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Disconnected: What 3 days without a cell phone taught me



Listen, this isn't my typical subject matter. I usually write about healthy mindsets and establishing healthy habits. I typically break down the walls of our nutritional and physical behaviors brick by brick to examine them in order to determine if they build up our goals.


But in that way, this is the same. You see we live in a technological world that goes terabyte-fast. Our brains struggle to upload all the information and it often leaves us exhausted without even knowing why; all we did was scroll Facebook for an hour (and that's conservative). Technology can, and often does, make us unwell. Comparison traps, disrupted circadian rhythms, relationship strain, the fear of missing out, the stress of getting behind.


Disconnecting

I'd previously taken all the responsible steps to ensure I didn't become too dependent on electronics. After my third child was born my husband and I walked away from social media for two YEARS. We were the outcasts and we had this odd little thrill when people said "did you see that thing on Facebook?" And we'd reply as nonchalantly as we could "we don't use Facebook." I made the decision to come back to it in a limited capacity only when I decided to blog and start my own business. My husband has never, and probably will never, come back to social media. Since my return I've taken various measures to ensure my use remains healthy. I've turned off notifications, eliminated night time scrolling, set up time limits and enabled use trackers. I follow only the people who use it as a force for good to be sure that I'm intentional about my time and picky about my content. All in all I strike a decent balance.


However, on Wednesday I received a phone call from my optometrist, sent a Marco Polo to my writing friends, and had been texting with my husband about how we expected our days to go so that even though we're 800 miles away from one another we can still be present with and support one another. Then, it all stopped. I couldn't answer or make phone calls. I couldn't create or receive Marco Polo's. I could email, I could text, I could even scroll social media, but I couldn't use my phone as a phone.


Some of you may not be too bothered by this. The meme's abound about how texting is the preferred method of communication as the gulfs that divide us grow ever wider. Actually speaking to people?! No longer the fav. Truth be told, I thought myself a text-preferred person as well. Until I couldn't speak to people.


It was unsettling. As a largely work-at-home mother I felt disconnected. Add to this my youngest child's stomach virus and we were quarantined in every important way.


Detox & Withdrawal

I went through the stages of grief! Isn't that ridiculous?! I experienced denial. Something isn't right. I looked through my settings, tried, tried, and tried again. My husband and I repeatedly calling each other but were unable to hear one another's voices. I reset, restarted, backed up, erased. All to no avail. My phone wouldn't be restored -- so now I had no personal information saved at all.


Then came the anger. What in the actual EFF?! How can technology be so necessary yet so unreliable? I pay over hundreds of dollars a month for connectivity and they've let me down.


Then the bargaining: at least I can text! How can I use my laptop to get around some of the obstacles? Let me prioritize here: tell my husband and my closest friends and family that I'm alive (even though no one was likely to worry for awhile), tell them if they need me to text or email. And I still have social!


Then the sadness: I don't even LIKE social media. It's not real connection anyhow. The majority of friends or followers I have don't even know my full name.


And this isn't condemnation! Our lives are stuffed full of connections, networking, and the desire to get as much value as we can in the shortest amount of time. We're told that unless we have a robust following then we can't be successful. So who did I want to be? Popular and influential in the world at large or large and influential in my small world?


Then blissful acceptance. I am fine. Everything is fine. Hey, this is actually peaceful.


Recovery

I have a friend, Amber. She is wicked smart and kind of leaves me speechless with her sharp observations and seemingly effortless writing style. She writes on her blog at alternativegrace.com and just explored the idea of digital minimalism the week before my forced technological fast. I truly love when people become intentional in how they interact with life. They reject the "norm" and submit their own strategies for living well. Amber does that. And she doesn't hide it. She says, out loud of the digital onslaught, "I've tried to be better, and I'm not strong enough." That's courage, my friends.


And as I tune into those in my actual life -- people wanting to bear their souls in order to authentically connect with others -- the resounding war cry of these women entrepreneurs, these mothers raising a generation, and these people trying to navigate what balance looks like in their lives, is "ENOUGH!" A revolution of recognition is coming and we want something else, something that fits with our values and fills us up rather than leaving us empty and exhausted. An awakening to the absolute fact that everything in the world is psychologically engineered to get us hooked. The creators of these platforms are studying psychology and addiction and using it against us. I am not exaggerating. Not even a little bit.


And it's fascinating to tune in to my symptoms of withdrawal! I panicked. I was missing out! Were people trying to reach me? Clients? My teenagers?! Fear. Just fear.


I had only a vague recollection of what was on my schedule without my calendars and notifications to alert me to appointments (sorry, Dentist, I'll reschedule!). I felt like I was forgetting things. All I had left were the fancy ways of "connecting" that weren't actual connection. Facebook, Instagram: the social media giants that cause me constant anxiety. Could that post be misunderstood? Was that offensive? Am I promoting my business enough? Am I doing it too much? Am I staying authentic? Do people get a sense for who I am? Could they ever on a platform?


Entrepreneurs all over the world understand this. To thrive in a superficial social media world is to live large online. You can be vivacious and popular on social media but lead an effectively empty personal life. And vice versa.

Usually not both -- not without sacrifice.


But the siren calls - and we answer. And the siren was telling me that days without "showing up" and "staying relevant" would harm me. But I found that I didn't care. I wanted to be relevant to my people. To my children and husband. To my best friends. To my clients.


This, my friends, has been a wakeup call.


So what'll you do differently, Chay?

I've always been a pen & paper kind of girl. Digital calendars feel tedious and now, unreliable. This has been a benefit to me when all the apps let me down. I like my paper planner, my pages of notes and thoughts. I like that I do my work in my office and keep it all there. I walk in there and it feels like creative holy ground and that has nothing to do with the technology. I find that my systems work, for the most part, it was just a shock to my system -- to my pride, if I'm being honest -- that I was so affected by a digital glitch.


I've been able to access social media the entire time, on my laptop. But I found that I didn't really want to. I received the invitation to step away, at first with trepidation and then with relish. And I made the most of it. I've been more focused, more productive, more present with my husband and children. I have been sleeping deeply and peacefully.

What a gift a glitch makes.


I'll be getting a replacement phone soon. I'll do it differently. Less apps, less texting, less dependence on the unreliable. Fewer hacks to make my life faster, fewer distractions. More phone calls to connect. It's been a realignment of my digital priorities. I acknowledge that they must factor in this crazy-fast world, but they don't have to drive me. Being forced to tune into the awareness, though frustrating, has been humbling. And I like it when my head is the same size as my heart.

It feels balanced.


Related: Align Your Goals with Your Souls