It was September and I was walking home, distracted by an impending sense of having something I needed to do. Somewhere I needed to be, someone I should be talking to. I looked down at my phone: 3 iMessages, 2 Facebook notifications, and a Snapchat. Involuntarily swiping left, I caught my mind flirting with the prospect of disconnection. What would it feel like to break free of the constant stream of lives, updates, and opinions I’ve tethered myself to? I turned my phone off.
But what if I kept it off…
For a month?
With a simple post on Facebook, I began. It read: “ditchin the phone for a month, if you need me, shoot a Facebook message my way or write me a letter (preferably the latter). Stay tuned for any resulting revelations.”
There’s a constant humming. We’re always on, always connected. Abandoning any sense of finitude, we’ve adopted a perpetual state of incompletion. There’s a droning in our pockets, constantly reminding us of the world we’re mission out on. A world that we need to know about, that needs to know about us.
Post, scroll, check, recheck.
It’s that incessant connectivity I originally wanted to escape; the impeding overwhelm of daily life, characterized by our attachment to everyone else. Little did I know there was more to this experiment than merely escaping the noise.
As the first phoneless days passed, I noticed that while we’re more connected than ever, we’ve never been so afraid to be alone. With the comfort of connection now gone, I stepped into a world of perceived solitude.
Yet slowly, a thin yet unwelcomed sense of disappointment began creeping over me. I’d want to immortalize sunsets in photos only to find myself having to accept the inevitable finitude of their beauty. I’d want to share flashes of happiness with friends only to find myself reveling in isolation. But hardest were the moments where I’d want to check if anyone thought of me, messaged me, craved me–only to realize I was unreachable. As the moments passed, I found myself disassociating worth from sociability.
As days turned to weeks, my life adopted a new normalcy. Walks became longer, conversations more fulfilling, life less distracted. Involuntarily, I was spending more time thinking, reflecting. Three weeks in, I found myself alone at a restaurant— far away from the dependability I’d placed on others for validation.
My mind was alive with recent epiphanies. As it turned out, letting people know of my happiness wasn’t going to make me any happier, and putting my lunch on Instagram wouldn’t make it taste better. I was also surprised to discover that FOMO only existed when I was aware of what others were doing.
Alone in that booth, this experience suddenly became less about escaping connection with others and more about fostering a greater sense of it within myself.
So, where do we go from here, when the extremism of total disconnection isn’t practical, but neither is the dependability we’ve placed on interaction?
In retrospect, this experience didn’t quantifiably or physically change me. Rather, it gave me a chance to figure out who I am in relation to nobody but myself. It made me aware of the way constant connection distracts us from ourselves, masking authenticity in cloaks of conformity, painting over individuality, and externalizing our search for truth. And with that realization, September shifted something inside of me, affecting the way I see myself in relation to everyone else.
The truth is, I can’t properly put this feeling into words; and even if I could it would only resonate with myself. What we feel, the way we interact and connect with ourselves, with others, with life, and how we see the world— those experiences are so unique to each of us. But they’re also things we can’t keep pushing back. They’re things we need to tune ourselves into, and become aware of. And sometimes the only way to do that, to truly connect with ourselves, is to allow ourselves to disconnect.