A Journey to Life Without Screens


By Yin Nwe Ko

We know it’s true: our screens can take over our minds, make us lose focus, and even make us angry. They also harm the environment. But can we break free from them? I want to try living without screens. For one week, I won’t use computers or mobile phones. But before I start, I need to get ready. The Day Before the First, I told my friends and family about my plan so they wouldn’t worry. I set up an email message saying I won’t be online until Sunday. If it’s urgent, they can call my landline.
Then, I write down important phone numbers in a notebook. I’ll use this notebook like a diary. I borrow my son’s watch and write down my appointments for the week. I also found an old landline phone and plugged it in. Even before I started my digital detox, I realized I rely on screens more than I thought. I feel nervous. I thought this challenge would be relaxing, but now I’m worried. I’m typing this on my computer, which I’ll put away with my phone. Once I close the drawer, I can’t go back.
Day 1
My alarm clock wakes me up. I reach for my phone, but it’s not there. I feel strange. I’ve only just woken up. I can’t check messages until after I’ve used the bathroom. I can’t see the news or the weather. I have to look out the window instead. It’s a beautiful morning.
I ride my bike to a school where I’m leading a writing workshop. I bring a map just in case. At the first red light, I reach for my phone, but it’s not there. Have I done that at every red light for years? The students at the school were born after the internet became popular. They don’t know life without it. I talk to them without worrying about my phone. But during breaks, I still check my pockets. It’s a habit. I realize I’ve spent most of the day without screens, and I feel fine.
At home, I read a book for an hour before I start writing on paper. I managed to write a few lines before losing focus. Normally, I’d check my phone for news. But not today. Instead, I eat some chocolate. It’s a small reward. Later, my son asked if I managed without my phone. I say yes, even though it was a little hard.
After dinner, my partner wants to watch a series, but I can’t join her. I have to read on the couch. She doesn’t want to hear about my detox. I fall asleep on the couch without checking my emails. And I don’t miss it.
Day 2
As my son wishes me luck for the day, I glance at the sealed drawer. What if something goes wrong? What if there’s an emergency at my son’s school? What if there’s big news? What if someone important wants to contact me? These thoughts bother me. Maybe I should check my messages just this once? It’s only been a day, but it feels like forever! I need to leave the house before I change my mind.
I picked up a newspaper, Le Monde, something I hadn’t done in a long time. Sitting in a café, I enjoy flipping through the pages. The world’s problems seem distant when I read about them on paper. It’s less overwhelming. But I have work to do. I’m writing a manuscript due soon. After a productive day, I decided to attend a magazine launch party I was invited to.
At parties like these, having a phone is handy. It gives you something to do, even if it’s just checking sports scores. Now, without my phone, I feel exposed. But I find that people are interested in my digital detox. Instead of thinking it’s silly, they admire it. I’m seen as someone who stands up to big tech. It’s been almost 36 hours since I last checked my email, and people think it’s impressive. I head home early, feeling proud, and spend the quiet evening writing.
Day 3
Today will be tricky. I need to write a column for a magazine I’ve been contributing to for years. Normally, I write it on my computer and email it to my editor. But today, I’ll do it the old-fashioned way — on paper. The editors might think I’m crazy.
As I started writing, the landline rang. Someone must have seen my out-of-office message and called. Maybe it’s urgent. But it’s a journalist inviting me to an internet show. I explained that I couldn’t access the internet. She’s surprised but says it’s okay. They want me to talk about a book I wrote and need a picture of the cover. I’ll have to ask my publisher to send it. But I don’t have their number, and I don’t have a phone book. Does directory assistance still exist?
Dealing with work without the internet is harder than I thought. A quick email would have solved everything. Despite the challenges, sometimes the internet is useful.
Day 4
When I wake up, my first instinct is to reach for the taped drawer. I realize I still have a long way to go. Why do we feel the need to check our emails so urgently? Maybe it’s the hope of good news or someone thinking of us. Even though most of it is spam or bills, we still hope for something better. I check my physical mailbox and then head to the supermarket. Suddenly, I panicked — I forgot my loyalty card. My partner will be upset. She sent it to my phone for safekeeping.
Am I damaging my relationship with this detox? Could this challenge ruin my happy life with my partner? I imagine a bleak future where I’ve lost everything because of this silly idea. It’s tempting just to take a peek at my messages. No one will know, right? It’s only Thursday, halfway through. I feel dirty and ashamed, but I can’t resist. I power up my phone, and hundreds of emails flood in. I handled a few urgent matters, but most of it could have waited.
Later, at school pickup, a parent asks about my detox. I lie and say it’s going great. I talk about the benefits, even though I feel like a fraud. I’m addicted to my phone, but I’m pretending to be clean.
Day 5
I leave the house without checking for my phone in my pocket. It’s a small victory after five days. I feel lighter. I see a friend on the street, but she doesn’t notice me waving because she’s staring at her phone. I feel out of sync with the world. Everyone seems obsessed with their screens. These amazing technologies were supposed to make us smarter, but instead, they’ve made us slaves to our devices.
After school, my son rushes to his tablet. It’s a constant battle to limit his screen time. He asks for a phone too often. Not yet, I tell him. I don’t want him to be controlled by technology.
Day 6
I don’t need a phone to enjoy the park with my son. People chat on benches, play with their dogs, and embrace their loved ones. They’re present in the moment. I don’t need a phone to read a book. I can lose myself in the pages for hours. And I don’t need a phone to have dinner with friends. We talk about the world and how technology has changed it. We’re all aware of the dangers of constant surveillance and validation-seeking online.
As the evening went on, I realized I should let my partner know we’d be late. I borrow a friend’s phone to send a message.
Day 7
I’m allowed to open the drawer and return to my online life. But I don’t. Not just yet. Before I get back to all the noise, I step outside to listen to the birds chirping. I’m not thrilled to be back in 2024. Life without the internet was happier. But it’s impossible. There’s no rewinding to 1996.
Still, we can make tomorrow’s world a little less bitter. Manage our addictions. Have good digital hygiene. Today, smoking in restaurants and driving without a seatbelt seem inconceivable. Maybe in a decade, we’ll be wondering how we ever sat down to dinner without switching to aeroplane mode.
I’m going to consciously and slowly wade back in, with reluctance. To set an example. When my son wants to show me his drawing, I don’t want to hear myself say, “One sec,” as my brain gets hijacked by a device alerting me about Taylor Swift’s new love interest.
However, we can make tomorrow’s world a bit brighter. By managing our addictions and practising good digital hygiene, we can navigate the digital landscape more mindfully. Just like smoking in restaurants or driving without seatbelts are now unthinkable, maybe in the future, we’ll wonder how we ever sat through dinner without switching to aeroplane mode.
I’ll reintegrate into the digital realm slowly, with reluctance. I want to set an example, especially when my son wants to share his drawings. I don’t want to be distracted by my device, uttering a quick “One sec” while my attention is diverted to trivial notifications.

Reference: Reader’s Digest April 2024


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