger in the car, I was running through the full list of all my apps to make sure I was up to date. I used Facebook, Messages and Email to check in with my friends. I used News, Facebook, and Pinterest apps to see if I had missed anything new and exciting. I used Instagram, Facebook and a host of other apps to check in with my friends and see all the cool things that they were doing in their lives. I played Candy Crush or some other crackhead game to distract me from having to talk to my wife or my kids. Of course my two kids were too busy to talk to me as they were playing on their own iPads and my wife was checking her phone at every stop light and stop sign.
- When I was doing anything remotely cool, I used Instagram to show all my friends just how cool I was by picking the right Instagram filter and using pithy hashtags. When I wasn’t doing anything cool, I used Instagram to fake it by carefully showing the side of myself that I wanted the world to see.
- When I was eating, I would take dozens of photos of my food trying to find the right angle and light to make them look good for whatever social media post I was going to put up later.
- While I was eating, I was checking ESPN for score updates on my favorite teams despite there being televisions hanging over my head in every direction.
- When I woke up in the morning I reached for my phone not because of the alarm but because I needed to find out what I missed out on last night and to clear out all the notifications on the home screen.
- When I went to bed at night, my wife and I faced in opposite directions, each huddled around our glowing screens Feeling the Bern or reading about Drumpf.
You get it. I have a bunch of examples. I am sure you do as well. And when we stop long enough to reflect on it, we know that something is . . . off . . . slightly askew even.
I don’t know how to fix it for you (or even if you need it fixed) as I barely know how to fix it for me. But my hunch was I personally needed to cut the cord and let the chips fall where they fell. I needed to get the internet out of my easy and constant reach. And I needed to confine my internet and digital use to a time and place that fit the lifestyle I wanted to live and not let it dictate the terms of lifestyle I was beginning to live.
That was my decision and the one that was right for me.
I am still on Facebook and Instagram way too much. I still give one too many shits about what people think about me and I still spend way too much time trying to convince friends and strangers that I am cooler than I actually I am. And I absolutely loathe typing on a non-touch screen phone. But not having constant access to the internet has made things better for me and my family. I am now forced to be present. Sometimes it sucks and I get bored. But most of the time it is amazing and I do things I should have been doing all along.
I read more.
I write more.
I create more.
I walk more.
I cook more.
I talk to my kids more.
I talk to my wife more.
And not completely unrelated to talking to my wife, I have sex more.
It is amazing how much productive free time I have in my day when I divorced myself from my need to always have a smart phone fill my idle time.
Look I get it. I certainly wouldn’t take smart phone advice from somebody like me who runs a cute little blog and is running a social media account like ours. And I absolutely DO NOT think my experience and how I was interacting with technology is normative for everyone else. But I do believe there are others out there like me. Who have kicked around the idea of going cold turkey. Who may have even tried a “diet” of sorts in the past. I am writing to you from the other side and telling you it’ll be ok if you want to give it a try. It is possible to cut back or even get rid of it all together. You won’t die. You won’t lose your mind. And you may even like it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go share this blog post on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.