During a recent trip to New York City, my phone was damaged to the point where the touch screen stopped working (oh, how I miss my sturdy keyboard-containing Blackberry). It happened as I was passing my phone to the gate agent upon boarding my flight from Calgary to Toronto – the phone fell on the floor and despite my protective case, the screen cracked and I was thereafter unable to unlock my phone. And that’s when the panic began: I was traveling in another country, speaking at a conference, and attending meetings with no use of my cell phone. How the heck was I going to survive?!
In this era of technology, it’s incredible how much we rely on our smart phones every moment of our day. From the time I wake up in the morning and listen to my app-based meditation recording, check my digital schedule, and respond to pertinent emails and text messages, to the end of the day when I check my social media sites and set my alarm to wake up the next day – there are few moments during the day when I do not need my phone for one task or another.
This is especially true when traveling, given how directionally-challenged I am and therefore how heavily I rely on Google Maps and Uber or Lyft. Thankfully, this was a work trip, so I was traveling with my laptop and able to “research” places to eat, things to do, and most importantly, how to get there. And once my work-related duties were over, my mom joined me on the trip and we could rely on her phone for maps, ride-sharing, and other necessities.
There were many times during my trip when I asked myself “how did we survive before smart phones”?! As a Xennial (person born between the Millennial and Gen-X generations), I remember a time before cell phones and high-speed internet (I had dial-up internet during veterinary school) and have fond memories of paper maps (which guided me across the USA from my internship in WA to my residency in NC) and pay phones (funny how often I noticed these in public spaces while traveling without my phone).
There were also several times during my trip when I recognized that I use my phone more often than I need to. While waiting in line at a store, sitting at a coffee shop, or puttering at the airport gate, I kept reaching for my phone and realizing that it was not there. This awareness reminded of a statistic I heard recently that North Americans check their cell phone an average of 80 times per day (some check as many as 300 times per day)!
A few months ago, I installed an app on my phone to assess my usage patterns. The app is called “Quality Time” and it tracks the number of screen unlocks per day, as well as the apps used most frequently and how long they are used for. This was very enlightening, and I feel embarrassed to say that I check my phone an average of 40-50 times per day (thankfully still less than the average)! And what’s interesting is that the days when I feel most stressed or anxious are the days that I check my phone most often. This makes sense given that the simple act of looking at your cell phone (not even unlocking / checking it) results in a dopamine release in the body, which equates to the high an addict experiences with a hit. Scary, right?
Then is it any surprise that people in Denmark who took a week-long break from Facebook had improved life satisfaction and positive emotions, in comparison to those who continued using Facebook? These effects were greater for heavy Facebook users and those who used Facebook passively (i.e., scrolling and liking posts, rather than commenting or connecting with others). Perhaps a phone hiatus was just what the doctor ordered for someone like me who struggles with anxiety?
There were some definite benefits during my week-long vacation from my phone including the plethora of “free time” I had while not scrolling social media or checking my phone unnecessarily, the absent worry about my phone battery and when / where I would charge it next, and the general “freeing” feeling of not being tied to my phone or having to respond in a certain time to messages from others. But there were plenty of cons such as not having immediate access to my calendar (aka lifeline), not having an alarm clock (thank heavens for old-school wake-up calls), not having a camera (I asked others to take pics and send them to me), and not being able to text, call, or connect with my friends and family.
Unfortunately, as long as I have a digital calendar, no land line, and a rigorous travel schedule, I will continue to be dependent on my phone. But my week-long digital detox gave me a renewed awareness that I can survive without it.
Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher with an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals. Starting in 2019, Marie will be offering personalized wellness sessions to those who work in the veterinary profession. To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these sessions, please click here. More information about Marie and her other offerings can be found at www.criticalcarevet.ca.