I needed a phone cleanse, likely over a year ago. Recently, I was sitting at my desk and I picked up my phone consecutively three times in a row to open Twitter, all while staring blindly at two computer screens with thirty tabs open. My phone notified me last week that I’d used 2 hours and 22 minutes of screen time A DAY. I’m not going to make up excuses that I use Waze when I drive or look at email a lot at work. That is too much damn phone usage.
That’s why I reserved a quiet weekend to put away my phone. I called my parents. I let my fiancé know. I deleted all of my apps, just in case I had a weird out-of-body-moment to grab my phone and check Twitter without even noticing. I put my phone in a vintage “Wolf Box” where my fiancé and I keep our passports, credit cards, and souls. I put my phone in the trunk when I left the house just in case I had an emergency. Do you see how sad this is? My phone has become another body part. I can’t go anywhere without it. And if I do, I need to put forth an extensive emotional battle plan.
Beyond being slightly depressed by the absence of technology, I was scared. I was scared to stand in the elevator at my apartment and become present with any stranger I was riding up with. I was scared to be disconnected from friends. I was scared my brain was finally going to have the freedom to wander during those weird, mulled hours of the day. My phone has become my numbing device. I needed to know I could be without it. I needed a reality check.
A few weekend guidelines:
Deep breaths. Here’s how it went and what I learned:
7:18 a.m.: I wake up. Miraculously, two minutes before my alarm. I often scroll through Twitter while on my phone on the toilet (sorry, universe). So, it felt overly intentional to go hide my phone in the Wolf Box before going to the bathroom. In the bathroom, I notice every detail. I notice there are designs of eyes on the toilet paper (WEIRD). I notice I need to sweep.
Lesson #1: My phone is a brain sump pump (Writer’s Note: Sorry to use this metaphor so closely to me peeing with my phone in my hands). Without a screen, details pool up around me. I’m not distracted by 140 characters. I have some weird thoughts. I notice things I wouldn’t have caught before. I am so full of ideas. I instantly crave a personal writing session. What was in my wine last night?! This is invigorating!
8:04 a.m.: I’m on my way to the horse barn where I ride every Saturday. I realize I can’t listen to Spotify in my car. No podcasts. I have to listen to the radio. “Mama” by Run the Jewels is playing on 100.7, Real College Radio. I like it. I write down the song in my notebook before leaving the lot, so I can save on Spotify later. I also realize I can’t use Waze to find my quickest route to the barn. So, I simply drive. And for some reason, that slows my heart rate.
Lesson #2: I’ve become more patient. I’m not rushing on my phone to type directions or turn on a podcast. I’m not frustrated by the lack of Wi-Fi. I don’t get distracted by an app. And another app. Patience opens my headspace and believe it or not, TAKES AWAY MY ROAD RAGE. I JUST DRIVE CALMLY LIKE A NORMAL PERSON!
12:24 p.m.: I bring home fresh eggs from the barn. They’re beautiful. One of them is green, from the Easter Egger chickens (yes, that’s a breed!). I want to take a picture of the egg’s peach and soft hue. I want to send that picture to my mom or post it on my Instagram story. Then, I feel melancholy for the first time. I have to enjoy these and their beautiful colors alone. And that has to be okay.
Lesson #3: Beauty can be enjoyed quietly, independently. Small moments that catch my breath become part of how I view the day privately. There is really something charming about that.
1:06 p.m.: I realize I can’t tell Jake, my fiancé, anything about my day. He’s been out all afternoon and I have so many random things I’d like to share with him. I hung out with his cousin at the barn this afternoon and I want to tell him how well-versed and beautiful and mature she has become. I want to tell him how wild the St. Patrick’s Day crowd is on West 7th. I’m tempted to write an outline for when he comes home. But, feeling a little strange about that, I write in my journal instead.
Lesson #4: Communication isn’t an hourly job. Cherish the moments you have with people face-to-face. More importantly, cherish moments with yourself.
2:15 p.m.: I’m meeting my best friend for brunch. She knows I’m trying to exist without my phone this weekend, so we planned a time and place yesterday to prepare. Usually, I send her a “leaving” text or a “running 5 minutes behind” or an “I got a booth in the back!” But now, we have to rely on pure chance and trust. My phone is in airplane mode.
5:04 p.m.: My friend and I sat and talked for three hours, drinking tea and eating pancakes. She told me she’s been wanting to get off her phone too, specifically while with others. She tried it the other day when her boyfriend went to the bathroom during lunch. “I didn’t go on my phone when he left the table,” she told me. “And I NOTICED things I wouldn’t normally notice.” We talked about how our phones don’t allow us to absorb our own opinions. We talked about time, how quickly it passes buried in technology. I wonder how much time is being sucked from me when I’m on the phone and I don’t even notice. When she went to the bathroom, I didn’t rush for my phone. I counted how many tables around me were being interrupted by someone holding their phone with a fork in their hands: six.
Lesson #5: Time moves slower without screen time. It’s so important to sink into that and notice surroundings; take time back.
7:34 p.m.: I’m back at home. I can hear a group of people partying in the apartment below. This is when I find a deep sense of loneliness—like I’ve been cooped up in my house for a few days with a cold. I do some dishes. I grab a book. I read. I stand out on my deck and watch people walk by. I dust my bookshelf. Random movements seem intentional. And that makes me feel better. When I’m reading May Sarton later, she writes, “The key to being centered seems to be for me to do each thing with absolute concentration.” I feel that now.
9:01 p.m.: Jake is back home. I’m even more relieved for his company without my phone. I have been interchangeably watching Queer Eye and eating and drinking since 7 p.m. I’m not thinking of my phone, save for tiny segments here and there. Whenever I feel a deep urge to be connected, I go to my journal. Instead of reaching out to the depths of the Internet, I claw down for whatever is sitting inside me. I have so many personal moments. My brain finds this monotone, unshaken place. Contentment, maybe? I know it’s only been a day but I do feel better. Less and less needy. Less in personal identity turmoil, of sorts.
Lesson #7: Being without a phone has given my life such simplicity and frame of mind. Not much is complicated here; I can get closer to myself.
9:42 a.m.: I slept in (partially to save time from avoiding my phone). Sundays are tough without constant connection. If Sunday were an orchestra, my phone is the conductor. I wake up and hold it in my face, check the news, the weather. I’m not proud of that—it’s just how it is. While the addiction serves me, I’m relieved today I have drawn a line in the sand. Instead, I read. I’m full of ideas again. I vow, whenever craving to share a thought on social media, to instead write it down on paper.
10:09 a.m.: I want to know the forecast. I turn on the morning news and wait patiently for the local coverage to end. Sunset, 7:21 p.m.
10:40 a.m.: I feel an odd sense of mystery from lack of social media contact. It’s a privateness I haven’t felt in a while. It almost feels selfish, I’m so in love with the feeling. No one knows what I’m up to and, in return, I don’t know anything about anybody.
2:42 p.m.: I have done so much today already it’s asinine. I made breakfast with my barn eggs; they were so gold. I grocery shopped. I CLEANED OUR FRONT CLOSET. Do you know what’s in entryway closets?! Nothing but dirt and garbage! I went to Goodwill. I washed the sheets. Now, I’m dirty and tired and wanting a phone break. I want a little of that numbness.
3:22 p.m.: I just cleaned the entire bathroom. Including the toilet. Maybe I really do have a phone addiction problem. I am feeling overcharged. Everything I do becomes deeply intentional.
3:44 p.m.: I want to text my family that my apartment is the cleanest I’ve ever seen it. Instead, I make the bed.
Lesson #8: Anyone want to get something done? Hide yo’ phone.
4:15 p.m.: I’m standing in the kitchen staring at the wall. I can’t remember the last time I had listless, with nothing to do. Jake walks in for something to drink. Startled by my nothingness, he asks, “Um, Brittany, what are you doing?” I tell him, “I don’t know, I’m standing.” He asks, “Why don’t you sit?” So, okay, I sit.
4:45 p.m.: I want my phone. I feel far away, like I’m floating. It’s that time of day. So, I make a little schedule for myself. At 5 p.m., I’ll cook dinner. At 6 p.m., I’ll maybe pour myself a glass of wine. At 7 p.m., I’ll read and try a new face mask. I remember I used to do this in grade school, make lists and organize my night. I feel a little innocent again.
6:30 p.m.: I notice when I want to look at my phone, it’s a single moment when I’m not interested in something anymore. If I’m reading and a passage gets too long. If I finish a task and don’t know what to do next. During commercial breaks. A scene change in an episode of Queer Eye. They’re automatic urges. I can’t believe how many times a day I must stifle them.
Lesson #9: I realize I need to go on with my life without needing constant entertainment, new information, and relief from boredom. I must move slower and when triggers of screen time come, take a deep breath and move on.
On Monday morning, I didn’t feel the urge to grab my phone. I was stronger—my withstanding muscles were flexed, well-worked. Instead, after my alarm went off, I set my phone down in the kitchen and got ready alone. When I got to work, I finally let myself browse. And let me tell you, the reward.
In conclusion, I have this. Cleansing from my phone all weekend felt good. It helped me create boundaries for myself; it helped me understand when best connection serves me. I believe communicating is important and it serves us quite sporadically in our digitally healthy present. I enjoy my friends (and Internet strangers) too much. On the flip side, I believe personal space and quiet and privacy serve us. A matter of detachment, of being pulled out of my orbit of noise, gives me the opportunity to enjoy without needing to possess anything at all.
Lesson #10: We need to observe the world, develop our own opinions, take a deep breath, and decide when to put the phone down and look up.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - April 11, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.