Digital detoxing: Should you ditch your smartphone, or is there no point?

What good is there really in ditching your smartphone?
What good is there really in ditching your smartphone? Photo credit: Getty

Being on the younger end of Generation Z, my whole life has been spent plugged into the digital world.

Increasingly, our constant connection to technology and living life perpetually online is raising concern with health and wellness professionals.

To break out of my cyber shackles I switched off my smartphone for a week to see what would happen.

But is it even possible to digitally detox in the modern world, or is it nothing short of delusional? 

Here's what I found out.

The big unplug

To really disconnect means travelling back in time to a world before smartphones.

Nokia's 8110 4G feature phone seemed like the perfect place to start building my offline arsenal. It texts, it calls, it plays Snake. That's it.

I also snagged a well-used iPod for all things music and dusted off my trusty original Xbox, both for the sake of nostalgia and the need to keep myself sane during this digital lockdown.

With these three devices, I was ready for that 2001 life... in 2021.

An original Xbox, old iPod and classic Nokia phone are a great way to detox.
These old devices replaced my beloved smartphone for a week. Photo credit: Newshub.

The early days

The first few days of the digital detox are torture. Instinctively reaching for my smartphone only to realise it's been replaced by a glorified rock is jarring, especially when it's become such a habit over the years.

Monday was particularly difficult to get through. Friends return from the weekend reinvigorated and keen to share their stories, so being left out of the banter that usually gets me through my Monday blues added to the sense of isolation.

Switching off the smartphone felt like skipping breakfast - it left me restless and fidgety. Sure, the 8110 is fun to absentmindedly fiddle with, but it just isn't the same.

I'm only a recent convert to music streaming, so the return to stored music on my iPod wasn't as bad as it might be for others. Sure, I didn't get to choose the music left on the miniature device and Rick Astley alongside the Shrek soundtrack makes for quite an interesting mix, but my mid-2000s throwback was certainly not the worst.

Much of the early week involved catching up on emails from over the weekend on a device that wasn't my phone, and finishing off projects from the week before. Being preoccupied with work made Monday doable, but still the itch to check my phone for notifications was almost unbearable.

90s computer nerd using a desktop.
Email in the time before smartphones was quite different. Photo credit: Getty

Midweek matters

By Wednesday, I was really feeling the positive effects of reduced screen time. No smartphone before bed meant it was easier to fall asleep, and in turn I woke up feeling more refreshed with more energy for the next day.

That translated into my menial morning routine, too. Without the distraction of push notifications during breakfast or meeting reminders during lunch, things just seemed to go quicker and let me focus for longer.

Working while undergoing a digital detox is a mixed bag.

My smartphone allows me to be the kind of speedy communicator that keeps me in the good books of colleagues and bosses alike. Without it, my trademark good communication slowed to a crawl.

Despite this, I found it easier to focus on work itself and am convinced I created better work over my digital detox week.

No complaints there.

One unintended consequence of the process was the realisation of how much time I spent worrying about losing or damaging my brand new smartphone, the Oppo Find X3 Pro. After going out for a few drinks with a Nokia worth little more than $100, I can report that it feels very freeing compared to being the cautious guardian of a premium device worth $1900.

As trivial as it is, I also quite enjoyed using the Nokia's keypad to text. Living on a smartphone has made me an expert at screen typing, but returning to the old way is refreshing and kind of exciting.

By Wednesday, I was typing without looking like a pro.

Is it healthy to use a mobile in bed for hours and ignore your partner beside you?
Mobile phone addiction is real and definitely has its negatives. Photo credit: Getty

The week's end

By Friday, my smartphone withdrawals had receded and I'd almost forgotten about my smartphone.

My trusty Nokia has done the job and true to form, it only needed to be charged once this week. I've sent about a hundred texts and made two dozen phone calls, yet it refuses to run flat.

I love the fact that by Friday evening, I know I still have enough juice to keep me going until Monday.

By Sunday I was sick of the fine selection of Smash Mouth and The Proclaimers on the old iPod, but with the swing of nostalgia in full effect, I guess I couldn't about to complain.

I'd also breezed through Halo: Combat Evolved once again too, which kept me preoccupied during the hours I'd normally spend scrolling through my Twitter feed.

Final thoughts

It's difficult to put into words what going smartphone-free has done for me. There's a sense of freedom to be gained from ditching all modern devices and as corny as it sounds, the world seems to become a little sharper.

But my week of digital isolation also felt practically impossible. That's the real problem.

Truthfully, while it was a breath of fresh air being without my smartphone for a week, I felt naked.

Smartphones are the necessary evil that keeps the world ticking. They're the key to good communication, staying connected and keeping track of things in both work and private life.

Without them you can still do most of that, it's just far less convenient and far more time-consuming to do so.

So if you're considering a digital detox, take the positives with a grain of salt - it might not be all it's cracked up to be.