Could you go without your phone for more than a day? What about a week? Two?
For two weeks, I stayed in a rondavel on the beach in the remote Eastern Cape province of South Africa, in an eco-village called Bulungula run entirely by the local Xhosa community.
The point of our trip was a holiday for the body, but even more importantly, it was a digital detox for the mind and soul.
My time online had increased over the past year. And I was feeling it!
As my work expanded globally, I posted more often, on more platforms, and opened an Instagram account (ooh, can I be like the cool kids now? 🙂 ) to see how far my #YouAreGuided messages could reach.
But the more I posted, the less new, fresh material I actually created, and I sensed that my well was running dry. Do you know the feeling?
That “I know I should …” and at the same time “but I can’t be bothered” feeling?
Go off all internet and devices for two weeks.
Could I do it?
What would I learn?
I wanted to create a memorable holiday for myself and my son, who was 8 years old at the time. We chose Bulungula for a seaside escape, fully realizing that signal and electricity are limited there (yes, people do use phones, but we decided not to).
Located beyond the stretch of electrical lines and telephone poles, on rounded green hilltops above wide rivers, sits this eco-village that takes you back at least 100 years.
Women wearing long skirts and headwraps walked majestically, slowly, bearing large cooking pots on their heads. Children carried water and bundles of firewood on their heads as well, walking long distances home. I saw a small group of children about four years old off on a mission, hiking from one homestead to another.
We slept in a round, thatch-roofed hut made of mud bricks, plastered and painted in bright colors. Cozy!
I’ve been researching Tiny Houses for many years, and this rondavel with a diameter of 5 meters (15 feet) inside was a perfect example and experiment.
Livestock wandered constantly through the grounds. We spotted and counted 25 animals over the course of our stay, including chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, donkeys, in addition to a sand shark, eagles, crabs, frogs, and herons.
The beaches fulfilled my childhood dream: shells! Every beach should be so strewn with seashell treasures, each one more detailed and delicate than the last. Collecting shells every morning made my heart sing.
At night the sky was so dark because of the limited electrical lights that we witnessed the best shooting stars I’d ever seen: fiery comet trails across the horizon. Perfect for big wishes.
What could we do together, my son and I, when we were far too accustomed to sitting next to each other on our respective screens? (Me on Pinterest finding recipes, him on youtube watching video game walkthroughs?)
The Bulungula River was shallow because of a drought, so we spent up to two hours at a time just rolling about in warm water just three centimeters deep, feeling the current pull on our fingers and toes.
We played card games of Uno. A lot. One day we played twelve rounds in a row.
He grumbled sometimes. He missed his iPad and that feeling of control you get when you get to choose what to see.
I had downloaded a few kids podcasts before we left, so I allowed those in, since audio creates a completely different experience from video. We listened together: Wow in the World, Brains On!, Forever Ago, and Crash Boom Best – I can recommend them, and they’re all free. Take a listen if you have a kid that age!
I taught him Solitaire and a few other real card games. He drew pictures, a little bit (some of his video games!). I journaled. We walked.
We were surprisingly exhausted, and from the first day to the last, we went to sleep almost immediately after supper (Bulungula caters great stews, pasta, and bobotie).
We woke up a little after sunrise – were we re-calibrating to our actual, natural rhythms?
I know that at the end of our 14 days away, we were ready to re-engage with the big city, with other people, and with electronics. It was time, but it had been magical to be away.
These are the insights I gained from my Digital Detox:
Silence soothes the soul
Not consuming allows seeds of creativity to sprout
Being in Nature stirs up the true spirit
Open, unstructured time is a precious, privileged resource and a great medicine, especially for family relationships
The return to ‘the real world’ should be slow, gradual, and gentle
Addiction is not just to chemicals – it’s an attempt to fill an internal emptiness. What IS that emptiness, the one that social media attempts to fill? What would truly satisfy that longing instead?
My Applications and New Practices After My Digital Detox
Move my phone away from my bed, preferably to the kitchen
Use a real analogue clock (with a face and two hands!) to tell time
Turn all notifications off of all platforms except for Whatsapp
Turn all Whatsapp groups to mute for one year
In the morning: pray, write in my journal, and eat/drink before looking at my phone or opening my laptop
Screen time starts at 8:00 when the Seekers groups open and I start to answer their daily questions
Turn phone to Do Not Disturb all day long and especially overnight
When waiting for something out in the world (school, shops, bank), don’t check Facebook. Carry a paper notebook and a pen.
Make shopping lists on paper, not on my phone
Draw a picture, sketch, write snippets of conversations you overhear – there could be #guided messages there
Or meditate for 5 minutes, with conscious breathing and eyes open
Pay attention to pain in the right wrist – it’s not carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s Scrolling Syndrome
I hope that helps you see that you’re not the only one addicted to your phone! I’m right there with you!