Call them what you will: downshifting dropouts or escapist breakaways – the digital-detox people are reformed junkies looking for a life after the blue screen. A documentary about five stages of grief.
The author of this article found himself in a predicament. Was he still the owner and master of his smartphone, or was he subject to a little flat-screened android? Most of us are familiar with the lure of lifestyle apps, seducing and sedating our senses with countless notifications. We get rewarded with the light of a gently shining blue screen, and a message telling us that a furniture merchant has sent us an update about their online catalog. Any distraction to take us out of the drab and gray monotony of everyday life is a welcome one.
And then you realize that you keep checking your phone, even when you don’t get a notification. Because you want the distraction. Because you realize all you crave is distraction. A study has shown that the average smartphone user interacts about 2,617 times per day with the screen. Shocked by this number, and appalled by his own addictive devotion, the author gave up his smartphone.
What followed were 5 stages of grief. This is a personal account of what happened to Ralfou:
Bye-bye smartphone, joy of my life
The farewell to my only true companion was an emotional one. From day one, I found myself performing an annoying displacement activity: my hand would reach into my pocket in search of the little android. I wanted to take him out and touch his screen to get some kind of affirmation that I was still connected with the world out there. But my pocket remained empty, day in and out. My trusty companion had gone, and the blue light of my life remained crepuscular at night.
Stage 1: Going flip phone
I soon came to realize that I still needed a phone. Having discarded all of my button phones a long time ago, my mom gave me her old flip phone that she got some time in the late 1990s. Just a monochrome LCD screen without any seductive blue light, only capable of making phone calls and sending text messages. Basically just two steps ahead of a pager. For the first week or so, I still found myself flipping the display open in an attempt to fuel my addiction, only to be disappointed every single time. Instant gratification is a terrible companion.
A quick look around in Spreadshirt’s design pool of the Customize Tool helped create a motivational T-shirt with a 90s flip phone.
Stage 2: Finding a Typewriter
After two weeks of not using my phone, I ended up feeling very remote and detached from all the great things that happen on the world wide web. Drastic measures had to be put into place in order to not fall back into my old habits. So I got rid of my laptop, the only connection I still had with the virtual world. Once I’d given up my phone, I simply ended up spending the rest of my leisure on my laptop. Same addiction, different gadget!
But how do you communicate with public authorities, banks and insurance companies without a laptop? Can you send handwritten letters to your bank asking for a loan without fearing they’d inform the psych ward? And how do you terminate your smartphone contract in writing? A typewriter was the obvious answer, and I happened to find one in a garage sale. A customized pillow as a visual sign of crisis management seemed just about right.
Stage 3: Buying a Film Roll Camera
Three weeks down the line, my withdrawal symptoms improved. No more reaching in my pocket in vain, no more craving for blue light at night. But I still had no way to take pictures of my nephews and nieces at family gatherings, nor could I face the prospect of going on vacation without a camera. Even my ten-year-old digital point-and-shoot camera was useless now that I’d gotten rid of my laptop. A Lomo (Lomography film-roll camera) sounded like a fun idea to fill the photographic void.
Step 4: Getting a Walkman
Music was the one thing that was severely missing from the start of my digital abandonment. Have you tried listening to terrestrial radio in recent years? Then you know why it ain’t easy. I found myself quickly running out of patience with the local stations. I thought of getting an iPod, but how could I put MP3s on it without owning a laptop anymore? Deliberating whether to get a Discman or a Walkman, the Walkman emerged as a winner. It’s just more retro. Once the 80s vibe had me under its magic spell, I made my own mixtapes to round off my old-school style.
Stage 5: Freedom
After 12 weeks of grievous and aggravated agony, I was free. Today, my life is a bit like traveling back in time to the year 2000. As I’m writing this article in a dodgy backstreet internet café, I can honestly say that I’m free from the desire of spending my time in front of blue screens. My friends still have WhatsApp groups and forget to call me when making plans for a night out, but I make good use of my time by recording mixtapes, collecting camera prints from the photo lab, and flicking through my 99 TV channels in search of distraction.