Relaxed, calm, present: The results of our week-long smartphone detox

Click to play video: 'One week with just a flip phone' One week with just a flip phone
WATCH ABOVE: Ally Kothari joined Family Matters producers Laurel Gregory and Christine Meadows for a seven-day digital detox and reflects on how it felt – Oct 12, 2017

Christine Meadows: 

The digital detox is over. I did it. I survived seven days — or 168 hours — without instant access to emails, social media and text messages. I didn’t think I could do it. The longest I have gone without my phone before this experiment was a few hours. I often say I am leaving my phone in my purse until my boys are in bed but I always sneak inside for a quick look. If I couldn’t handle an evening, how could I go a whole week?

READ MORE: Could you give up your smartphone for a week? 

I have this constant fear that Bennett is going to come home from kindergarten with a picture he’s drawn of our family and in it, I will be holding my phone.

I don’t want to miss out on these years because I am watching people I’ve never met prepare supper on Instagram stories.

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According to my battery history for the week prior to the start of this experiment, I spent 24 per cent of the time on Instagram. I never let myself feel bored.

Christine Meadows’ battery history reveals how she spends her time. Christine Meadows/Global News

The first day was the toughest. I was constantly reaching for my phone to check the time or to see if I missed a message and it wasn’t there. It’s a time filler while you wait or if you need a break from the grind. I bet I hit the home button on my phone hundreds of times day. I did miss taking photos. I missed randomly Googling things or filling my shopping cart with clothes and shoes I never intended to buy. I missed texting friends. There are probably eight friends I text nearly every day to check in.

During this experiment there were a couple emails, two phone calls to my landline but not a lot of communication with them. A couple people even complained (in the friendliest way) that this was inconvenient for them.

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READ MORE: These are the clear signs you’re too attached to your phone, according to docs

The whole experiment was freeing! It was such a reminder of how small my world really is and what’s important. It flew by.

My evenings were so relaxed. I watched shows from start to finish. I read two books. I organized the basement. I was so much more calm and never once got the feeling like I was missing out.

How is that possible? I think I was feeling overwhelmed with the news cycle the past few weeks and rather than take some time to decompress, I was self-medicating with the distraction of my phone.

I initially thought I should do this for a month but I probably need to learn to live with it. My new smartphone game plan is to keep it out of sight. It doesn’t need to be in my back pocket or even in the kitchen.

READ MORE: Stop looking at your smartphone at dinner and socialize instead 

Ben Wong is a clinical counsellor we interviewed for our series. He pointed out that studies show that a device between two people, even if it is turned off, changes the way we communicate.

“The mere presence of it significantly decreases each other’s empathetic capabilities. ie: our ability to listen, our ability to understand, our ability to be in the other person’s shoes, to understand and anticipate what it feels like,” Wong said.

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READ MORE: Ad campaign reveals how technology can hurt human relationships

I want to do tech-less Tuesdays at home. I want take more mental pictures. And I want to continue this feeling of being present.

I survived no smartphone for a week. That was the easy part. Now I need to figure out how to live with it.

Watch below: For many parents, smartphones are how they bank, keep up with social media and connect with family and friends. One Edmonton mom says while the devices are convenient, they’re also distracting. So, she decided to give it up for a week. Here’s Laurel Gregory with part one of a two-part story.

Click to play video: 'How hard is it to disconnect from smartphones in 2017?' How hard is it to disconnect from smartphones in 2017?
How hard is it to disconnect from smartphones in 2017? – Oct 10, 2017

Laurel Gregory:

I wouldn’t consider myself digitally dependent. You’re talking to a girl whose friends regularly harass her for texting back hours to days later. I never interrupt meals or conversations by peeking at my phone. In fact, I regularly allow it to go cold at the bottom of my purse on weekends. I don’t just enjoy the luxury of powering down on the weekends, I embrace it.

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That said, I’ve noticed the convenience of smartphone access has chiselled away at my attention span and my ability to focus or simply be quiet. I read online news articles while waiting in line at the grocery store. If I’m on hold on the phone, I’ll default to Instagram to entertain me. I also often choose the convenience of emailing or texting family or friends over calling. I don’t think that’s a good habit.

I know my Mom, for example, would rather hear my voice. Heck, I don’t even know if she quite understands texting (She still signs “Love Mom” at the end of her texts!) My lack of respect for idle time and yearning for old school phone calls made me want to take on this seven-day smartphone detox.

The first 48 hours were challenging because of an overwhelming feeling that I was missing an important message. What if a loved one got dumped, fired or in a car accident? What if my pregnant sister went into labour early?

I laugh looking back on this feeling because I missed approximately three or four text messages in an entire week. To give you a sense of how crucial these messages were, here’s one from my sister-in-law: “I just bought a case of organic black beans at Costco..9.89 for eight cans!” (We’re Prairie folk. We like a bargains!)

READ MORE: Why your phone and the ‘fear of missing out’ may negatively impact your mental health

The best part of the digital detox was I felt an emotion I’m certain I haven’t experienced in years: anticipation. I picked up my parents at the airport last week and spent about 15 minutes in the car waiting for them to walk out of the doors. Normally I would have been on my smartphone returning emails or reading. On that day, I sat with my eyes fixated on the door and allowed my mind to wander.

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The longer I waited, the more excited I felt and when they walked out of the door, my face wasn’t buried in my iPhone. My eyes were on them.

I did miss the convenience of being able to lookup a store’s hours, call to make a restaurant reservation or do online banking on the fly (Yes, I cheated. I peeked once). But the restorative solace was worth it. At times, cutting off the constant stream of text beeps, email blings and other notifications felt like I had taken off an ankle bracelet.

So, what now? Should I go off the grid completely? Not likely. But I am going to be much more intentional about my use.

I want to consciously allocate time to this powerful device, not mindlessly browse social media notifications or reply to emails that could wait. If there’s one thing I learned over the last week, it’s that it all can wait.

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