Last Sunday we launched NZ's first Digital Detox Day. After a couple of weeks hustling support, ironically on social media, TV and the laptop, to promote the day this was going to be a welcome respite.
The day before I had made plans with my family, my girlfriend and a friend Emmylou to meet at Bennetts Cafe at 10am and walk the Bream Tail Mangawhai Walkway before picking up my Grandad from his retirement home for a family dinner.
It felt strange but reassuring making such specific plans in advance to meet at certain locations and times during the day. Like a magical adult treasure hunt, or life 20 years ago.
I woke up the next day feeling so rejuvenated, free and excited. The lack of decision fatigue, distraction of digital devices and the fact we had some ripe avocados back in season certainly helped.
However for most a phone-free morning is not the norm, 80% of smartphone users check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up. And most teenagers sleep with their phones in their room, next to them or under their pillows and they are losing serious sleep because of the blue light exposure and constant need to check their phone through the night.
Even if people can't detox for a day they must do it morning and night, like brushing teeth and saying good night to your family it should be mandatory to have phone free bedrooms for our own health and sanity. As Arianna Huffington says: "Remember, your bed is for sleep and sex only--no work!"
After following Arianna's advice my girlfriend Moni and I did a silent meditation, practiced yoga, wrote in our gratitude journals and had a beautiful breakfast together whilst we watched the sun rise. We also had to clean chicken shit off the deck but even that was pleasant. I felt much more present with her and the morning felt sacred, like a special birthday, Christmas morning or Football World Cup Finals Day.
We then drove off to meet everyone at Bennetts Cafe. Without any music in the car due to no Spotify the drive took on a meditative quality. Driving down a familiar road felt like a road trip in a foreign land. I remember seeing a hawk perched on the road with it's morning road kill, and visualised myself riding along the smooth bitumen on my road bike in my finest Sunday lycra. However a man in lycra is not the scariest thing, I also saw plenty of other faces on phones in cars passing by which could soon turn them to hawk bait. 1 out of every 4 accidents is now caused by people on phones.
We then arrived to the shock of catching my mum on her phone! Lucking, it was in the car park not behind the wheel. My sister and I with a sense of humour and responsibility to uphold the rules of the day yelled out, "mum, what are you doing!?" She said she had to call my grandad to say that he could no longer come around for a dinner as Dad was too sick to have visitors. We let her know she would get away with a warning this time and we should get some natural remedies for dad.
Suddenly the social norm of being on digital devices had flipped. Any thought of being on your phone felt as rude and socially unacceptable as using a strangers toothbrush or wearing boots covered in cow shit to a yoga class, e.g. If you're doing it you better be doing it to save someone's life.
We enjoyed our decaf coffees and turmeric lattes at Bennetts. It felt like being on holiday in France, reading in the courtyard, listening to the water fountain, patting other peoples dogs and saying "bonjour" to strangers next to us on the shared table. Even telling them that we're taking part in a Digital Detox Day with such pride as though we were the first passengers to book a one-way flight to mars with Elon Musk.
We then walked our talk, literally. On a grey windy day we stuck to our plans and beat the rain to walk for 2+ hours along the Bream Tail Mangawhai Walkway. I had some of the most profound and interesting conversations with Emmylou, I got to know her on a much deeper level and hear about her childhood and family and how she was so scared to tell her dad she quit being an accountant to work in hospitality, and to her surprise he was delighted. We also talked about our dreams and aspirations to find a life of purpose and Maori kid she helped who had never been over the Auckland harbour bridge before, even though he lived in the city.
I felt so connected, grateful and empathetic to her and the lives of others and wondered how rare this feeling must be in the modern world.
Mum commented on how she forgets just how beautiful this walk is and where she leaves her sunglasses. Emmylou collected shells and a palm frond to plant in her backyard. Great Barrier and the other islands out at sea seemed more majestic than normal. We all noticed the details so much more, and just enjoyed them for what they were, rather than running an instagram filter over everything.
It seemed crazy not to do a walk or adventure with family and friends every Sunday. I thought this could be the new church or an addition to a Sunday brunch! "An extra side of avocado, gluten free toast without any phones or #hashtags thanks."
Speaking of Brunch, we had a delicious one minus the "B" plus an "L", aka "lunch", and all took part in the kitchen festivities and activities.
Although my dad didn't eat, he was the sickest I've seen him in years and it wasn't from the Digital Detox. I felt for him, and I felt I had more space to listen to my intuition which told me to give dad a foot massage. Mum jumped in too. Suddenly, dad's cough went away with the secret remedy of 4 hands, some coconut oil, and family love.
As odd as it may read, I will fondly remember giving my dad a foot massage for the rest of my life. I wondered how often we miss the chance to connect and help a friend, family member or stranger because we're too busy replying, scrolling, "liking", you-tubing, refreshing or distracted by the visual and auditory pollution of screens and digital devices to listen to the notifications from our heart and what is really needed in each moment.
After lunch we read books, talked, did some stretches by candle light and had an amazing dinner by the fire. It was like winter camping in our own home, except everyone was having fun and not covered in mud.
We all talked over dinner about how profound and enjoyable the day was over a cup of tea. Mum and Dad even gave up the final of Dancing with Stars, X-Factor and their evening bedtime Grand Designs story! Shortly after it started to feel late and like bedtime. But it was only 8 pm. Without the blue light blaring at me from multiple devices, I fell back in-sync, minus Justin Timberlake, with my natural circadian rhythm and fell fast asleep.
I truly felt the happiest I had been in many months. All from just a day off digital devices. I knew theoretically that a Digital Detox Day would improve my mental health, however, the experience was much more profound than I could imagine.
I think a big part of this was because everyone I was with was participating in the day. We're products of our environment. And even though I often go out in nature and spend time away from technology on adventures and take weekends away this was different as there was no pressure or thought needed to capture every moment and stay "connected". Even if a phone or screen is going in the background, or closed in a hand, it takes some of our presence away. And it doesn't just affect us, but everyone we interact with and everything we do.
I've heard an addiction specialist, Joe Polish, says the connection is the opposite of addiction. So if we are feeling connected we don't feel the need to be addicted to our digital devices or any other vices aimlessly passing time.
My biggest take away was to make this Digital Detox Day, not just a yearly event. I think it should be every Sunday, or whenever we can, we should be allocating time to connect to the real world, look after our mental health and each other so we never lose sight of what truly matters to us, like the opportunity to massage our father's feet.
Much love rather than likes,
Yours happily and passionately,
P.S. What do you think about a Digital Detox Day first Sunday of every month?
P.P.S. It's been so great to hear about your own experiences. Would love to hear from all those participated. Keep sharing, mindfully, and lets be the change.