In 2016 I walked across the United States. I was 22. I had just graduated college. For my peers and I, the world was opening up. I should’ve been happy. But I felt a growing dissatisfaction within me. I was connected to the digital world but had no real connection to myself. The world on my phone provided my life with little to no meaning. I looked up and everyone around me seemed to be caught in the same trap. We were all numb. I was determined to find more, to find answers.
I called my project ‘Let’s Talk’. My goal was to research phone usage in America. I walked alone for nine months from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA. I knocked on doors, slept in lawns and interviewed strangers.
After 3,200 miles and 10,000 conversations, I found one common thread. We all think we use our devices too much. I saw a digital dilemma unfolding in the homes, schools and communities of this country. Our devices have become a gift and a curse. I was not the only one tired of my newsfeed.
On one hand, our phones are practical tools for everyday life. They help us communicate, educate and interact with the world.
On the other hand, our phones are very powerful and very addictive. We are living in an attention economy that doesn’t care about your wellbeing or even your money. It feasts on your time. A flood of videos, apps, games and articles are fighting for your attention every minute.
Where does that leave you? Distracted.
Ironically, I used my phone almost every day of my journey. I told myself it was a lifeline but really it was so much more. I turned to it when I was bored, lonely, anxious and afraid.
Once I reached the desert, the service went out. I finally had to face the silence and face myself. No videos, texts or likes to distract me anymore. I went through digital withdrawal, which was very uncomfortable, and surprisingly physical.
As the days passed, boredom turned to curiosity, anxiety turned to quiet and for the first time in my life I experienced real peace. I felt the whole planet rounding beneath my feet as I looked out at the infinite horizon. A flowering cactus beside me stood in perfect beauty. The moment was enough, more than enough! The joy sank deep into my heart.
It didn’t last long. A week later, on a dusty road, the dings and rings returned. My anxious mind crept back. But I couldn’t unsee the truth I saw in the desert. I wanted that peace again. My walk ended leaving me even hungrier for the truth. Ever since, I’ve been on a new journey to inspire others to live beyond distraction.
The truth is simple. When we are distracted, we cannot have true joy.
Technology should be used very intentionally, as a tool. It should never be a distraction. These devices can take over your life. Setting limits like phone baskets, no phones with meals, and Apple Screen Time are helpful and practical ways to build a system of mindful usage.
But most importantly, when you’re home with your family, be home. The example you set is more powerful than anything else.
Focus on making real connection. Look into your children’s eyes. Go on a phone-free adventure! Play make-believe, create, share and listen intently.
When you carve out phone-free time, the magic begins. Silence will transform discomfort into discussion. Nature will transform boredom into curiosity. Simple, honest conversation brings comfort. Humor brings release and joy. Quiet, tender moments hold and bond you together.
Stepping away from distraction can be daunting, as the fears we’ve been running from are there waiting to greet us. But once you face them, you have nothing to run from.
We owe it to ourselves and to our children.
To learn more about Chris’ story, please watch the short film created during the last 100 miles of his journey or his TEDx talk. Let’s Talk can be found here.