We Trialled Device-Free Living for 48 Hours


And kinda failed.

Woman doing yoga on a rooftop

As great as a digital detox is when you’re away from home – with one small study showing that after three days of being unplugged in the Moroccan desert (of all places), participants were better at holding eye contact and were more relaxed in conversations – is it possible to incorporate device-free living into the daily grind?

It’s an important question, as study after study shows how addicted we are to our devices. A recent finder.com.au survey found that 44 per cent of us need a fix within 10 minutes of waking up, while more than 1 million of us are so device dependent we’re guilty of having checked our phones during sex (not for step-by-step instructions, we hope).

Read More: Why It’s More Important Than Ever to Digitally Switch Off

Of course, it isn’t realistic to totally disconnect from the digital world when we need computers and phones for work, but what would happen if we took away non-essential devices for 48 hours? This means no social media, no apps, no mindless browsing, no TV even. Well, I tried it. And I failed.

In the evenings

I began the trial on a Monday night at 8pm as experts recommend going device-free for two hours before bed to limit the harmful effects of the screen’s blue light.

“The blue light basically tricks the brain into thinking the sun is out,” says neurologist Chris W. Winter, author of The Sleep Solution. “During the day, it’s no big deal. In fact, it can be reinforcing. During the evening, the effect can delay an individual’s melatonin onset significantly, sometimes by more than an hour, which can make it harder to fall asleep.”

Read More: Study Shows Facebook Use Correlates To Poorer Mental Health

Long term, this can cause health problems from sleep deprivation, including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Short term, it can result in poor concentration and memory – not a great combination for anyone wanting to conquer their career goals. Chris says that even e-readers can prolong sleep. Luckily, I’d thought ahead and bought a real-life book made of paper, so I wouldn’t have to read from my Kindle app. I liked the calming device-free evening routine and I only hit a stumbling block when I went to set my alarm and realised I wasn’t allowed to use my phone, so I cheated and relied on my husband’s one instead. I’ve continued going device-free after 8pm; I sleep so much better now and don’t waste time trapped in an endless social media feed.

In the mornings

Within 10 minutes of waking up, I broke the no-device rule. I did this two mornings in a row, but I felt like the pros outweighed the cons. You see, a couple of weeks before, I’d started practising 15-minute yoga sequences in the morning with the help of my Gaia app. I’d gotten into the habit of rolling out of my bed and onto the mat. According to Harvard University researchers, a regular mindfulness practise can positively change your brain in just eight weeks and I didn’t want to break my momentum. I don’t mind that this means I’m part of the 44 per cent who turns on a device first thing in the morning. This is one of my favourite parts of the day.

During the day

This was the hardest part of the device-free challenge. I noticed that when I was at work and wanted a break, I’d habitually reach for my phone to check social media, but then I remembered I couldn’t. When I was on the train, I felt the urge to check Facebook messenger or listen to a podcast, but had to stop myself. I didn’t let myself check emails on my phone, and I couldn’t add expenses to my budgeting app or send invoices through my invoicing app. When I wanted to catch an Uber, I remembered I shouldn’t because of the challenge, but I made an exception because it was easier than catching a cab.

This trial taught me what was good device use (Uber, invoicing app, podcasts, yoga app, alarms) and what I could do less of (social media, which I’ve now limited to 20 minutes a day, and emails). All in all, going device-lite rather than device-free means I don’t need to unplug in the Moroccan desert. Although, I wouldn’t say no to that either.

Read More: How To Take A Digital Detox

Visit Lizza Gebilagin’s personal website.

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