I lost my phone in Paris.
(This has something to do with writing, I promise.)
Actually, my phone got stolen in Paris. But the details don’t matter. What matters is that for the last three days of my trip, I didn’t have my calculator-sized, Wi-Fi-seeking security blanket to fall back on.
It took almost a week to get a replacement, an experience that made me more crafty in my attempts to communicate with far-flung friends and family. But the experience also made me realize what I was missing by having my nose in my phone on a regular basis.
What’s a girl without a smartphone to do?
Without my phone, I had to let myself get bored.
When I rode the subway, my choices were to look out the window, or talk to my travel companion (or my favorite: both). When I stood in line at TSA, I watched the other travelers and let my mind wander.
Without Wi-Fi, cell service, or a laptop, I read almost two entire books on my return flights. This was in late March, and I had maybe finished one novel during the rest of the first quarter of the year.
Paltry performance, Rowan.
This post does not exist to make you feel guilty about using a smartphone, or lofty because you don’t have one. I have a love-hate relationship with my phone, and I’m convinced there’s no single perfect method for becoming a productive-yet-content, technology-consuming human.
Being without my phone for more than a weekend made me remember my childhood: How I had devoured book after book, biking back and forth to the library on a near-daily basis, designated reading tote bag packed with young-adult novels.
I grew up in a time when the internet came in the mail on CD-ROMS from AOL. When you couldn’t talk and Google at the same time. When growing up as the only kid at home meant books felt like trusted friends.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, I realized I wanted that experience back.
How I rediscovered reading (while living a smartphone life)
Going a week without my phone didn’t turn me into a writing magician, pumping out novel chapters until the wee hours each night.
Don’t give me that much credit.
But my brief break from technology did make me feel more creative.
I embraced my phone-free time as an opportunity to turn over words and phrases in my mind; to consider my work as a writer and my approach to the craft. To soak up what I read and hope to learn a smidgen from writers I admire.
So when I got my phone back, I did these things to maintain the energy of my temporary digital detox:
1. I reconsidered which social media apps I kept on my phone
Did I need two different apps for the sole purpose of taking photos of my cats, putting cute filters on them, and zapping them to my friends? Not really.
I even (gasp!) deleted Facebook from my phone. I haven’t disappeared from social media, but I’ve pulled back the reins on my personal use. No one I know has commented that they’ve noticed this.
2. I started rescheduling my TV time
A few of my favorite shows returned this spring, and of course, they all run new episodes at 10 p.m. You know what time is perfect for curling up in bed with a good book? 10 p.m.
Instead of scheduling my evening around the newest episode of the hottest show, I catch up on later in the week, usually when I’m at the gym.
Rescheduling my TV consumption — bonus points for multitasking, maybe? — means I can wind down the night away from electronic screens while I relax with a book.
3. I stopped procrastinating
Everyone has a list of “to-be-read” books as long as your arm, right?
I decided to stop putting them all off for “eventually, when I have time.”
Remember when your teacher made you read for 15 minutes after lunch? Fifteen minutes is plenty of time to enjoy a book chapter or a portion thereof. Why wait until my next vacation to try to squeeze in all those novels my friends can’t stop talking about?
I’m picking up novels and other titles I’m excited about right now. It may take me a while to finish reading them, but I find the stack on my nightstand to be inviting, not intimidating.
I haven’t started any new creative projects since I refocused my energy on reading every day, but I’m seeing pops of creativity appear in my day job and freelance work. I’m just beginning to imagine the possibilities for my writing craft.
Have you taken a digital detox of any length? How did it affect your reading or writing habits?