Do you remember what life was like before social media?
Before the introduction of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even Myspace arrived on our screens just over ten years ago?
What about before you set up your first email address or got your first mobile phone?
Maybe you can remember what it was like before the internet existed, and mobile phones weren’t thought of yet. When the written word was king and the post box or telephone were the only ways to communicate over long distances.
We all know the world has changed — mostly for the better– with the introduction of these new platforms, but it doesn’t mean that taking a moment to disconnect from this ever-evolving digital world — for a short period at least — isn’t a valuable investment of our time.
For the past two weeks my girlfriend and I agreed to make that investment, to shut off our social media accounts, not read our emails, and not seek out the news.
We took a break and travelled to the beautiful Yasawa Islands, on the North-Western fringes of Fiji.
We stayed at an unbelievably picturesque island surrounded by the most transparent, purest water I’ve ever seen. We swam with the most intensely coloured and obscurely shaped marine life imaginable, hundreds of species of clown fish, angel fish, trevally and even a manta ray all playing within the labyrinth of alien-like coral reefs stretching out in front of us in all directions.
At every meal, an abundance of fresh food awaited us. Local fruits and vegetables all grown in the rich soil of the self-sustaining island, as well as a variety of delicious seafood caught by the local fishermen just a few hours before. Meals were enjoyable experiences, a time for music and conversation, not news feeds.
There were amazing sunsets, incredible island scenery and moments of complete calm day after beautiful day, with no interruptions and no noise from the outside world, and nobody except the two of us knew about it.
With the time we spent on the island not checking in on the endless stream of surface level distractions emanating from our phones we connected to something else.
We invested time into our relationship — celebrating two years with each other while we were on the island — and learned more about each other’s unique peculiarities.
I discovered my rare talent to grow eyebrows that are at least three times longer than the average human, as well as a unique ability to pronounce words like buoy in a way that apparently no one has ever heard before. (For the record, I believe it’s pronounced bew-ee, and I won’t be changing the way I say it any time soon.)
There was time spent reading books — three of them, and allowing the writing of their authors to resonate and distill undisturbed.
There were periods of reflection on both a moment to moment level as well as a broader whole of life level, as a newer realisation of what I’m enjoying and grateful for right now, as well as what I’d like to improve on were grasped.
All in all, it was a fantastic stretch of time, uninterrupted by the usual noise of connected life.
When we left the island, reconnected our phones and returned to the various content streams that poured out of them, there was an initial moment of information induced anxiety, but then a realisation that we actually hadn’t missed all that much at all.
There were some big stories sure, but we only needed to know the broad strokes to be caught up completely. The world hadn’t ended and it was much the same as the way we had left it.
The realisation that you haven’t missed anything by taking time to disconnect with the online world is a pretty satisfying moment. It can be a challenging one to reach in this day and age of course, but it is wholly reinforced upon reflection of what filled that void.
Apart from realising that I have vastly overgrown eyebrows, I also realised I need to cut back the number of inbox cluttering email lists I’m currently subscribed to, and switch off the distracting social media and news notifications that pop-up on my screen throughout the day.
I realised I should spend a little more time reading well thought through books instead of quickly ingested news articles designed to sell products, and a little bit more time appreciating the great relationships I’m lucky to have surrounding me in the real world.
While I won’t be joining a monastery or completely disconnecting from the online world anytime soon, coming to these realisations as well as the feelings they bring are justification that the time spent away from it all was time spent incredibly well.
It was a time to disconnect, a time to reflect and recharge, and now it’s time to get back into it again, a little shallower this time though.