A Forced Digital Detox – my personal nomophobic experience

NOMOPHOBIA – nō-mə-ˈfō-bē-ə – an irrational fear of being without or unable to use your mobile phone.

I’ve been on Facebook since 2007, initially using it as a tool to keep connected with friends & family while living in India.  But it is only lately – 9 years later – Facebook, Instagram and other socials channels have become my little obsession.  There is so much to read on topics of interest, so many people that inspire and motivate me and the connection to friends old and new is quite amazing (albeit a little voyeuristic).  I flick constantly from topic to topic, picture to product and from one social channel to another.

The more powerful these phones get, the more we use and depend on them, and the more compulsive and nomophobic we become. — Jay Fidell, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 24 Dec. 2013

The irony is, I am embarking on a new project – The Digital Detox Project – and I am a prime candidate for the workshops I’m co-creating.

After all I have learned recently, I recognize I have a growing addiction – albeit mild in the scheme of other addicts.  There are many of us who have this addiction to our devices yet haven’t labeled it and others remain completely and blissfully unaware.

The Forced Detox

The night before delivering our first workshop, I dropped my phone down the toilet. It died a slow death over the next few days (despite being immersed in rice).  My Digital Detox Project partner seemed to delight in this tragic event, for she saw not only the irony and hilarity of it, she knew what would follow would create great content.

I was totally unprepared for the range of emotions that ensued, and ended up prolonging my forced digital detox so I could experience the whole gamut of reactions.  I genuinely didn’t recognize how much I had come to rely on the device to feed activity for my brain.

Emotional Change


Firstly there was panic. Did I back up? What if I didn’t, how would I start again? What have I lost? My life was in that little piece of technology.


I then became quite fearful and anxious. I was driving out of town for the workshop, how would I be contacted if one of my children hurt themselves? What if the car broke down and I was stranded on the side of the highway (and subsequently smashed into by someone texting – it happens), or, what if I got lost and couldn’t use Google maps to get me to my workshop (which was somewhere in the boondocks) on time?


After the fear subsided which it did quite quickly, I was left feeling insecure. “No one could contact me, everyone will forget me, think I’ll eat some worms”. Poor me.  I guess that is FOMO setting in – the Fear Of Missing Out – for those not in the know.  I was unable to contact anyone when I needed them, nobody could contact me when they wanted me, and I would surely miss major world events as they unfolded and – I wouldn’t be able to comment!


I became irritated over the next few days, as I realized my phone wouldn’t come back to life and I had to get a new one.  I was irritated by having to queue at the service station and forced to look out the window instead of doing a sneaky swipe on my phone to see if my favourite Instagram mama had her third baby yet. (Yes I am acutely aware that I am not meant to use my phone at petrol stations).  Irritated that I couldn’t check the radar to see if the storm that was brewing would hit where I was and irritated at the car GPS which didn’t recognize the Go Between Bridge and thought I was driving into the Brisbane River.

However, the negative emotions were slowly replaced with positive ones.


The panic, fear and anxiety subsided quite quickly as I began living the mantra ‘what is is – because it is – so let it go’.  It was time to move on and accept the situation for what it was. I simply had to be organized – like back in the olden days. I could always be contacted by leaving someone else’s number or a landline.  I could always find a phone or computer if desperate.


The insecure feeling of not being in control and contactable lead to a powerful surge of being in TOTAL control.  I controlled who could reach me, when and how. I didn’t feel at all compelled to share my life for the sake of just sharing. I still had the ability use my laptop to check social media – if I wanted to.  But after a few days I lost the urge to check on it frequently – I still did of course but it was scheduled, and fitted into tiny time slots when I could log on.

My brain seemed to calm down and the need to be constantly fed information subsided – I searched for it if I needed it, rather than it find me overloading me with irrelevant rubbish.  I found focus when I was doing actual work online.  The urge for the pleasure impulse I gained from checking my feeds faded – which is the dopamine hit we repeatedly and subconsciously crave. I became serene like the yogi when on the mat, I found clarity in my thoughts and I did way more exercise.  (I went to bed earlier and slept more soundly, so got up earlier)

The blissful flow and creativity boredom brings is going to be lost on our children –  the poor digital natives.  Their brains will be naturally wired to constantly seek.

While being forced to look out of the window while waiting forever to fill up at the service station, I noticed a little sparrow. A sparrow! Sparrows are being chased out of Brisbane by those awful Myna birds and I haven’t seen one for ages.

Thus began the journey of really noticing things once again, in nature, in others and in myself.  I felt surprisingly calmer.sitting-by-the-fire

In saying all of this however, as the weeks drifted by, I did get frustrated at not having access to some of the useful systems and apps and I did miss the online connection of a few close friends and family who live abroad.  I also missed a bunch of school reminders that are sent only online and got into a lot of trouble from my children.


I am in the process of creating healthy habits with my brand spanking new smart phone.  My commitment is to be in control; I will not allow my phone to control me.

So, I bid you farewell, it is time to sign off from anything that glows blue (yellow is OK) and transition into a blissful slumber.


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