I didn’t quit social media on purpose, though I’ve read plenty of stories about why taking a break might be a good idea. As a type-A person who is admittedly addicted to checking email and staying in the loop — not only when it comes to my friend circle but also with news related to my job as an editor — I brushed the idea aside. “I’ll try deleting Instagram the next time I go on holiday,” I lied to myself. The most tuned out I have ever been is on a recent trip to Disney World with my family, where I decided to give up clicking through every single Instagram Story at the top of my feed (like I usually do) mostly just to conserve battery life.
But when I lost my phone in the first East Coast snowstorm of the season, Instagram Stories quickly became a distant memory. There were blizzard-like conditions in Newark, NJ, and I was in an Uber trying to get to my boyfriend’s office so we could drive to Atlantic City for the weekend. The hotel room was booked, dinner reservations were secured at one of the hardest Italian restaurants to get into, and I had my outfits picked out. It was a done deal! I had to get to him. When traffic came to a standstill and my Uber driver got us into a jam, he suggested I gather my things and get out and run to Joey, who was just a few blocks away in his own car.
I carefully tucked away my purse into my duffel bag and slipped my phone into my pocket, knowing I’d need it to contact Joey when I got close. As I hopped out of the car, my phone must have fallen in the snow, and I didn’t realise it was gone until I heard someone shouting my name from across the street. In that moment, as I was soaking wet from the storm and coming to the realisation that I had been sprinting through a dangerous area with no tracking device, all I cared about was getting to Joey. Screw the phone.
Once I was in Joey’s truck, we used Find My Friends to track my phone and found that someone had picked it up already. A few unanswered calls confirmed I was not getting it back. Knowing the type of person I am, and the fact that I stared at my screen more than I did him during the first few months of our relationship, Joey was probably shocked at how little I panicked. The weather was so bad, and we felt so overwhelmed and angry at our poor luck, that we tried to turn the car home and skip our mini holiday. But the only way traffic was moving was south, and it would take hours to travel north toward our apartment. We decided to head down the shore and make the best of our long weekend. The anticipation of four days without social media set in with every mile.
What I didn’t anticipate was how positive the experience would be; seriously, I ended up enjoying one of the best days of my life. Here are all the things that changed for the better in my case and the one thing I decided about my future relationship with my phone.
1. I stopped making lists.
I am constantly thinking about what I need to do when I get home at the end of the day. I’ve become addicted to adding calendar notifications to my phone for events as simple as “make spaghetti squash.” I mean, really Sarah, when you walk in the door and realise it’s time for dinner, I think it’ll hit you what vegetable you wanted to make. Relax.
Without a phone, I couldn’t add to my to-do list, so I learned to trust myself. I’ll remember whatever it is I wanted to do or wanted to pack in my Thanksgiving suitcase. And if I don’t, what’s the worst that could happen? While checking items off a to-do list can feel good – it’s as exhilarating for me as it is for most people to praise themselves after a hard workout class — it’s not a crisis to play things by ear. That balance can be nice.
2. I enjoyed dinner.
Joey and I made dinner reservations at Chef Vola’s in Atlantic City, and I highly suggest you go if you’re ever in the area. The Italian restaurant is cosy, authentic, and delicious. When you sit down at the table, you feel like you’re at Grandma’s table, stomach growling for dinner at 4 p.m., as she pours the gravy, meatballs, and sausage over your macaroni that she’s been nursing in the pot since she woke up. Joey’s family, who embraces this tradition fully, knows exactly what I’m talking about.
I wanted to smell every scent that wafted in from the kitchen and really savor the freshness of the mozzarella wrapped in the prosciutto. But with my phone on the table, I would’ve half-assed it. Joey’s very good at putting away his phone during dinner time, unless there’s a football game on and no TVs in the restaurant — the horror! — so I’ve always told myself to be more like him. When we’re relaxing, we can talk about anything under the sun. We played games and talked about our families. For the entire meal, the only thing we each had in our hands was a fork or the stem of a wine glass, and everything tasted better that way.
3. I lived in the moment, and I didn’t miss a thing.
When Joey and I checked into our hotel room and learned we were on the 48th floor of the new resort on the boardwalk, I couldn’t wait to watch the sunset over the ocean. I didn’t need to take a picture or let anyone else know there was #nofilter. We listened to Queen’s full 20-minute 1985 performance at Live Aid, and not just because of the recent release of Bohemian Rhapsody, but because Joey loves to watch Freddie Mercury on stage during that concert in particular. I heard every word, and not one was ruined by a surprise text from a friend or a weekend email about a news story we might need to cover on the site.
We ran through the cold to the casino next door, and I didn’t have to reach down to check if my phone was in my bag or stop to scroll through Twitter. I just watched Joey running ahead of me on the boardwalk and made a mental note to talk to him later about his high school football career, because it’s something he loves reminiscing about and it’s not like we’d be busy. I didn’t have a phone to distract me.
4. I fell in love with my boyfriend all over again.
OK, not to get all mushy-gushy, but there was one point during the weekend when I turned to Joey and asked him if he thought it was possible that any two people in the world have more fun with each other than we do. All day long, we made each other laugh. We had deep conversations and lighthearted ones.
I live with Joey, and I looked at him — I mean really looked at him — more during the 48 hours we spent together in AC than I probably have in a full month back at home, simply because we’re always so busy. Plus, I always have a phone to light up and remind me there’s something else I’m supposed to be doing. I felt so lucky to have that face-to-face time with him, with no screen in between us.
5. I realised it’s OK to tune out.
During my time without a phone, I checked email three times a day instead of 46. I did bring my laptop on the trip with me, and I knew it’d be irresponsible to completely disconnect from my job, but I realised I don’t always have to be so worried about responding to a question or a request within 10 minutes after it was sent to me.
As a fashion editor, I am always strategizing about new stories we can write and assigning content, but sometimes freeing the mind from planning can be so healthy and refreshing. By the end of the long weekend, I was able to breathe knowing the work never stops, but I can always pause it and resume later.
6. I decided to change.
I no longer want to be the person who always wins out when I compare screen time stats with my friends. I want to be able to put down the phone for hours, not minutes. I want to hold my boyfriend’s gaze for more than 0.5 seconds from across the dinner table. I want to watch the sunset from start to finish, instead of just glancing at it, snapping it, and posting it somewhere.
I like to remind myself that work is not my whole life, and I really do associate my phone with constantly being “on” for the job. But when it comes down to it, my loved ones and the way I see the world are what define me. If I’m not really looking at those people and those things, or there’s a screen between us, won’t I lose sight of who I am?
Social media is no bad thing, because I do believe it connects the population in new ways that can be beneficial. But maybe we should all consider what life was like before, when no one felt so obligated to keep up appearances or keep up with other people’s appearances. A time when everyone was a little more loose — maybe a time like Freddie Mercury’s. I feel like I experienced it that night out on the boardwalk with Joey. I felt free, like “any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me.”