Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Sept. 5, 2013

Up the Creek Without a Smartphone

Program Administrator, Family Online Safety Institute

Last month, I went on an eight-day rafting trip down the Main Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. Along with nineteen other people, I covered nearly 80 miles, all without my smartphone and the Internet. It was the first real technology-free time I’ve had in weeks. No email, no texting, no social media – and I survived. 

As someone who knows the basic principles of digital citizenship, I’m aware of how important it is to take breaks from technology. But knowing how important something is and actually putting it into practice are two different things. It’s rare today that a person’s schedule allows for more than a few hours of being unplugged, which is why this trip was so unique. Even if I wanted to send texts or go online, I couldn’t. There was no cell phone service on the river. It was a welcomed and well-needed break from being connected. 

I know young adults, myself included, often get criticized for over-documenting their experiences, and for having lost the ability to appreciate moments as they happen. People point fingers at the constant sharing of photos or videos online, posting on social media – which now connects three-quarters of Millennials in the US – and obsessively checking to see who has liked or commented on their updates. I typically cringe at the expression “live in the moment” because of how overused it is, but it’s true. Without those distractions, I was more attentive to the experience and to those around me. Disconnecting is a simple, yet highly underrated luxury that we rarely allow ourselves to enjoy these days. 

In addition to greater attentiveness, I also found that not immediately sharing the details of my trip online allowed for a more private, and more intimate experience, which when camping can be just what you’re looking for. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have numerous social media accounts, and thankfully others were taking pictures on the trip to email me later, but for those eight days it felt great, and even exciting to be off the grid. 

So are smartphones and constant connectivity bad things? Absolutely not. We just need to learn how to better balance the tech-time in our lives. Plus, it’s unrealistic to expect this kind of extended unplugging on a regular basis. In fact, one of the first things I did when I got home was to post the photo I used for this blog post. It’s important to remember that as our habits and behaviors continue to evolve with technology, understanding digital citizenship and its different components will lead to a healthier connected life. 

Were you able to get any tech-free time this summer?