What I learnt when I was forced to spend four days without phone reception

May 12, 2017
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Over the Easter long weekend, I ventured into the wilderness of rural New South Wales with my boyfriend and his family. I was warned before the trip that we would have very little, if any, reception while away. At the time, all I was worried about was how I would contact my family to wish them a Happy Easter.

However, what I didn’t anticipate was how uncomfortable it felt not to have a working phone or an internet connection. I have always (somewhat conceitedly) prided myself on how rarely I write personal Facebook statuses, how little I update my social media pages and how “I never even use my Snapchat!”

That was until I spent almost four days without mobile reception and realised just how much I relied on my phone. From communication and entertainment to self-affirmation and privilege, here are some of the things I learnt while off the social-media grid.

How addicted we are to the lives of other people

According to the 2016 social media report conducted by Sensis, Australians spend approximately 12.5 hours on Facebook each week, with 58 percent of young people active on Instagram and a whopping 72 percent of Australians accessing social media accounts from their smartphones.

Our mobile devices are no longer convenient communication technologies but a way for us to observe and participate in the lives of others. This is the foundation of any social media platform and it has become so normalised that we genuinely feel anxious when we we’re not checking in on what our friends are doing.

I had never given this much thought until I was unable to entertain myself by refreshing my newsfeeds and giving my friends some social media love with a quick like and a comment. Shamefully, I spent my first day or so away wondering what I was missing on Facebook and Instagram and whether anyone had texted me.

I realise retrospectively that this wasn’t out of boredom or even curiosity; it was a desperate need to stay up-to-date with the online autobiographies of my social media peers.

How to experience a moment without Snapchatting it

When we’re not scrolling through our feeds, double tapping Instagram photos and commenting on Facebook statuses, we’re posting our own content online. From selfies and concert videos to career updates and political rants, everything we do on social media showcases who we are or what we’re doing.

Most of the time, posting on social media is our way of keeping our family and friends involved in our lives, but it has also become a way for us to prove to others that we are truly living. We upload photos from gym sessions and lunches with friends so our social media followers know that we’re doing something, which causes us to spend a lot of time behind the lens of our phone camera, staring at the moment we’re capturing through a screen instead of truly experiencing it.

Like most millennials, I am definitely guilty of this. If I’m doing something fun or exciting, I have always had the urge to share it with my social media friends and followers. I was never truly conscious of this until I was unable to do so, which gave me the opportunity to watch a sunrise or sit by a fire without the constant pressure and noise of social media.

The true meaning of headspace

Disconnecting from my phone, computer, and social media accounts gave me a clarity and calmness I have never experienced with a Wi-Fi connection.

I focused more on what was happening around me, I was more active and talked to people more, I took pictures without thinking about Instagram captions and, most importantly, I recognised my immense privilege as someone who can have these feelings of discomfort and revelation about my access to phone reception.

Not everyone is addicted to and affected by technology and social media and, until stepping away from the online world for longer than a uni class, I considered myself one those people. Now, after realising the hold my iPhone has on me, I’m making the conscious effort to scroll less, disconnect more and experience my life away from a phone screen.

Penny Robinson

Penny is a Philosophy and Media and Communications student at the University of Melbourne. She enjoys traveling, snacking, and not going to the gym.