I was involuntarily phoneless for 10 days. As someone who knows the pain of losing a loved one, it’s no exaggeration to say that I experienced all five stages of grief during that desperate period.
It was the epitome of a first-world problem, but on the first day of my romantic Italian holiday with my new beau, I dropped my iPhone into a hotel pool. I made a pathetic attempt to rescue it but ended up waddling through the hotel lobby in my new—and rather soaked—dress with a device that no longer worked.
I briefly considered how this avoidable accident might impact my life, but I couldn’t have predicted the emotions I was about to endure. Although I was partly on holiday to get a break from screen time, the immediate panic that set in once I realized I was without a functioning phone only confirmed how closely technology was tied up with my own sense of peace. Breaking my phone forced me to come to terms with the fact that I had reached a point of technology burnout. If I didn’t already realize how much my life depended on that little 4.7 inch screen, I was about to.
During those dark 10 days, I quite honestly, and rather alarmingly, experienced all five—or arguably six, if you include anxiety—stages of grief. By no means do I wish to diminish the experience of grief; as a child who lost a parent in my early 20s, I know full well its impact on your life. But being forced to go off-grid and unable to communicate freely with my family and friends provoked familiar feelings of anxiety and trauma that I had only known in the depths of grief.
Before my holiday, I had been experiencing digital fatigue after moving cities and trying desperately to keep on top of messages, work emails and calls. I often thought that notifications on my laptop had been warning me for months that my iCloud storage was at capacity—a perfect metaphor for my own life.
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Without a Phone, I Had to Rely on Hand Gestures to Communicate
It soon became clear that navigating this trip was going to become somewhat of a logistical nightmare due to that unfortunate poolside mishap. But along the way, I realized there were some upsides to being without a working smartphone. To start, my mum and my still-new-to-scene romantic partner seemed to hit it off after she tracked him down on WhatsApp when she hadn’t heard from me. For the rest of the trip, I decided to embrace the opportunity to remain offline.
I spent the next day wandering through the romantic city of Sorrento, with its historic cobbled streets and beautiful plazas filled with alfresco diners and drinkers. The day proved to be nothing short of a Hollywood rom-com until my current reality hit home again. When my partner headed to pick up the rental car, I went off on my own to find a bathroom. Safe to say all the gelato stands look remarkably similar in Sorrento, and I soon found myself lost in a maze of residential alleyways with not a clue where I was or how to get back.
Google would have been my savior at that point, but I was left without the powers of Maps and Translate at my fingertips. Trying to find my way back to the original gelato stand, I was forced to speak school-level Italian to a pair of bemused-looking locals who passed me by. It was not until I mimed the universal sign for licking an ice pop that their faces lit up, finally understanding what I was fumbling to say. They confidently pointed me in the direction of the main square, shouting a series of words I’d never heard before—let alone would be able to translate.
Following their directions and journeying back to the square, I soon bumped into a friendly American family enthusiastically digging into double-scooped ice cream cones. A-ha! I must be close to the town square now. I asked them for further directions, and a few moments later, I walked down some steps and out into the familiar place where my man and I had parted ways.
It was a half-hour of stress, frustration and desperation, but I’d made it back—without the crutch of a phone in my hands. I thought, even though not much of it was verbal, thank goodness for old-school communication.
After a restful but rather challenging holiday, we touched down in the U.K. to encounter our final hurdle of the holiday: passport control.
Without my own digital boarding pass, my international partner was forced to stay in my British citizen queue for 50 minutes before getting back in his own non-citizen queue for another half hour. I stood there waiting and wincing, feeling beyond guilty for the inconveniences I’d caused my beau on this holiday.
“I owe you,” I said while his smile became increasingly weary.
I’m Working on a Better Relationship With My (New) Smartphone
When I returned home, the first thing I did was buy myself a new phone, hating the feeling of not being contactable at all times. Of course, it took another week before I could use it because I got locked out of iCloud. I felt desperate and, on one occasion, close to a panic attack during a three-hour bus ride knowing my family couldn’t reach me.
I couldn’t believe how much that phone—as resentful as I was of it—meant to me. But since coming out the other side, with a working phone in hand, I have seen the whole ordeal as an answer to a prayer.
The whole rigmarole forced me to free up space on my laptop, organize my files and photos and even led me to rediscover some old articles written by my younger self, which reminded me why I had chosen my stress-including job in journalism in the first place.
It turns out that Italian adventure gave me more than just respite from the day-to-day grind. It showed me that I needed to simplify my life, do more of what was bringing me joy and be more comfortable getting off the grid every once in a while.