When it was first suggested that we spend two weeks sailing around the coast of Turkey, I was hit with both excitement and apprehension in equal measure. Not just because I had never sailed before, but also because I knew that it would mean very limited internet access. It was possible to rent a WiFi router for the duration of our trip, but part of me was eager to try a proper digital detox…switching off entirely unless we chanced upon WiFi at a restaurant on one of our few trips to the shore. I’d been feeling stressed and ‘screened out’ in the run-up to our trip, and I hoped that the time away from outside influences, emails and social media would help me to rebalance my internal settings in some way. It turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done…
As we left the marina and its WiFi behind in Fethiye, I felt pretty relaxed about the whole thing and busied myself with the not so small tasks of getting to know our boat and actually learning how to sail.It wasn’t until later, once we had moored up in a secluded bay for the night, that the first waves of panic (pun intended) began to wash over me. Here we were, pretty much in the middle of nowhere it seemed, with no way of finding out what was going on in the outside world. What if there’d been some kind of horrific event, which seems to have become all too frequent these days? As somebody who is constantly glued to the news, it was really hard to not know what was going on in the world on a minute by minute, day to day basis. Another concern I had was if something had happened to my family members. There was no reason for me to worry, but if they needed me, how would they get in touch? There was no reception for phone calls, and it would be days until I read any messages.
On a more superficial note, I was really missing Instagram. Here I was in a stunning location, surrounded by azure blue coastlines, turtles, and mountains, and I couldn’t story it or post about my experience of learning to sail. After all, if it isn’t ‘on the ‘gram’, did it even happen? The days passed by, and despite having a great time, there was always a silent, churning anxiety somewhere in the background. A feeling that something had happened or that I was missing out on something. This lasted until I finally connected to WiFi some five days later.
Once we reached the small beachfront restaurant on Turkey’s south-west coast, my anxiety heightened as I logged in to the WiFi. WhatsApp messages flooded in, various notifications flashed up on my screen, and my inbox was seemingly overflowing with new emails. At first, it was overwhelming, but when I really looked at what I had missed, there was the dawning realisation that actually, I had missed very little. Firstly, the emails were mainly from PR companies and generally irrelevant. I’d set up an out of office reply and had let all those who mattered know in advance that I would be away with very little internet access, and most of these people had taken this on board, emailing me with non-urgent stuff to deal with upon my return to Dubai.
Secondly, the WhatsApp messages were largely from groups that I belong to and thus were not directly for me (although I did enjoy reading through everything!). Even my family had failed to get in touch, so I sent them a quick picture to let them know that all was well. So much for there being a major disaster that only I could sort out!
Finally, a quick scan of Facebook pretty much confirmed what I had already known, deep down; these days, it just seems to be a collection of adverts for things I’m not interested in, or a round-up of randomness that friends have commented on or liked, most of which are not essential for my day to day life. I made a quick Instagram post and then double checked the news to make sure the world was still in one piece. Then, we headed back to the boat and away from this magical connection to ‘the real world’.
What I learned
Another three or four days passed by until I was able to get to a WiFi connection again. This time, my anxiety about not being ‘connected’ was much less. Instead of spending hours gazing at my screen, I read books, swam, watched the nature around me, spoke to my husband, and had a good old think. In fact, my ‘connection’ to what was going on in my immediate surroundings was greater because I was not constantly distracted by my phone.
I became more present in each moment, noticing my thoughts and reactions to various scenarios and contemplating the future. Without my phone being switched on 24/7, I was able to consider what I really wanted from life, away from the noise of silently observing the highlight reels of other people. I thought about the past and the various paths I had taken so far and was really able to zone in on my goals and desires for the future.
One of the most refreshing things was waking up each morning and getting on with my day, either by sipping coffee on the deck or hopping in the water for a swim, rather than immediately scrolling through Instagram and seeing what other people were up to. I questioned why I ever did this is the first place; why did I put so much emphasis on other peoples’ lives instead of going about my own? Was it simply a case of being nosy, or some kind of insecurity/comparison game that ultimately did not serve me well at all? I reluctantly decided that it was the latter and made the decision to try my best not to pick up my phone as soon as I woke up once I was back at home and dealing with reality.
The next time we headed to the shore and picked up some WiFi, I knew that apart from wanting to look up one or two things and check in with my family again, I wouldn’t need to be connected for long. A couple of days later, when my husband asked me if I wanted to go and ‘check the internet’ again, I said no. I had now grown to enjoy the silence and the simplicity of this time without my phone.
Did it last?
Upon returning to Dubai, it was all too easy to fall back into familiar habits. After all, I’m not saying that we should all get rid of our phones and head back to the 1980s. Like everyone else, I rely on my phone both for my work and my social life.
It’s the mindless scrolling that can lead to negative self-talk and doubts about your own self-worth that I object to. That a device can be as much of a distraction as it can be a help, and it’s just too easy to spend hours a day hunched over it, wrecking our posture whilst we’re at it.
Three tips to reduce the time spent on your phone
☆Work with your phone in another room (unless you really, really need it for a specific task) and only look at it occasionally.
☆Set yourself a time in the evening by which you must put your phone down for the night. Ideally, this should be at least an hour before you plan on going to sleep.
☆Instead of looking at your phone before you even get out of bed, do something that serves YOU instead. This could be a spot of meditation, 10 minutes of yoga, walking the dogs, or even talking to your significant other!