Be Here Now
You become what you spend your time doing’. This quote popped up on my newsfeed whilst I was doom scrolling one evening.
‘What have I become’?
‘What do I want to be’?
Not a social media zombie.
It was enough to make me switch off my phone for 100 hours; to hit factory reset, to recalibrate, to live in real time. I highly recommend it – along with a digital detox – which is easy if you go camping somewhere with no phone reception.
We headed to Dumfries and Galloway (sleeping phone securely stashed in the glove box), from early Sunday to Thursday afternoon. The first day was the only tricky bit…
Getting to the campsite required the use of our dog-eared map book rather than getting entangled in Google maps.
I didn’t Google any of the new music I heard on the radio. I couldn’t check if Chilly Gonzales indeed wrote his new release about lockdown. Who cares anyway?
Paying for the campsite, I had to remember my PIN number rather than using contactless on the phone.
We didn’t even know if we cared about the Euro football final, but sat in the car anyway and tuned into BBC Radio Scotland. It reminded me of my childhood, listening to cricket commentary in a boiling car in Australia. Howzat!
I couldn’t use the Plantnet app to identify if the herb we picked to make tea with was indeed yarrow. It tasted good, so it probably was.
I decided to write a story about my phonelessness, cue a frantic search for a pen. I was aghast I’d stopped scribbling things on bits of paper, but instead had my whole life on my electronic device. Nothing was secret any more, all of my thoughts shared with Google.
I couldn’t check the weather forecast at least eight times a day. I looked out of the tent instead and hazarded a guess that the weather today would be pretty similar to the weather yesterday.
I lost track of time. I didn’t know what other people were doing. I didn’t think about corona-rage, political disharmony, or corporate sleaze.
My shoulders lowered from up near my ears, hunched over, to down in their natural relaxed position. My neck ache disappeared, even though I was sleeping on a thin camping mat on a slope.
I didn’t take photos of sunsets to post on social media. I watched the sunsets slowly fade to black and read a book by torchlight.
I had an epiphany on an empty beach and made a plan to leave social media (well abandon Facebook and Instagram anyhow), Twitter can remain.
The hundred hours flew by, as they do when you’re camping in a stunning location with a pile of good books. The longer I left my phone off, the more reluctant I was to turn it back on. And when I did? I’d hardly missed a thing.
Did you know that your cortisol levels are highest in the morning? That’s your stress hormone, designed to give you a boost to get out of bed and go hunting. For many nowadays, it can mean automatically reaching for their device and checking email before even hunting down some porridge. Not a great way to start the day.
Mindfulness courses I’ve tried suggest trying meditation instead. Even simply taking the time to take some deep breaths instead of scrolling social media is an easy way to improve morning time. Hell is other people, according French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who said as much in his play Huis Clos.
I had underestimated the effect of continuously absorbing other people’s opinions via my mobile handheld device.
By not consuming other people’s realities for four days, my own reality became much calmer and less morally indignant.
I was not outraged about whichever sleazy politician was news-of-the-moment. Ignorance is bliss, as someone once said.
Since the great ‘no phone’ experiment of July, I have completely come off Facebook and Instagram and seriously limited my Twitter time.
Instead of habitually picking up and scrolling my phone for entertainment when I have a spare minute, I simply sit and enjoy having a spare minute.
By not posting on social media I’m also not taking photos of everything. There is an environmental implication on using electronic data… The energy has to come from somewhere.
A smartphone can of course be a brilliant tool; there is so much we can do from our palm that wasn’t possible, even twenty years ago.
However, due to clever programming, social media is designed to be addictive and to create a big black hole in our attention spans. The endless scrolling and updates hook you in.
So, what else could you be doing with your time?
Having an, ‘internal locus of control’ means that you personally feel in control of outcomes in your life. The hysteria of social media can facilitate an, ‘external locus of control’, in that external forces control your life.
This can be a very debilitating feeling, and a very good reason to filter how much news and social media impinges on your time. The world of course is in a constant state of flux, particularly over the last year or so.
But who do you want to be? “You become what you spend your time doing.”
A Dumfries & Galloway sunset from Tracy’s tent. Andy Wright