On the afternoon of December 17th I put notifications on my email accounts, and wrote on Twitter and Facebook, “Happy Holidays, let the technology sabbatical begin!” For the next 12 days I didn’t go near my iPhone or laptop, and let my social media accounts languish without my “likes” and posts. This was not a truly revolutionary act, nor was it an original idea. My friends in the meditation world will often go months without technology. For my part, I always look forward to turning my phone off for at least one day every weekend, but 12 days was a bit longer than my usual hiatus. Here is what I learned:
1) I went through withdrawal:
The first hours were the worst. I found myself counting the time, 2 hours, 3 hours, each passing minute of no email was a mini-celebration, mixed with feelings of deprivation. I fought my instinct to see who might have liked my tech sabbatical posting, while reaching for a phantom phone that was no longer in my pocket. I also had to stop myself from impulsive information cravings, like asking Google what year Ken Singleton started playing for the Baltimore Orioles (1975, I just looked it up).
2) I saw phones everywhere:
Absence makes the heart see smart phones. I found myself sneaking peaks of people texting, playing solitaire, watching random videos. The multi-colored rectangles were shedding little bits of light in all places. Then there were the noisy talkers, the ones that filled the street with their banter about what gift they just bought, or instructions for a pickup. These voices sounded louder without the warmth of my own phone radiating in my eager grip. The ubiquitous vacation selfies were also annoying, every moment preserved for posterity or future bragging.
3) I didn’t miss the news:
In my normal life I’m a Google News and Flipboard fanatic. I usually check news multiple times per day, often getting lured into stories of self-driving cars, government appointments, or global disasters. Without my phone, the sun came up, the sun went down, and no one died. I found myself questioning my normal right to be inundated with dozens of Twitter opinions on everything from Trump to climate change. The days away from current events reinforced my oft belief that news is addictive and pushed out to be consumed between ads that sink into my subconscious.
4) I had more time:
I read three books, wrote 25 pages, and played dozens of games of double solitaire with my daughter. Of course I was on vacation, but the edges of my hours weren’t nibbled away by constantly checking email and looking at Facebook. By my rudimentary calculations, I normally average 6 minutes every hour in a relationship with my phone, that is 96 minutes a day. By giving up technology, I was able to reclaim almost 20 hours over the course of the 12 days. Perhaps the best part of this was presence. When I walked, I walked. When I imagined the solar system with my son, there was nothing keeping me away from Jupiter’s orbit.
5) I did more deep thinking:
Yes, poetry, philosophy, and beauty can be found online, but during my 12 days I saw the silhouettes of trees and noticed the way my son’s feet hit the earth when he runs. I witnessed the symmetry of sunsets, and watched how birds circle the sky. I thought about the machine that is technology, and the imagination of humanity that created it. No, I didn’t discover what it all means, but I felt just a little bit more open to that possibility.