This past weekend I went camping just north of Conway, NH. As a self-proclaimed city girl, I had never been camping. Sleeping on the ground? An endless supply of bugs and wild animals? No cell phone service? I think I’ll stay in my air conditioned house and watch some Netflix, thanks.
But, I somehow found myself packing a sleeping bag, industrial bug spray and beef jerky for four days in the New Hampshire wilderness. Honestly, I had come to terms with the whole tent and fire part, but found myself in a sort of denial about having to digitally disengage for four days (four whole days!)
The spot where I was camping had no allusions of cell phone coverage. Not a speck of 3G was to be found, never mind a WiFi hotspot. My iPhone cheerily announced to me that it had “No Service” interspersed with brief periods of “E” (also known as the Edge network or, as I refer to it, “what is this Internet of which you speak?”)
Like most of my colleagues in public relations, my constant connection to the digital world has crossed from a professional necessity in to a personal reality. I find myself falling asleep to Pinterest and waking up to check my email. I use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites on my mobile phone throughout the day and I’ve stopped carrying notebooks and cameras in favor of my compact iPhone.
So, how did I, a self-proclaimed Internet junkie, fare with four days of no digital connection to the outside world?
- Pre-Day One: Unsure of what my Internet situation would be, I emailed my work colleagues and media contacts to let them know I might be out of pocket for the weekend. I apologized for any inconvenience and made jokes about my fears of bear attacks (who would know if I was attacked if I couldn’t updated my Facebook status?!).
- Day One: As we drove up the White Mountain Highway, I saw my 4G bars slowly slip, turn to to 3G and then disappear for good. I fought the process, telling myself that “E” wouldn’t be so bad, of course I would still be able to tweet and check email! In my personal life, I’ve taken to using my mobile phone to track my meals daily, so after a BBQ lunch I found myself lost as to how many calories were in the chicken I just ate. Throughout the day, as we set up our tent, cooked dinner and swam by the lake, I stubbornly kept my phone with me, convinced that I’d be able to get any urgent calls or messages. Later, when I tried to send a text message to my family to let them know I was safe, it took a stunning three hours to go through.
- Day Two: I carried my phone with me, but began using it less and less, relying on it as a camera more than as a phone. I stopped trying to access Facebook, and took three minutes to input my food for the day when I got a precious spot of signal in a nearby town.
- Day Three: My phone magically stayed in my tent for the entire day. Instead of seeing everything through the lens of my camera phone, I took it in first hand. I stopped caring about how many calories I ate (what’s an extra s’more when you’re on vacation anyway?) and didn’t even think about Twitter or Facebook updates.
- Day Four: On my way home, I hit the point where my signal returned and I was suddenly inundated with text messages, emails, calendar reminders and social media updates. I managed to put my phone down and not worry about any of it for the rest of the drive. It wasn’t until late that night that I sorted through to figure out what needed my immediate attention, everything else I left.
The verdict? Although tough at first, I think my digital diet was good for me. It reminded me that not everything begins and ends with my iPhone. Truth be told, not having it around left me surprisingly less stressed than I would have been otherwise.
Taking some time off, forced or not, made me realize how important it is to put the phone down every now and then. Yesterday was my first day back and I almost miss my digital intermission. But, so far I’ve found that I’ve been more cognizant of my phone usage. On my train ride home yesterday I opted to read a book (a real one!) instead of scanning through Tumblr.
Have you ever taken a break from being digitally connected? If so, what was your experience?