Our distraction problem in America is out of control. On average, Americans spend more than four hours a day on their phones. That’s almost two months of the year we’re staring at our screens!
The intermittent rewards of our phones are just like any other addicting device — in fact, checking our phones is a lot like playing a slot machine. Tristan Harris wrote an article titled “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind" in which he discusses how not knowing what will happen next (hello, posting on social media or checking your email) makes us come back for another micro-feel-good moment, which leads to a dopamine hit, and turns us into tech addicts.
If you’re like me, you check your phone almost obsessively. You hear phantom rings and text notifications. You might sleep beside your phone and check it first thing when you wake up. Say what you want, but our grandmothers didn’t have their phones in bed, and they knew if it rang after 9pm, it was a true emergency. Can you even imagine the beauty of those boundaries? Yeah, me either.
And that has me thinking: Has our favorite tool (the smartphone) actually made us a tool? It’s a question worth exploring.
Up until this past month, I had spent 7.5 years tethered to my cell phone. This constant connection started because I am the mom of a medically fragile child and it escalated when I became a Realtor. My usage soared when texting replaced email for most communication and then went right into the absurd when I launched my second company — The Inspiration Lab — which relies heavily on social media to connect with members.
I knew I needed to put my relationship with technology back in its proper place in my life.
So, over the week of July 4, I went on an intense digital detox. My family and I took a beach vacation, and I turned my phone off and put it in my empty suitcase in the back of the closet. Each day away from that ringing, dinging, chiming tyrant, I felt a little more relaxed. Each day I downshifted until I was finally in neutral on day five.
Digital detoxing takes time because our brains are so addicted to distraction.
I decided to go “off the grid” for lots of reasons. The first was to research the idea of Analog August for you (you’re welcome!). Secondly, to be fully present with the people and the place right in front of me. What surprised me is how much fun analog activities are.
My favorite analog activities from the vacation were:
Putting together a puzzle. No less than six of us adults were working together on and off to put together a 500-piece photo of a coral reef. The satisfaction of clicking a few pieces together was nothing short of amazing — maybe even better than getting a bunch of likes, all at once, on Instagram.
Exploring the woods and hiking with my husband. We spent time admiring trees and plants. We stopped to watch a spider spin her web. Without my phone, and the need to frame the spider for my Instagram story, I was free to just watch her. No need to hyperlapse or superzoom. I just stood there with my own eyes watching, marveling, and appreciating all that was before me.
The light-bulb moment came on day four:
For many of the most impactful events in my life, there was often a screen between me and what was happening, and I am no longer okay with that.
One night during vacation, we looked for sea turtles coming on the shore to lay their eggs. Although we didn’t get to see that happen, we were rewarded with a dazzling night sky. With no clouds and a very tiny moon, the sky over the ocean exploded with light. Jupiter was the brightest of all, and then there was the Milky Way and Orion's belt, all twinkling for us. The breeze off the ocean was just right, almost like God turned on the AC, so in our regular clothes, we just lay down on the sand, taking in the full beauty of the sky. The sand, still warm from the sun, was the perfect landing spot. When we finally got up around 11pm to go home, I realized I had never stargazed at the beach, and yet I live at the beach. How can this be? Perhaps most of the time, I am just too busy to think about things like the stars and the moon and the clouds. I am no longer okay with that either. I need to sit on the edge of the ocean and feel small. I want to be dazzled by nature, not just digital creations.
My hope during our Analog August is that we all look seriously at our digital distractions and decide what changes we’d like to make. In the slow, hot days of the summer, it seems like a great time to get back to the basics and off our screens.
This month we’ll hear from Shelley Thomas, who has written an excellent Girl’s Guide to Analog August, exploring all the ways she has implemented analog living ideas into her family of five. I think you’ll find her practical advice and wisdom on the topic refreshing.
Our Member Meetup this month will be a book exchange where we will wrap our favorite books, write a note in the front cover for the recipient, trade with another member, and leave with a delightful analog treat.
We’ll finish our analog explorations with a digital detox challenge over the weekend of August 23-25. I’ll be writing a guide for you, so you can decide if you want to join me on this journey and go cold turkey or take baby steps.
Analog August is about experiences over convenience.
I’ll leave you with this final question: Does the time spent on your devices enlarge you or diminish you?
The answer to that, and the areas where you are being diminished, is where I hope you’ll make changes. Since our time is so precious — so limited — let’s make sure we’re spending it enlarging our lives.
As you contemplate our upcoming challenge, as well as the very real research that tells us screens and other digital device usage are literally — not metaphorically — turning us into addicts, what changes do you feel compelled to make? I want to know, because the moment you type those words out, you will be far more committed to making it happen.
Here’s to resting our minds, resetting our focus, and reconnecting with the people who matter the most.