Like many great love stories, ours ended on a train. A stranger tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I was all right and, between sobs, I garbled the words: ‘My phone is broken’. I had always been a clingy partner, but, by blacking out in my time of need, my iPhone had said a metaphorical ‘It’s not me, it’s you’. I had to admit it was over. We needed a break.
I’m not alone in needing a digital divorce. The western world has an unhealthy relationship with the internet. A recent study suggested that being separated from our smartphones even for a few minutes causes us to feel stressed. What’s more, the over-use of phones contributes to sleep disorders and depression and may even be harming our actual relationships.
In light of all this I decided to give up my smartphone for Lent.
The rules were simple. I wasn’t to use the world wide web unless it was for work. I traded my iPhone for a Nokia, to be used in emergencies only. This meant no Google Maps and, most terrifying of all, no catch-up television. When friends found out, their reaction was far from reassuring: they told me I was insane.
I didn’t feel insane. As soon as I started my detox I felt calmer. Professor David M Levy, in his book Mindful Tech, says there are ‘three main benefits’ of going offline: ‘Increased productivity and focus, better use of time, and greater relaxation (reduction of stress).’ I smugly noted that I was achieving all three.
In days gone by, sharing our woes with friends was limited to a drink in the pub. Now we have to be available all the time. If someone sends us a message, particularly since the advent of the ‘read’ tick, we have to reply. We are expected to offer advice and field questions after a long day at work or when we are grouchy and hungover on a Saturday morning. We always have to be free to lend a sympathetic ear or reply to our boss’s last email and, if we aren’t, we feel like we have failed at being decent human beings.
Living without this pressure has been liberating. I have only made plans with people in person. I’ve cooked my own food rather than stare at other people’s pictures of food; I’ve taken long baths and even longer walks. I filled my time by reading books. And I have been released from the tiresome stream of consciousness flashing up on my phone from friends every time they have a dull moment at work.
This emancipation has not been without its hiccups, however.
I have got lost more than I would like to admit, and not being able to check my bank statement online has meant my card has been declined on more than one occasion.
I have also become intolerant of anyone on their phone. I roll my eyes every time someone in my company dares to pick theirs up and at least four times a day I hear myself ask: ‘Are you listening to me?’
These inconveniences have been more than worth it, though. Better sleep and, as a hypochondriac, being unable to diagnose myself with 24 types of disease every day has done wonders for my peace of mind.
So what now? While I may not give up the internet completely, I am going to take Dr Levy’s approach and try moderation. I will go back to the Wi-Fi but will quit the iPhone during the week.
That being said, I can tell you something for certain. My Easter Sunday won’t be spent eating roast lamb with my family – instead I will be binge-watching Homeland on the sofa.