Mónica Guzmán

I love my smartphone. But every now and then, I wonder if we need a break.

Don’t get me wrong. Me and my iPhone are nothing if not committed. For two years now I’ve joked that my right hand is 133 or 137 grams heavier than my left because my iPhone (3G then 4) is always in it. That’s not far from the truth.

To quick-draw sharers like me, a phone in the hand is worth two in the purse.

The day before my husband and I left for a week’s vacation to Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico this August, I asked fellow geeks for advice: Considering that 1) I’m addicted to checking email and posting on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Trover, Evernote, and umpteen other apps, and 2) I’d decided I had to be absolutely, 100-percent off the grid on the trip …. Should I leave my iPhone at home?

The conversation that followed drew out some truths about our relationships with the gadgets making their way deeper and deeper into our lives. It also helped convince me that smartphones and the people who really, really love them — including yours truly — need some time apart.

Here are four reasons why.

1. Detox

A few people suggested that I take my phone with me and just leave it off. “If you’re truly ‘off the grid,’ sharing won’t be a problem,” PR geek Eric Berto tweeted. That’s reasonable. But as my husband knows too well, it’s been a while since my particular mobile addiction responded to reason. It’s not reasonable to tweet while he’s asking me a question (“Sorry, what?”) or to make my phone an honorary utensil on foodie nights out. Try as I might, the most consistent digital discipline I’ve managed is to bar Web-roaming devices in the bedroom (only Kindle gets in).

Rehab isn’t pretty when the drug is in your pocket and all you’ve got to do is light it up. On my honeymoon, my phone stayed in my suitcase and stayed off. That did plenty, but not enough. Just looking at it quickened my pulse. What’s happening? What am I missing? What about this amazing vacation should I be writing/tweeting/Facebooking/emailing?

To my should-I-leave-it iPhone query, fellow GeekWire columnist Frank Catalano Facebooked a frank yes. “After 48 hours, the frothing will have ended and you’ll be able to breathe again,” he wrote. He was right. After the phone was out of my hands, it actually got off my mind.

2. Perspective

Sunset in Puerto Rico, seen through my husband Jason’s iPhone

A bar scene in the Steve Carrell flick “Crazy Stupid Love” (awesome, by the way) is the first time I’ve seen a big-screen mockery of the growing tendency among us young adults — not teens, mind you — to take a pause in conversation as a cue to shut up and lean into our smartphones as a group. I’ve been there. Heck, I’ve led the charge. I’ve felt guilty about it, sure, but if the people I’m with are cool with it, no big deal, right? Watching that scene made me wonder. Society knows. Society judges!

But should they? I’d have said no every day this year except for seven — the week I was on vacation and away from my phone. Something about putting distance between you and your devices makes you see all digital behaviors differently. After studying the surf one morning at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I walked among the hotel’s huddle of hammocks and noticed that more than half their occupants were tapping mobile screens. I didn’t like it. Illustrator Wendy Wahman Facebooked me about how she views people and their digital devices. She put it well:

I don’t have an iPhone, BB, iPad or anything (yet). I have no island upon which I huddle with my own private coconut. And I wait, watching the person watching their hands, to jump back in the water with me.

 3. Freedom

On our way to the airport, when my husband told his parents about my try at phone freedom (my digital dependency is well known in my family), I got pithy. “I don’t know,” I said from the back seat. “I guess I’ll have to look around at the world and interact with it or something.”

But really, I was hopeful. When I’m with my iPhone, I’m connected to my world, and think about it. When I’m without it, I connect with the world around me, and think about that. It’s weird to admit that the newborn digital world can get in the ancient physical world’s way, but our brains can’t tell the difference, and it does.

In the digital life, idle moments in the physical world are opportunities to dive into our digital ones. We’re never at rest by default, unless we actively, sometimes even painfully, choose to be. Maybe this is why when we talk of leaving our gadgets, we talk of freedom.

“I forget about my phone a whole lot these days – especially when I am with my kids,” entrepreneur Maya Bisineer wrote me on Facebook. “And I have worked hard to be able to do that. It is so freeing.”

4. Simplicity

People have all sorts of reasons for wanting to stay off the grid on their vacations. For some, like tech geek Mike Jensen, a big one is to disconnect from work. For me, it’s to remember that I don’t have to share things to enjoy them.

I’ll explain with a joke, my favorite by the late great comedian Mitch Hedberg:

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.

If I experience something worth sharing beyond the reach of my voice, whether it’s through Twitter, Facebook, a blog post or email, I share it, and I love it. If it’s inconvenient to share it, I tell myself it wasn’t worth sharing. That it wasn’t as fun or as interesting as I thought. That I shouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did.

I know. Crazy, right?

The absurdity of this line of thinking did not become clear to me until my iPhone-free trip, when it was not only inconvenient but impossible to post share-worthy experiences things in the all-important “now.” I was in the bathroom — yes, the bathroom — of the Raven Grill, a dive bar in D.C. I didn’t have to go, but I like my bathroom art, and my brother, a regular, told me the room was a sight. It was. Scrawlings everywhere. And color.

I framed the shot and wrote the tweet in my mind before I realized I couldn’t send it. Then it hit me: I’d developed habits that add layers to the way I respond to cool things. Those layers make sense when I have my phone. But when I don’t?

After that, enjoying my vacation got a little simpler.

“There will be other trips where you check the phone constantly,” social media geek Betsy Aoki advised me on Facebook. “Have one special one where you don’t.”

I did. And I will. At least one week a year. For my own good.

Mónica Guzmán is a Seattle journalist and community strategist who could always use another vacation. She consults for startups and media and can usually be found tweeting away at @moniguzman.

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/jasonp Jason Preston

    Great stories. I think pulling away from the internet is one of those things that we will all struggle with throughout our lives, whether we get it through phones, computers, implants, or anything else developed in the future. Lord knows there’s no shortage of science fiction that extolls the dangers of total digital immersion. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704711712 Peter Chee

    Nice post Monica! I love the quote “I connect with the world around me, and think about that”. Isn’t that the truth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Sposato/786250122 Jonathan Sposato

    haha.  great perspective on this monica.  i lead a constant struggle with the merits of staying unplugged on occasion as well.  my wife would say facetiously; ‘your solution is to never go on vacation to begin with’ which isn’t a very good answer.   i will offer one more reason (completely and totally consistent with my own vanity); eyesight degradation.   my eye prescription took a step function UP in power when smart phones came out, as the distance from eye to screen is even shorter than then standard eye-to-laptop.   when i am able to completely unplug and not bring a smartphone (full disclosure, its a google provided android, not iphone, but same diff really…), my eyesight improves!  voila! 

  • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

    @moniguzman:twitter , I just remembered: When we talked about this, you also were saying there was a difference in how your Facebook friends and Twitter followers responded to the question of whether you should leave the iPhone at home. What was the difference again? Hopefully not stealing the steam from a future column here. :)

    • http://jadeejf.livejournal.com/ Beth

      I’d love to hear about this (as one of the Facebook friends that told Monica to keep it at home). I struggle with staying in the present, but oh man, life is so much better when I do!

      • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

        I know what you mean! Sometimes I tell myself, you gotta focus on this one thing, so don’t check your email or tweets or anything for a while, ‘k? Then five minutes later I’m tapping away.

      • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

        I know what you mean! Sometimes I tell myself, you gotta focus on this one thing, so don’t check your email or tweets or anything for a while, ‘k? Then five minutes later I’m tapping away.

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      Yup. People on Facebook mostly suggested that I leave the iPhone at home, and people on Twitter mostly suggested that I take it with me but leave it off. At first I thought the distinction had something to do with my hunch that heavy Twitter users are more likely to be sharing on the go, which I don’t know to be true at all. Then, I think after talking with you and @johnhcook:twitter, I thought maybe it’s because, as my friend @davidhoang:twitter tweeted, the opposite is true. Heavy Facebook users cling more tightly to their digital lives and get more relief from cutting the cord completely. No data here at all; just hunches…

  • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

    @moniguzman:twitter , I just remembered: When we talked about this, you also were saying there was a difference in how your Facebook friends and Twitter followers responded to the question of whether you should leave the iPhone at home. What was the difference again? Hopefully not stealing the steam from a future column here. :)

  • http://www.rescuetime.com Anonymous

    I find unplugging challenging because my smartphone is such a useful TOOL.  For navigation, find a nearby lunch spot, translating a sign, knowing the name of my hotel, etc.

    I wish there was an “unplug” app that literally blocked all social media and email send/receive for N weeks for trips!

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      That’s not a bad idea. I just downloaded RescueTime on my Mac a couple days ago. It’d be nice if I could ACTUALLY focus on what I have to do when I have to do it (good call making it, btw), but would LOVE something similar in the mobile space! Any chance RescueTime would look into it?

      • http://thinkmaya.com Maya Bisineer

        @MonicaGuzman – such a fun post with all the different perspectives. I think a “RescueTime for Mobile” is a great and much needed app :)

      • http://thinkmaya.com Maya Bisineer

        @MonicaGuzman – such a fun post with all the different perspectives. I think a “RescueTime for Mobile” is a great and much needed app :)

      • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

        I completely agree. When I got my first BlackBerry several years ago, I wanted to keep the phone and camera functionality, but turn off the email while on vacation. Couldn’t.

        Now, on Android, I’d like to keep the phone, camera and web functionality (for maps, airlines, etc.), but shut off email, text and social. The last is easy — sign out of the apps. The first currently requires uninstalling the email accounts and/or deleting an email-service specific app. And I have no idea if the second is even possible without disconnecting from the mobile network entirely, which defeats the web and phone.

        There should be an app for this. I’d call it Vacation Mode.

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      That’s not a bad idea. I just downloaded RescueTime on my Mac a couple days ago. It’d be nice if I could ACTUALLY focus on what I have to do when I have to do it (good call making it, btw), but would LOVE something similar in the mobile space! Any chance RescueTime would look into it?

    • http://whoisjohngalt.tumblr.com/ CWE

      That’s been my perspective too, having just gone through a similar trip as @moniguzman:twitter . I brought the iPhone, but only because it’s the best video camera I own. I stripped it of most the apps (including all the social apps), turned off all notifications, but kept it for reservations, directions, and video. Now that I’m back, I only added a few (but not even close to all) of the apps and notifications.

    • http://whoisjohngalt.tumblr.com/ CWE

      That’s been my perspective too, having just gone through a similar trip as @moniguzman:twitter . I brought the iPhone, but only because it’s the best video camera I own. I stripped it of most the apps (including all the social apps), turned off all notifications, but kept it for reservations, directions, and video. Now that I’m back, I only added a few (but not even close to all) of the apps and notifications.

    • http://whoisjohngalt.tumblr.com/ CWE

      That’s been my perspective too, having just gone through a similar trip as @moniguzman:twitter . I brought the iPhone, but only because it’s the best video camera I own. I stripped it of most the apps (including all the social apps), turned off all notifications, but kept it for reservations, directions, and video. Now that I’m back, I only added a few (but not even close to all) of the apps and notifications.

  • Anonymous

    “I don’t have to share things to enjoy them.” 
    Great quote! Applies not only to trigger-happy social media posters, but those of us compelled to capture everything on video. I’m constantly filming/photographing my three-year-old’s every action, but lately I’ve been forcing myself to take a step back and just be part of the moment. 

  • johnhcook

    I just asked attorney Adam Philipp — who participated in the Startup Campout this past weekend at Shi Shi Beach — about this very topic. I wondered whether folks truly unplugged.

    He said most of the Seattle geeks at the campout had their smartphones and digital cameras with them, but those iPhone users with AT&T couldn’t get service so as circumstances had it they unplugged. :)

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      Forced to unplug, eh? Shame, shame ;)

  • johnhcook

    I just asked attorney Adam Philipp — who participated in the Startup Campout this past weekend at Shi Shi Beach — about this very topic. I wondered whether folks truly unplugged.

    He said most of the Seattle geeks at the campout had their smartphones and digital cameras with them, but those iPhone users with AT&T couldn’t get service so as circumstances had it they unplugged. :)

  • http://jetcitydigital.com Ron Schott

    Great post! I struggle with this pretty much every day, so it’s always good to see others going through the same thing.

    Headed to Hawaii with the GF in November and the plan is to turn phones off as we board the plane. We’ll see!

  • http://jetcitydigital.com Ron Schott

    Great post! I struggle with this pretty much every day, so it’s always good to see others going through the same thing.

    Headed to Hawaii with the GF in November and the plan is to turn phones off as we board the plane. We’ll see!

  • http://techshots.net Jaremy

    Love the post, Monica. Nice to unplug and refresh your batteries, especially when unplugging means that you spend more time focusing on the ones (or activities) you love.

    Also, now I have to watch Crazy Stupid Love for that scene :-)

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      It’s the end of a scene with “Anna Banana” (that will make sense). One of the characters involved in the group smartphone herd had just been undeniably branded as lame for other reasons. The behavior sort of punctuates that…

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      It’s the end of a scene with “Anna Banana” (that will make sense). One of the characters involved in the group smartphone herd had just been undeniably branded as lame for other reasons. The behavior sort of punctuates that…

  • http://www.andreajames.net Andrea James

    Such a great piece. So brave to leave it at home. I too think of funny moments in the context of how they will be shared, and just typing that out loud makes me cringe about myself!

    I love this part. Brilliant insight?

    “When I’m with my iPhone, I’m connected to my world, and think about it. When I’m without it, I connect with the world around me, and think about that.”

    It’s almost like the phone is a shield — if the world around me rejects me, I can retreat to my own.

    • Andrea James

      I meant, “brilliant insight!” …Exclamation point, not question mark.

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Monica for breaking through the temptation to technologise one’s holidays! I’ve found that except for e-books, digital videos, digital music, travel guides, boarding passes, reservation confirmations, foreign-language dictionaries, VoIP calling over wi-fi, and maps, good old fashioned paper works best.

  • Holly Nielsen

    Definitely can related Monica — thanks for sharing! I catch myself mentally writing FB & Twitter updates at the oddest times, lol.

  • http://twitter.com/mjtwit Mike Jensen

    Great post @twitter-3452941:disqus  – Thanks for the mention of my post on this topic.  Above all, I’m glad you were able to ditch the phone for the week and just enjoy yourself!  

  • http://hookedonsocialnetworking.blogspot.com/ Holly Nielsen

    Definitely can relate, Monica — thanks for sharing! I catch myself
    mentally writing FB & Twitter updates at the oddest times, lol.

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      Yup – funny how that happens. And how well ingrained those habits can become.

  • http://www.danshapiro.com/blog Dan Shapiro

    I’ve had two international trips where I spent half the time data-less, and half with data (because it was so freaking hard to get data to work on a foreign SIM card).  An A/B test of a sort.

    I found that the days with no phone were much more relaxed, natural, and serendipitous.  And then, when I got my phone, it was like magic – because suddenly I could check the review of that restaurant, find the bus route so I could skip a cab, get a foot map to walk to the next attraction, make reservations, and otherwise act like a 21st century geek. 

    Honestly, I think I like the plugged-in better, but retro is fun for a change.

  • George Boyd

    Correnct grammar is important if you are going to write articles such as this….it should be “my iPhone and I”….not “me and my iPhone”  ALSO another reason some people leave technology behind when on family vacations….it that their in-laws will throw a fit!!!

  • Ken Sands

    Hey Monica: I recognize your addiction. You might try vacations where this is no cell coverage. Spend a week in the backcountry: in the Olympics, or North Cascades. Up there it’s just a dead weight. No reason to carry it.

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      Definitely an option, but somehow I doubt it’ll last. Coverage gets better and better everywhere. I’d rather strengthen my discipline than my escape route.

  • http://twitter.com/MichelleBee Michelle Broderick

    “I framed the shot and wrote the tweet in my mind before I realized I couldn’t send it.” This totally hit home with me, but I take the spin that sharing has made me more observant of the world around me. I love this new layer on the world!

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      No doubt it makes you notice things more. The fastest that happened to me with a new app was with Instagram. My eye started seeing not just things that were interesting, but things that were beautiful.

  • http://www.ringcentral.com/voip-services/index.html VoIP service providers

    I’m new to Canada and I can’t get over
    how expensive cell phones are here… You mean you want me to pay when
    people want to call me?? I have the skype app on my iPhone, and I’m
    pretty happy with it. Provided that you have decent access to Wifi you
    could definitely do it that way – in fact, often the calls are as good
    as on a cellular network. I only use it on Wifi – it’s a bit slow at
    times on 3G and I’m scared of it eating into my data plan.
    And I think you’re right about the urgency… Hardly anyone knows my
    Canadian number, so I’m spending far less time on the phone. It’s great!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vladislav-Rakov/100000313410890 Vladislav Rakov

    thanks for the article. Our gadget addiction really will kill us someday. I try to spend less time using my iphone but it’s like lack of smth and it’s difficult to resist. Im fond of app making and find it a real possibility to save our valuable time using services like snappii.com to create apps. It’s possible here to make them in 20 minutes.That’s like a miracle.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wishbone234 Wish Bone

    When I was using the internet and computers in the 90’s people thought it was odd the spend a few hours on the computer at a time looking up references and things (you know… actual learning and work and not “chatting” as it was called then.)

    Now I am the oddball yet again as I never got into the smartphone craze. I love computers but hate the manic social culture surrounding them now. So it looks like I’ll always be a misfit… and thankfully so.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wishbone234 Wish Bone

    When I was using the internet and computers in the 90’s people thought it was odd the spend a few hours on the computer at a time looking up references and things (you know… actual learning and work and not “chatting” as it was called then.)

    Now I am the oddball yet again as I never got into the smartphone craze. I love computers but hate the manic social culture surrounding them now. So it looks like I’ll always be a misfit… and thankfully so.

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