How traveling relieved me from Digital Toxins?
I got my first smartphone in 2012 as a reward from my family because I was going to join my first job after finishing graduation. Within a few weeks, I had got my hands on most of the messaging and social networking apps. I remember the very first thing I used to do upon reaching the office was to curiously wait for my phone to connect to the WiFi and download all the messages/ updates. WhatsApp had become popular among us as a free messaging app so why not exploit it. Hence, internet data packs replaced free SMS packs in coming weeks. Now, when I think about those days, I realize how I was getting into the trap of digital life day by day without even knowing it.
Falling into the trap
Smartphones make our life easy, but they tend to complicate it as well. I loved the convenience of accessing my email and messages anywhere and anytime, but the digital addiction had started taking over my mental peace and work concentration. I could get a disturbing message anytime that would upset my ongoing tasks. I used to pick my phone ASAP as soon as I would hear a beep sound even if I am writing a super-critical email to my client. In the course of one minute, if it beeped five times, I would pick it five times. I used to reply to my friends’ messages even if they contacted me past midnight when I am supposed to be sleeping unconsciously. Sometimes, I suddenly used to wake up and refresh my email to check if my sponsored tickets for the upcoming conference in Malaysia has arrived or not, the telex code for Russian visa has hit my inbox or not or if I have received any contribution in my Semester at Sea’s crowd funding campaign. Just imagine, if my situation was this worse in the night, then how merciful it must be during the day! Someday, if I arrived home early from work to engage myself in some recreational activity, I would receive a phone call that would never end. A 100 grams piece of hardware was unquestionably dominating my life!
Realization and short term internet break-ups
I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘Digital Detoxification’ when I experienced it for the first time. I went on an official retreat with my colleagues to mountains where we camped riverside, and hence, either my phone was dead, or there was no reception. My mind was in coordination with my body as there was nothing to interfere with my recreational plans, and no upsetting messages to agitate my current balance. I went to bed dead tired where I had even forgotten that I own a phone. A couple of months later, I embarked on Semester at Sea voyage where we could only access educational resources using the internet available on the ship. It reminds me of an incident when I was working on an assignment sitting alone in my ship cabin. After finishing the work, I checked the time and was so overwhelmed to see that only 30 minutes had passed. I expected that two hours must have gone because I had finished the whole assignment in one sitting. I wasn’t used to be efficient! Well, I comprehended later that only because I wasn’t checking my phone, again and again, I saved time because of high concentration. After such episodes, I understood that I could balance my life if I cut away the unnecessary distractions caused by phone. I began to make certain strategies to reduce my addiction to digital devices – some failed, and some made an impact. One of the strategies was not to buy a data pack to control my urge of checking my phone continuously when I used to be outside with other people. It didn’t work out very well because it was a forced strategy. Also, I could not utilize my in-transit time to respond to short emails/ messages. I also uninstalled many social networking apps from the phone, but being an entrepreneur, I could not sustain without checking them on a real-time basis.
My Savior–Travel God
Travel helped me the most in cutting the digital addiction because it simply changed my environment without any compulsive tactics. Those were the days when I had just started Rural Odyssey. While discovering some unexplored trails to the remote villages of India, even placing calls to my family had become hard. My phone went from my hand to the least accessible pocket of my rucksack. Over the period, I began to feel in harmony with the life as I had found my joy in connecting with nature. How I describe in words that I felt so rejuvenated when I paid attention to the music made by birds, the roaring of waterfalls, crackling dry leaves, air rustling through trees and the petrichor. I also had time to lie down in meadows to embrace the starry sky. As I didn’t have my phone to keep me occupied, I also began to strike conversations with indigenous people that made me learn their cultures deeply. Establishing a beautiful connection with incomparably hospitable people just melted my heart and made me feel a lot better about my life. There were hundred other things that I preferred over accessing the internet such as understanding organic farming, learn some secret pahadi recipes, playing local games with kids, dip my feet in cold river water, and the list would never end.
I believe, we need to establish a bond with the natural world, leaving all modern technologies behind, because, at the end of the day, roots of all humans lie there. That’s our origin. And hence, digital ghosts stopped haunting me because of these small experiences on my travels. I have a dual sim phone, 3G & 4G data packs, all social networking apps, personal and official email configured in my phone, and also my life balance. It’s easy for me to be mentally and physically present at one place because travel also taught me how to prioritize my tasks and respond at my convenience.
PS: After finding a balance for myself, I realized that as a part of Rural Odyssey, we should spread the awareness and make more and more people find this much-needed balance to reduce their digital dependency which resulted in Digital Detox Retreats.