About a month back, we lost our internet connection. At first, I was beyond pissed. When your passion and your income relies on the internet, it is incredibly frustrating to lose that connection. While I relish my mornings and evenings spent away from my phone and all things social media, and absolutely revel in my time spent without the use of wifi at the lake, having it snatched away from me was awful. Then I realized that I was feeling angry and frustrated and annoyed, not because my family or I were having any health issues or problems, but because I didn’t have the internet. That’s it. The internet.
That thought caused me to think about our absolute dependence on this. I’m on my phone quite a lot, but not near as much as most others (at least, according to magazine and newspaper articles touting our complete dependence on phones, right up until bed). My weekend mornings rarely start with my phone and I try to end my evenings with, at least, an hour free of screen time (that means the TV, too).
But, I was still completely dependent on my phone, even without total access to the internet. I would pick it up to check it, even though I knew no notifications were coming through. I’d absentmindedly open up Instagram or Pinterest to scroll through, only to realize that I was ripping through my data like nobody’s business. And, I needed to keep that data for my blog and my work. Working from home doesn’t exactly work so well when you can’t work from home. It’s just not the same to have to scoot on over to a friend’s house, or even make myself into a cliche in Starbucks, writing away on my laptop. Or, even scarier, a notebook and pen.
But, I got used to it. The first thing I noticed during my short time without wifi was that data turned back into something precious. Does anyone remember when phone plans didn’t come with text messaging? You got, maybe, 25 a month and that was considered a lot? You would then only have the smallest amount of data available to you, and that was saying a lot about your financial status as a lot of people still didn’t have a ‘smartphone’ aka pretty much any phone nowadays. No? No memories? Well, if you’re too young to remember this, our constant need to have our phones on us wasn’t normal and there were a lot more payphones around. Phone calls came through more often than a text message. Social media was something you’d log into on your home computer, and internet access wherever you went was only for those in Gossip Girl. Blackberry messenger eventually came along and changed the ways of texting, but data was still beyond precious. And, this is what I reverted back to.
No longer would I turn on Google Play, not caring if I was burning through my data on my plan (seriously, where did the unlimited data plans go?!). I didn’t have wifi at home so, now, every song was costing me money. Opening my phone in a vehicle didn’t seem so important anymore (the tickets and fines and death commercials don’t get you, but the fact that you’ll have to pay $5 more in data will…I’m ashamed of myself and society), and neither did taking my phone out when I was with friends or my husband.
It may have only been a few days into it, but I was already seeing a difference in my life as absolutely absurd as that sounds. I did a lot more things I thought I ‘didn’t have time for’ and my husband and I busted out the good ol’ DVD player and re-watched some classics. Who needs Netflix when you have boxes of DVD’s, complete with Undergrads, Clone High and the Golden Girls? Our dependence on our smartphones and tablets and internet connection is crippling us. Having to forego the convenience in which we’ve become accustomed gets a little tiring, but then it also gets better. Yeah, it took a little longer to set things up just to watch a show or movie and we had to find cables that were finely coloured in dust, but it took only a day or two to get back into the old routine of things. And, I really liked it.
The most enlightening part of those weeks wasn’t that I was dependent on my phone (I knew that), but it was the fact that I never truly noticed how I felt when I was constantly connected. Now that I wasn’t, my mind felt clearer, I felt better, and I learned how to read for more than 10 minutes. I used to read a book a week, at least. My closet, living room, bedside table, and any other imaginable surface – including floors – is littered with books. While I still love reading, it has become harder to concentrate on anything longer than a page or two. Once I cleared my mind of quick reads and always googling to see what one word meant or who that actor was years ago, I could concentrate for longer. I felt more free, as ridiculous as that sounds, and could think better. Hell, I could write better. Because I had to write. I couldn’t ignore my writing just because Instagram gave me a notification. I could let my mind wander and let the creativity blossom and come to me. Letting your mind wander can do wonders if you’ve ever gotten stuck and can’t figure out a problem, or have writer’s block, or just don’t know what your piece of artwork needs. That’s why taking a walk to ‘clear your head’ works. You’re letting go of all the stimulus around you and just letting your mind breathe.
We’ve let something that seemed so trivial, that people had once thought was a fad, become so ingrained in our life we feel empty without it. Phones are clutched to the chests of people while they sleep, afraid to let them go like they’re security blankets. They’re whipped out in the line at the grocery store, heaven forbid we have to wait more than 10 seconds without being entertained. This was another favourite part of this whole impromptu experiment. I loved to just sit and wait in line, watching the people around me, most of them with their noses to their screens, not paying attention to anyone or anything around them. I always tried to keep my phone in my purse while in line at the grocery store because I didn’t want to be that dick in line, holding people up or looking like a complete arse. Engaging with people around you, even if it’s just to smile at them, is so much better than making sure you sent that e-mail from the office, or double-checking nothing else exciting happened on social media.
I’ve been ragging quite a big on social media in this post, and that’s not what this is about. There are tons of things wrong with social media, but there are tons of things right. I love it for getting inspired for DIY creations, for places to travel, on just seeing pretty images floating by. I love reading blog posts and hearing other people’s ideas and thoughts and rants and views on the world. I rub my hands together gleefully when I come across a particularly controversial article, keeping myself from skimming through just so I can get to the comments section at the bottom and read the complete chaos that always ensues. Maybe I’m a masochist. Who knows.
Social media isn’t the enemy, but how we use it, and our dependence on it is. I read an article a while back about how children under 5 shouldn’t have more than one hour of screen time a day. And, the article repulsed me. Not because of the writer’s words or that people were being told to tone down the screen time, but because we HAD to be told. For children. Not even middle school kids or teenagers, but children UNDER 5 YEARS OF AGE. Doesn’t that seem a bit ridiculous to you? That we’re handing our babies, our toddlers, tablets and phones and telling them to watch videos and play on a screen instead of outside or with simple objects around them. That we’re not letting them use their imagination to play and grow and learn. That we’re not thinking about the repercussions this is having on our children even though we hear countless things about how we, as adults, shouldn’t have screentime before bed, it affects this and that and that and this. If you want to read the article, click here.
If it’s affecting how their brains grow, then what is it doing to us? Just two weeks and I felt better, my mind felt clear and I more able to take on tasks. And, that’s just two weeks. I still used my phone, I didn’t revert back to the Stone Age, but I ignored it for most of the day. My goal was to continue in this same fashion once we got our internet back, but only a week after it was back I was checking my phone more often, scrolling through Instagram while watching TV, and constantly feeling the need to be connected. Because like anything addicting, you get a rush when you start up again, lying to yourself that you’ve got it all under control. If you don’t believe me that your phone, the internet, social media is addictive, then put down your phone and count the number of times you reach for it.
If children’s screen time needs to be measured and monitored, then shouldn’t ours? I don’t need a study to tell me that excessive screen time is bad, I learned it. I know it. If I’m on my phone for extended periods of time, I will usually start to get a migraine. This means that excessive screen time affects my neurological condition. There are most likely other factors related to why I’m getting the migraine, as it doesn’t happen instantly, but I know that too much TV, too much time on my tablet, phone or computer can be a trigger for my neurological condition. I’m not a doctor or any health professional and can’t tell you that for certain. But, damn. Read those sentences, again.
Maybe it’s time we looked up from our phones and took in the world around us. I promise you, experiencing it in the moment rather than on social media is so much better.