I’m addicted to my phone. I’m one of those people who will never leave the house without it. I might forget my keys, but never my phone. I check it at every buzz and ding, and basically spend any idle moment scrolling through all my news feeds.
So at The Digital Detox: Device Free Drinks event at Jones, where I was forced to check in my phone at the door, I was terrified. This analog happy hour featured typewriters, hand drawn portraits, board games, live music, massage sessions, and absolutely no phones. The mission of The Digital Detox is to “provide people with the opportunity and permission to put aside their digital arm, reformat their own personal hard-drives, and create more balance in this digital age.” As I walked to the entrance, I spied giant signs: "Disconnect to Reconnect" and "Welcome, check your cell phone." This was the point of no return. I reluctantly handed over my cell and ID, and watched it get put away in a numbered cubby. I felt like I just gave them one of my limbs. That comforting rectangle lump that was always, always with me was gone.
Here I was, walking around completely disconnected. Honestly, I felt a little lost. I looked around for any semblance of guidance and read on a sign: “If you have the urge to Instagram, draw it.” “Instead of tweeting, share with someone near you.” “Like us in person.” It felt slightly silly to me that these device free tips needed to be posted, but I did find myself itching to do everything digital on that sign.
I’m not sure if being phoneless just made everyone a little more conversational, but a stranger approached me and asked how I was feeling. I wanted to say I felt anxious and uncomfortable, but I was actually enjoying this new conversation. “I feel good. I feel like I’m missing something, but in a good way.”
He led me to a table where you could sign up for monthly digital detox retreats. These were organized trips to hot springs, yoga, meditation, or hiking in nature. All off the grid. No clock. No phone. No Internet. No talk of work. Again, I felt a little ashamed that such a thing had to exist. It made me feel like I had to go to rehab and reconnect with nature because I was a robot. A woman suddenly came up to join our conversation and said that she went on one of these trips and thought it was life changing. I was a little skeptical that I needed that extreme of a digital detox.
As I walked away, I felt my hand reach for my phone purely from muscle memory. Emptiness. I realized I had no idea even what time it was without my phone. I walked up to a man making hand drawn portraits and sat down for one. I asked him the time, and he didn’t know either. This was frustrating. I was supposed to meet up with a friend here, and I kept worrying about how we would ever find each other. She couldn’t text me a “Be here in 10” or “Stuck in traffic.” I would never know her status. I truly couldn't remember how anybody ever met up in the past. Was everyone just more punctual or more patient?
After my portrait was finished, I continued to wait with unnerving uncertainty for my friend and wandered inside a door labeled “Analog Zone.” I stepped up to several typewriters sitting on the table and looked perplexingly at these old-timey gadgets; I had never used one. My first instinct was to pull out my phone and ask Google. But phoneless, I forced myself to ask a real person nearby. The girl next to me perked up and enthusiastically showed me how to load the paper and move to type on the next line. She even read me a few cute poems she wrote. And I was soon happily typing away a poem of my own.
Suddenly, it hit me that I was actually enjoying the event instead of obsessing about how to document it. I wasn’t tweeting about it or trying to pick the best Instagram filter for my photo of #vintage #typewriters. I was completely physically present.
I often get so caught up in trying to digitally document my life that I forget to live in the moment. I have to remind myself that experiencing life through a screen is not the same as having real human connections. And those tangible stories and interactions are ultimately what matter.
So I guess that's what it means to “disconnect to reconnect.” While I don’t think we all need to go on a phoneless hike in the woods to do it, I do think we need to be consciously aware of what technology is doing to us.
As I walked out of the venue, I got my phone back and immediately checked for notifications. What? Nothing? No one missed me while I was gone?