In a smartphone-obsessed world, it can be hard to imagine unplugging for even a moment. We count on our devices to satisfy all of our desires, whether we want food delivered to our door, a friend to immediately chat with, or a few minutes of time-killing entertainment. But our society's love for our screens often borders on a reliance, and sometimes the best remedy can be taking a break and disconnecting altogether.
For the past seven Summers, I lived many people's worst nightmare: going two months completely free of electronics. This meant having no access to electric lights, no outlets, and yes, no phones or computers every Summer from ages 9 to 15.
With each Summer I returned to camp, it felt harder to unplug. My younger self mostly used electronics for movies and entertainment, a void filled at camp by the many daily games and activities. Over the years, however, time on electronics became more and more synonymous with time on social media, which I used to connect to my friends and family. As social media grew to be a key part of my daily life, disconnecting from my electronics felt like disconnecting from the world around me.
Growing up with anxiety, I always found the first week of being off of electronics the most difficult. I would constantly stress about everything that was going on in the outside world, including all the unread texts, un-"liked" posts, and unopened Snapchats that I knew I was missing. But I soon came to realize how much social media contributed to my anxiety during the year. Wondering why more people weren't "liking" my Instagram photos, seeing posts of events I wasn't invited to, and needing to craft witty replies to my friends' texts all represented some of my greatest stressors, and taking these things away allowed me to feel much more calm and comfortable with myself.
I soon came to realize how much social media contributed to my anxiety during the year.
Part of this comfort had to do with thinking more positively about my body. At camp, I was surrounded by real people with all kinds of body types, not the photoshopped, airbrushed women I often saw on Instagram. Unable to compare myself to the picture-perfect models that overwhelmed me in the digital world, I slowly became more positive about the way I looked, which ultimately helped my mental health overall.
Deviceless, I was also able to connect more deeply and quickly with the people around me. The bonds I formed at camp are closer than any of the other friendships I formed thus far in my life, largely because we were able to truly get to know each other free of media distractions. Without phones in hand or on the edge of the dinner table, we were all allowed to enjoy each other's company without the stresses of the digital world constantly interrupting us.
Most importantly, unplugging reminded me to focus on truly experiencing events rather than experiencing them through a screen. Living without electronics made me realize how insignificant all the photos and videos I would take at home to post on social media were; they weren't truly for my own enjoyment, but to show others all the fun I was having and to give off a hand-crafted persona that wasn't authentically me. Disconnecting allowed me to live in the moment rather than live for the post, which let me enjoy these experiences much more.
Even after camp has ended, I still find it helpful to periodically unplug whenever I need a break. Whether it's by creating a "phone pile" when eating with friends or deleting social media apps for the weekend, finding small ways to disconnect allows me to reconnect with myself and better my well-being.
Clearly not everyone has the opportunity to completely disconnect for months at a time, but we can all take a few days or even a few hours to unplug. In a world in which life can be so fast-paced and media-centered, it can serve us all to shut down our electronics from time to time and to let ourselves just be. We must remember to ask ourselves: how much of our lives are being lived through a screen rather than being truly lived?