19 Days Without a Phone. Distraction Free?

I wish I could say that I gave up using my phone for thirty days as an experiment. But really I just left my phone in the airport before a 19-day international trip.

I was lucky, that as the plane taxied out to the runway, I was able to determine that my phone was safe and would be waiting for my pickup when I returned. I was not so lucky because I would have to fend without my phone for 19 days.

Funny enough, I never missed any of the functions of a phone that require you to have a phone. It was refreshing not having to be in contact with anyone but the people on the trip. I had an excuse to ignore Facebook messages and emails.

What I missed was the distraction.

Waiting for an hour and a half at baggage claim. What I could have been doing: reading a book on the Kindle app, looking at Twitter, reading the Guardian, reading Medium, looking at emails. What I did: stare into space for an hour and a half, wondering if I could fall asleep standing up. (I couldn’t.)

All the most painful moments of travel have been solved with technology. In-flight entertainment systems for the 24-hour trip it takes to go anywhere from Australia*. Ebooks for when you have limited space. Music, Podcasts, Movies and TV shows on the go.

The numerous hours spent waiting when travelling are significantly less shitty because we have phones.

So what I discovered when I left my phone at home was not a magical cleansing experience as most people describe. But learning how to deal with long periods of waiting.

Not waiting somewhere beautiful where you could envelop the culture into your system, but in an airport. There is only so much people-watching one can do after an overnight flight. It is also hard to have a magical cleansing experience when all your travel companions do have phones and you do not.

See, most of the time, my phone and ‘distractions’ makes me smarter. It makes me want to learn more about the world. ‘Distractions’ when limited to specific periods of time, provide a creative drive. I want to write more when I consume more. I want to do so much more when I know all the possibilities.

Productivity is not necessarily driven out of silence. There have been numerous studies that show a negative correlation between multi-tasking and productivity. But I’ve found that sometimes I crave that initial spark of creativity from elsewhere, not just sitting in a vacuum. I write far more when listening to a carefully crafted Spotify playlist than when I’m simply listening to the noises of suburbia outside my home.

Sure, plan a technology detox. But make sure you’re far away from both the airport and other people with phones. Because sometimes, you need that distraction. Distraction has far more to do with productivity than we give it credit for. Productive Procrastination — perhaps it’s possible.

Travel times from Australia may be slightly exaggerated*