I never thought I’d be a person who needed a digital detox. But cut to me, explaining to friends how I was going to turn off my phone and laptop for an entire weekend—beginning Friday evening and continuing through Sunday night—so I could spend more time with my pets. Their responses were pretty much all the same: “Really?” and “Do you think you can do it?” and even a resounding “HA!”
It was safe to say that even though I didn’t think I was on my phone that much, the people who know me best seemed to see me as somewhat of a technology addict.
But I’m not alone. A July 2019 Pew Research Center study found that approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults go online at least daily. What’s more, 48 percent of those ages 18-29 are online “almost constantly.” In my age group, 30-49, it’s 36 percent. As everything in our lives has shifted online—how we receive the news, connect with family and friends, and watch TV shows—it’s not surprising that the amount of time we spend on the internet is so high and continues to rise.
Americans are becoming “obsessed with technology,” and that’s a problem, says Renee Solomon, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and CEO/owner of Forward Recovery.
“When people become obsessed with their phones and social media, they are not present in their lives with people and even their pets,” she says. “Everything aside from a digital outlet becomes secondary in terms of importance.”
Which brings me back to what inspired my own tech-free weekend: my two dogs.
My Digital Detox Weekend
I work from home, so I thought being around them every day was enough. But as I thought about it more, I realized the answer was no. When was the last time I had taken our dogs—Lily, a 4-year-old Basenji mix, and Gus, a 9-year-old English Springer Spaniel—on a long walk along their favorite trail? Or played their favorite game, chase-the-laser-pointer? The quantity time was there, but it wasn’t really quality time. My digital detox could certainly help them be happier—and possibly me, as well.
“Many studies suggest that petting an animal decreases tension and improves one’s mood,” Solomon says.
Before disconnecting from technology, I set some ground rules:
- No social media (meaning no posting or checking feeds)
- No TV or online streaming
- No internet-based activities or apps (e.g. Google, Waze, Apple News)
- No texting or emailing
Next, I bought a film camera, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S, to document the weekend, since I couldn’t rely on my phone to take digital photos.
As soon as Friday afternoon came, I closed my laptop, put down my phone, swore off social media and Netflix, and embarked on my weekend without technology.
Inspired to get outside and away from any and all screens, my fiancé, Todd, and I decided to kick off my digital detox weekend by skipping our usual Friday afternoon happy hour and instead take Lily and Gus on a walk around our old neighborhood, where we moved from two years ago and many of our friends still live. It was a chilly afternoon, so we put on their sweaters—Lily, especially, looked cute in her Frisco Moose Fair Isle Dog Sweater. They loved walking around the courtyards where they used to play as puppies. I instinctively reached for my phone to take a video, but stopped myself. I realized had it not been for the digital detox, I probably would have spent most of the walk updating my Instagram story.
We spent the rest of the evening cooking, relaxing and genuinely enjoying each other’s company sans technology.
After a long week, it was an early-to-bed kind of night for the whole gang. But this bedtime routine was a bit different. Instead of spending the last few minutes scrolling through Facebook, I shifted my attention to the dogs, making sure to give them extra belly rubs.
After getting home from a workout class, I showered and made myself a cup of coffee. Because I swore off technology for the weekend, I finally had time to read a book I had purchased a few months prior but that had taken a backseat to Netflix shows. I settled in on the big, comfy chair in our living room. It’s our dogs’ favorite chair, so it didn’t take long for them to join me. I spent the next hour reading, while Lily stared out the window (her favorite spot for squirrel- and people-watching), and Gus napped. Eventually, Lily fell asleep, too, snuggled up against Gus. It was such a sweet moment that never would have happened if it weren’t for my digital detox. Other than today, I rarely sit in that chair because it’s difficult to see the TV.
Our friend, Kimberly, had heard about my digital detox weekend and thought it was the perfect opportunity for a phone-free puppy play date. With the dogs decked out in their winter sweaters, we hopped in the car for a surprise visit to see their best friends, Bo and Chase.
The first thing we did once we arrived—after the excited hellos and tail wags, of course—was celebrate with treats. (This crew is a big fan of Old Mother Hubbard Classic Original Assortment Oven Baked Dog Biscuits.) Everyone did a great job of sitting pretty for the camera and practicing commands like “shake” and “down.”
After Todd and I caught up with our friends for a few minutes, we took the dogs outside to check if there were any squirrels to bark at. There weren’t, but Lily loved sniffing around the patio and getting some more head rubs while enjoying the fresh air. The rest of the afternoon was all about making sure Lily, Gus, Bo and Chase enjoyed their play date—and fighting the urge to document every second of it on social media.
When we got home, we gave the dogs a chance to unwind and nap while we ran errands. Even when we weren’t with the dogs, I felt so much more present in the moment because I wasn’t glued to my phone.
After a walk around the neighborhood and dinner, Lily and Gus were so exhausted that they beat us to bed. Once we joined them, we each grabbed a book and read some more until everyone fell asleep. I even felt like I slept better that night, which isn’t surprising considering that studies show staring at your phone right before bed affects your sleep.
My brother was in town after driving cross-country from Los Angeles with his 7-year-old Boxer-Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, Albus, so we all met up at our parents’ house. Because I had sworn off my laptop for the weekend, the canine cousins got my full attention. Once everyone got settled, it was playtime! Lily has never been very nice about sharing her favorite toys, but she eventually made an exception for Albus. They are cousins, after all!
After an afternoon of playing and a few walks, the dogs sprawled out to take a nap. In fact, it was such a tiring day that they spent the next few hours lounging around on various couches, chairs, ottomans and beds, as we humans enjoyed some family time.
As I crawled into bed that night, I reflected on the weekend. It had been much easier to disconnect than I had expected. I felt more relaxed during the digital detox than I had in awhile and I know that was because I didn’t feel obligated to be constantly checking in on my texts, social media or email. I decided that, come the next morning, I’d try harder to do “mini detoxes” throughout the week.
What I Learned from My Digital Detox
The digital detox only lasted 56 hours, but for those 56 hours I think our two dogs got more of my attention (and Todd’s, since he was the official photographer for most of the weekend) than they had in the last two weeks combined.
It’s been a few weeks since the detox weekend, but there’s no doubt I’m still reaping the benefits of disconnecting from technology for those few days. I realized that it’s just as easy to put down my phone as it is to pick it up and mindlessly scroll through Instagram.
“Living in a technology-driven world, we have to learn how to disengage from technology,” Solomon says. She recommends putting your phone on airplane mode for an hour or keeping it in a separate room from you.
“I also encourage my patients to not be on their phones when they are out with friends, and explain the importance of actually focusing and communicating with the people in front of them,” she says. “It is very difficult to disconnect, but it’s so important.”
Our digital detox weekend wasn’t anything flashy or fancy, but the pups seemed to enjoy the quality time, the surprise outings, long walks, visiting friends and generally getting to do things we wouldn’t have done if I had been glued to my phone, laptop or Netflix for hours each day.
In fact, I’ve now gotten so good at keeping my phone out of reach that I keep forgetting where I put it. And the dogs are loving it.