I accidentally left my phone at home the other week and I surprisingly didn’t freak out or feel lost without it. I understandably felt cut off when my phone was stolen earlier this year, mostly because experiencing theft isn’t fun and it caused a great deal of chaos on a school day.
When it happened more recently, I knew it was back home safely charging in the kitchen, I hadn’t been stolen, we were but momentarily parted and what’s more Peter, my husband had his own phone with him if I needed to use it. I didn’t.
Bar checking the train time home and him filming a Boomerang of the kids and I, being silly on a bridge, he didn’t use it either.
He rarely does to be honest.
He loves his Canon camera so took photos like this beauty above, as he usually would, here and there throughout the day but he didn’t once go on social media. He hasn’t used FB for 7 whole years (!) so that’s not how he rolls, and while he’s a tech guru/ IT developer, he’s never been interested in being connected or visible online. He is somewhat visible by proxy because of my job but he’s not a fan of being in front of the camera, and any photos of him on here or on my channels will have taken some coercion (mostly because I want a family archive of us, more than anything and he is good at bringing he mums to my yard ;).
Peter often says that he never married a blogger, as I was a filmmaker back in those days but here we are: sorry Peter! (He is very supportive of my career just less supportive of his face being on my blog!)
So, what happened when I went without my phone? I felt immediately more relaxed and less concerned with how I looked to start, and the need to appear put-together with perfect make up. Most importantly, without the need to document what I was doing on my phone, I observed the world around me more deeply. I peered out of the window as the train whizzed from Windsor to Waterloo allowing me to people and country-watch and I relished in overhearing snippets of conversation (I’m nosey like that) and receiving gummy smiles from babies in prams. I even napped for parts of the journey to and from Waterloo, something I’m sure I wouldn’t have done had my phone stimulating me with it’s sleep-inhibiting blue light and the bright feeds of other people’s lives.
I noticed several people smiling at me as I walked through the city, an elderly couple crossing the road, a 30 something mum pushing twins, a group of children waving from a tour bus and later, a family sat in the window of Nandos as we made our way home.
I saw them all. Most probably because I wasn’t endlessly filming my own microcosm for Instagram Stories, or making requests to mini comedian Alexander to repeat something funny I could document it on Twitter.
I was simply living life like it was 1999, and it was LUSH. See, 1999.
I’m not addicted to my phone, those days are long gone but like most people whose job it is to share their lives online, I’m definitely on it a fair bit. I’m not that person you go for coffee with however, who has her head in her phone. I’m a listener and a talker, and I rarely use it when the kids are around and homework is being done or we’re eating dinner.
I know how to switch off, but there are inevitably days when my phone controls me more than I would like. On those days, I can quickly spiral into a rut of constantly refreshing and updating.
I equally feel more pressured.
If I don’t reply to emails immediately, those senders often seek me out on social media dming me that they’ve emailed me.
Social media has created a culture of immediacy (it thrives from that pressure) perpetuating the expectation you must reply instantly.
I’m taking greater control of that, and while I love the messages I receive from readers and followers, I’ve realised I simply can’t answer all and not very quickly.
Equally, while I enjoy the creative sharing that comes with working online, I know how stressful it can feel at times too.
Scrolling can heighten self doubt as we compare our lives to others (the highlights reel) and some content can feel triggering too, at times.
Taking an accidental digital detox last week allowed me to fully live in the moment, and not, ‘in the moment, before I documented the moment’ but in a carefree, present and liberating way, just for myself and my family.
I experienced my day myself through my own eyes, not second-hand through the camera on my phone.
Not having my phone meant not sharing what I was doing, seeing or feeling. I simply experienced the day for my own pleasure.
I noticed the light dancing on the last of the leaves on wintry trees in St James Park, I etched the brush strokes of Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the National Gallery on my mind’s eye and smiled at the glossy cakes shining back at me under the bright lights in a patisserie’s window as I braved wet streets and cold hands in mine. I looked up to the sky and spotted a brave chap cleaning the windows of a high rise office and gasped as the boys likened him to Superman.
I gave my family my full attention for the whole day without distraction and it wasn’t just my mind that thanked me for it. My body did too.
I noticed my back was less tense and had loosened up and my shoulders had lowered.
My mind was clearer too as it had fewer literal and metaphorical tabs open.
I spotted a man at the traffic lights, dressed as Batman, and a woman in a tummy-bearing outfit I felt envious of (despite the chill)! I chatted to a police woman on the glossiest black horse I’d ever seen who reassured my sons they could stroke him before a tourist fed him polos.
I had a deep and meaningful conversation with Peter about a possible work opportunity I needed to discuss in detail and even held his hand in mine, and my son Xander’s in the other, now it was free of my phone.
Writing that is pretty sad. Surely my husband deserves my hand over my phone?
What I did crave was a note pad, to dot down observations, just shorthand scribbles, not the post in full to reflect on later. Less disruptive than a phone and not so disengaging but a prompt for later.
I acknowledge that phone or not, I’m the creative person I’ve always been; my phone and laptop are merely the tools and means in which I get my art out there.
I was drawing from the age of 2 and writing diaries from 4. It’s everything I know and love and can make sense of the world with.
Visiting the National Gallery again reminded me of my promise I made to myself to paint more (I used to exhibit many years ago) and while I started up again once my book was published, I quickly abandoned it again when life appeared to become too busy.
Imagine the pieces I could have conjured in the time I aimlessly scrolled online sans purpose?
I’m now more determined than ever to pick up a brush, again.
I should add now that I hope you don’t misconstrue this post. I love the democracy of working online and feel grateful for it, for the reach it gives me and ability to connect with others.
I love to write, learn and share.
I love that my children use educational apps which feed their creativity and that my son, Oliver, is learning to animate thanks to tech.
But like everything enriching in life, too much can become, well, too MUCH. I liken it to food: just enough is necessary, nourishing and fun, too much will make you sick.
So I’ll be leaving my phone at home a little more often and wonder if maybe you might too?