This story first appeared on former NRMA travel site LIve4 on August 28, 2014.
Doing a digital detox (my version of cutting back the amount of time I spent online to some or none) was one of my New Year’s resolutions. But it wasn’t until last month that I actually got around to doing it – even if it was forcibly.
Working as an editor and writer means that I spend a lot of my time online. Sure, it’s part of what I do for work, but it’s generally a large part of my life too. There’s email, social media (yup, the whole suite of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram), music (hello, Spotify and FBi On Demand), movies and TV series (I don’t own a set, so it’s all streaming for me), and generally reading any online mags, newspapers or blogs that catch my attention (and there are plenty of those!).
I was a little nervous and apprehensive when I learnt I’d be disconnected (from both phone and internet) for six days. The reason being I was going to a place where there wasn’t any coverage – the Larapinta, a beautiful but isolated walking trail in the West MacDonnell Ranges of Central Australia – for a travel feature I was writing.
The day before my trip, I walked through the tunnel at Central Station. Everyone seemed to be on their phones – texting, chatting, typing or, headphones on, listening to music. Absorbed in their technology, they seemed oblivious to the people and places they passed on their commute. Would I be jealous of their connectivity while I was away?
The sound of silence
Life became a whole lot quieter on the second day of my trip, after the signal bars on my phone disappeared completely. It felt strange, like I had lost something.
I realised I was in the habit of checking my phone if I was in transit, nervous or bored – a type of distraction to look and feel busy when I was by myself. I wondered if I was the type of person who would buy an operating system like ‘Samantha’, the one Joaquin Phoenix’s character fell in love with in the film Her, if I found myself alone in the distant future.
Being on holiday in a place as striking as I was, there was little chance of being bored. In fact, I had plenty of time to think and take in the space and silence around me, to contemplate and capture my environment for myself, on my camera and in my notebook. Instead of sharing these moments on social media, I shared them with those on my trip.
Wish you were here
There was something quite liberating about being completely offline. There was no need to apologise for not answering emails or missing calls – I simply couldn’t be reached.
While I was generally fine with it all, I missed what a phone connection meant: an easy and immediate means of communicating with the people I care about. And the truth is, after the trek on the way back to Alice Springs, I was more than a little excited when my phone buzzed with the sounds of incoming messages.
I’ve been back a little while now and I think I’ve found a nice middle ground. I appreciate Googling and dialling at a whim, but I don’t need to check my phone all the time. I’ve even gotten into the habit of leaving it behind sometimes, especially if I’m doing something leisurely. Because I’ve realised the world won’t stop if someone’s call goes to voicemail or a tweet goes unanswered for a little while.