My Seven Day Detox From Technology
I’m soaring across the Lombok Strait on a speedboat in Indonesia, darting towards tropical island Gili Air. The wind whips through my hair and the beaming sun evaporates the sweat off my back, creating an iridescent light show over the ocean.
In this moment, I conduct a thorough search of my bag for my iPhone, but am unable to find it. I tap the front and back pockets of my shorts like they’re bongos, shudder for a moment and realise I have left the device on the Balinese mainland.
What a fucking tragedy: I am caught between two volcanic islands on the high seas, beer in hand, and am unable to catch an epic photo with my cousin to slap on a social media platform or two.
I can’t survive without my phone! I think, before realising with a wince how sucked into a digitalised existence I’ve become, where photos take primacy over my own presence. There and then I make a snap decision: I will detox myself from technology for a week.
I’m forced to enjoy the journey as it is.
In the late afternoon, I arrive at the tiny island port, rimmed by white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Horse carriages and bicycles whiz past us, and I immediately crave to photograph the scene. But I can’t.
After dinner, as my cousin and I stroll to the last party on the island before Ramadan, I’m unresolved about whether this weeklong experiment is worth it. Then we buy some magic mushrooms, and in my mind at least, technology ceases to exist.
I come to stand at the shore in the dead of night. The black sea appears as a vast blanket stretching out to the light-speckled mainland, and is met by a haze of clouds that break up the exploding universe of stars above me. I feel there are layers stretching from the atmosphere into the rest of the universe and I begin lifting the sky, holding the weight of every galaxy in my palms, tilting them any which way I choose. My laughter creates a soundtrack for the stars.
The following morning – when the profoundness of the previous night still lingers in my flesh – the way social media is used starts to seem like a big fat joke, an attention-seeking, moneymaking gip. The mushroom trip has been the perfect antithesis to my ego-stroking, which might just get me through this week of disconnection as I’m reminded I’m not so fucking special after all.
I focus on just being. We find a cabana to sit in and spend hours over-eating, snorkelling with sea turtles and reading books in the sunshine. Despite not adventuring outside a 100-metre radius, I feel I have squeezed two days out of one.
The next day, I choose not to wake up to a glowing screen filled with media dribble. Instead, palm trees, sunshine and chirping birds meet my dreary gaze. But anxiety trickles into my body, welling inside my chest, as I realise I have been shut off from any news of the outside world for nearly three days.
I discuss this with my cousin, who is permanently boycotting the news. She has found her calling and focuses on bettering what’s at her fingertips as a nurse and volunteer. Reading the news makes her depressed, which affects her motivation and treatment of people in her day-to-day life.
It’s hard to loosen the claws of guilt griping my insides as the rising tide tickles my heels and a cloud-smothered volcano sits atop a shifting blue canvas in the distance. I’m a privileged whitey on a paradisiacal beach, with all the money and food I need, and I’m actively ignoring the realities of the world.
We spend the day cruising around Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan, two islands that sit further off the coast of Lombok. Our boat is a battered perahu with two parallel hulls attached using fishing line.
I spend the afternoon in a state of meditation rather than worry. My mood starts to shine as my brain takes a much-needed vacation from itself.
The following morning, I discover my phone has been lodged in my shoe all along, which I am happy about because I can take photos, but soon realise that I am doing so, at least in part, because they might be post-worthy. I leave the phone in my hotel room when I go out.
The idea of opening up Grindr later that evening is a temptress because, astonishingly, I’m toey. Could there be a bi-curious beach babe just around the bend? Then I have the revolutionary idea to just give meeting people in person a crack and see what happens.
That night, I chat with countless strangers because I have nothing to escape into. I theorise that the swipe-left-swipe-right-yes-no-wanna-fuck-or-not logic is a cop out. If rejection happens via a dating app, there is less humiliation surrounding it, as our screens offer a safety net. Is my iPhone grabbing me by the pussy?
I see a group of millennials sitting in the cabana to my right, their phones illuminating their wrinkleless faces, creating an unwelcoming aura. I do not approach them.
There are no gay boys around, but I spend hours drinking with my cousin and a local bartender named Rizal, who remains sober. He tells us he has walked around Gili Air twice in his life and confines himself to a segment of the island that we call his “triangle”. This blows us away… we have circled the island several times already.
Perhaps my need to be everywhere at the same time using technological gateways is mind-fucking me, especially when I’m assured Rizal is content to his core.
We return to the mainland and the following days are spent in peace. I don’t give a flying fuck about anything happening anywhere that I’m not… I’m just here, with people, with nature, with myself.
The week comes to an end and I’m attached to my phone like it’s a limb, ignoring the people I’m having lunch with. Reading the news makes me want to cry, social media commands my attention with endless shit I don’t care about, emails put me back to work while I’m still on holidays, bank statements make me erratic and my friends wonder where the fuck I’ve been. Plus I’m being rude. I waste so much time entrapping myself in tiny glowing quadrilaterals, I think as I pocket my phone and reawaken to my 180-degree field of view.
Being constantly connected through our technological devices might be as unhealthy for our minds as fast food diets are for our bodies. It is probably the most widespread addiction facing the world today, and can act as blockade to meditative presence.
It took forced separation, which initially seemed like a calamity, and a trip to a foreign-fucking-country for me to dissolve the glue between man and technology. And it was dope. But as I sit here typing this sentence with Facebook open and a push notification alerting me about another attack, I realise there’s no escape. Perhaps technological detoxes will become a thing of the future once we start realising the pernicious effects of our addiction.
Cover by Jeremy Bishop