I never thought I’d be a person who needed a digital detox. But cut to me, explaining to friends how I was going to turn off my phone and laptop for an entire weekend—beginning Friday evening and continuing through Sunday night—so I could spend more time with my pets. Their responses were pretty much all the same: “Really?” and “Do you think you can do it?” and even a resounding “HA!”
It was safe to say that even though I didn’t think I was on my phone that much, the people who know me best seemed to see me as somewhat of a technology addict.
But I’m not alone. A July 2019 Pew Research Center study found that approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults go online at least daily. What’s more, 48 percent of those ages 18-29 are online “almost constantly.” In my age group, 30-49, it’s 36 percent. As everything in our lives has shifted online—how we receive the news, connect with family and friends, and watch TV shows—it’s not surprising that the amount of time we spend on the internet is so high and continues to rise.
Americans are becoming “obsessed with technology,” and that’s a problem, says Renee Solomon, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and CEO/owner of Forward Recovery.
“When people become obsessed with their phones and social media, they are not present in their lives with people and even their pets,” she says. “Everything aside from a digital outlet becomes secondary in terms of importance.”
Which brings me back to what inspired my own tech-free weekend: my two dogs.
My Digital Detox Weekend
I work from home, so I thought being around them every day was enough. But as I thought about it more, I realized the answer was no. When was the last time I had taken our dogs—Lily, a 4-year-old Basenji mix, and Gus, a 9-year-old English Springer Spaniel—on a long walk along their favorite trail? Or played their favorite game, chase-the-laser-pointer? The quantity time was there, but it wasn’t really quality time. My digital detox could certainly help them be happier—and possibly me, as well.
“Many studies suggest that petting an animal decreases tension and improves one’s mood,” Solomon says.
Before disconnecting from technology, I set some ground rules:
- No social media (meaning no posting or checking feeds)
- No TV or online streaming
- No internet-based activities or apps (e.g. Google, Waze, Apple News)
- No texting or emailing
Next, I bought a film camera, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S, to document the weekend, since I couldn’t rely on my phone to take digital photos.
As soon as Friday afternoon came, I closed my laptop, put down my phone, swore off social media and Netflix, and embarked on my weekend without technology.
What I Learned from My Digital Detox
The digital detox only lasted 56 hours, but for those 56 hours I think our two dogs got more of my attention (and Todd’s, since he was the official photographer for most of the weekend) than they had in the last two weeks combined.
It’s been a few weeks since the detox weekend, but there’s no doubt I’m still reaping the benefits of disconnecting from technology for those few days. I realized that it’s just as easy to put down my phone as it is to pick it up and mindlessly scroll through Instagram.
“Living in a technology-driven world, we have to learn how to disengage from technology,” Solomon says. She recommends putting your phone on airplane mode for an hour or keeping it in a separate room from you.
“I also encourage my patients to not be on their phones when they are out with friends, and explain the importance of actually focusing and communicating with the people in front of them,” she says. “It is very difficult to disconnect, but it’s so important.”
Our digital detox weekend wasn’t anything flashy or fancy, but the pups seemed to enjoy the quality time, the surprise outings, long walks, visiting friends and generally getting to do things we wouldn’t have done if I had been glued to my phone, laptop or Netflix for hours each day.
In fact, I’ve now gotten so good at keeping my phone out of reach that I keep forgetting where I put it. And the dogs are loving it.