A Digital Disconnect

The Many Wintered Crow. James Smetham. 1880.

Dear Friends,

Please forgive my extended absence. I am plowing through a busy season of college applications that have stolen my time and motivation to blog. I appreciate your grace, dear reader, in opening this letter, even when the writer is weary and fickle. This week, I felt the beckoning of inspiration to write and I followed. 

Four weeks ago, my Media Literacy class embarked on a two-week divorce from our smartphones. I exchanged my glossy iPhone for a small, black Nokia dumbphone. Wearied by the constant access to my smartphone, I was excited to embark on this experiment. I did not realize how renewing it would be.

When I first held my dumbphone, I enjoyed the physicality of it. It was amusing to put the small, ebony box to my ear and hear a voice echo through the minuscule speaker. It was also nostalgic, as I had a Nokia (for communication purposes) when I was eight. 

But, beyond its physicality, my Nokia revealed critical aspects of my relationship with technology as I progressed through the experiment.  

The absence of my phone meant the absence of a silent temptress. No attractive screen lingered near my computer, whispering to me when my eyes left the screen or boredom itched my mind. Devoid of distraction, I experienced a sense of freedom as I pondered ideas and completed my work without interruption. I entered more deeply into what I was accomplishing in each moment with greater focus and efficiency. 

This heightened focus pervaded my free time as well. When I was not working, I actually heeded my surroundings. Without a constant, portable source of entertainment, I looked out the windows, touched the leaves, sat on benches, examined ivy crawling on gates, and observed people on the streets. I reveled in the realness around me. The world was not a blurry background, flickering behind my smartphone; it was alive, calling to me, capturing my attention. As someone with a tendency to daydream and vanish into my mind, my divorce from constant access to the digital realm restored my focus and connection to the present. 

In the first few days of the experiment, I noted my urge to check my messages. I reloaded my email inbox and checked my computer for new messages. I desired to feel wanted, needed. I felt that the absence of messages somehow defined my friendship status and my worth. At times, I felt lonely, I felt that I was missing out on something. Yet, this digital isolation, while challenging, was valuable. 

I realized that my identity was separate from the number of people who wanted to connect with me digitally. I realized the power of face-to-face interaction; I asked purposeful questions and enjoyed the presence of another human being. I intentionally spent quality time with the friends I wanted to invest in. I wrote letters, embracing the joy of conveying my thoughts and communicating with another human being in a unique way. 

Separated from the digital noise my phone carried, I befriended silence. It was uncomfortable at first. With no music or podcast humming in my room, distracting me from my heart and mind, I had to face my uncomfortable emotions. I had to face my chaotic thoughts. In the silence, I heard my sorrow. In the silence, I felt the anxiety in my body. In the silence, boredom nagged. But, in the silence, I found beauty. I found a deeper self-awareness. I found a capacity to make peace with my mind and heart. I found an ability to even enjoy the stillness. In the silence, I valued music more, perceiving it as a gift, a delicacy, rather than an amusement I was entitled to. 

I extended the two-week experiment, and it has now been four weeks since I have seen my smartphone. When I reunite with my smartphone, I desire to approach it with intentionality and control, viewing it as only a tool. A map, a cab hailer, a calculator — but no longer a digital rabbit hole. I have tasted the liberty of focus and the beauty of silence, and I value these experiences more than immediate entertainment. I want to go on more quiet walks, I want to peer through windows, I want to be bored, I want to live. 

Technology, the helpful yet unhelpful imp, will still be there, hovering in my life. But I now decide when to enter its realm and when to depart.  

How about you? What has your experience with technology been like? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I love to hear from you. 

2 responses to “A Digital Disconnect”

  1. Well written Abbi! I’m glad you’ve experienced a new sense of freedom with the nokia dumb phone. Thanks for sharing here.

  2. This is fantastic! I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately, too. We live in such a world of distraction and I really want to practice silence, solitude, and stillness more–those practices cultivate peace and gratitude.

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