Disconnect to Reconnect: Reflections on a Week in the Rockies with Minimal Screen Time

Part 1: My Own Usage & Habits

As so many other people do, with the start of the new year I’ve taken some time to reflect on a few things things, namely my goals, habits (both good and bad), and joyful pursuits. At times I’ve found myself feeling like the days are too short and wondering where all of my time is going or is being directed towards.

Upon further examination of my daily habits and routines, the one constant I’ve noticed is that I spend an absurd amount of time in front of screens, and more specifically, with my eyes transfixed to my phone. I’ll wake up and the first thing I’ll typically and sadly do is check my phone – emails, notifications, texts, whatever. Likewise, throughout the day I’ll be working on accomplishing what I’ve set out to do and there’s still that constant feeling or urge to want to check my phone. And of course, phone use prior to sleeping happens far too often, which I know for a fact has degraded the quality of my sleep.

So, lately I’ve been questioning things. Why do I feel the need to check my phone so often? Why do I feel uncomfortable if I forget it at home or if I don’t have it on me? With regards to social media usage (Instagram in particular), why do I feel the need to see what people are up to (when I honestly don’t care) and why do I also feel the need to share?

These are all questions that I’ve been pondering lately and reflecting on. I recently read my good friend Dawson’s article on hitchhiking and being phone-less for half a year and it inspired me. Upon finishing the read, I installed the app “Screen Time” on my phone which provides me with metrics on my overall phone and app usage. The stats have been telling and they’re not pretty – I average a little over 4 hours a day of phone usage, which is ridiculous! In fact, according to Sarah Karnasiewicz (2018) of Health.com, if you were to tally up the hours that we’re projected to spend on social media apps over a lifetime, it would amount to 5 years and 4 months!

Being cognizant of my usage and habits has motivated me to change and to reclaim these lost hours. I’m making it a point to reduce the total number of hours I spend using my phone, as well as stopping the endless and mindless scrolling of news feeds and timelines. If phone usage is something that you find distracting or time consuming as well, then I challenge you to question your own usage and habits!

Part 2: My Experiences in The Rockies

Last August I spent a week in Montana and Alberta, hiking throughout Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park with 20 other Canadian students to raise money for cancer research. We spent most of our time in Montana, camping just outside of Glacier National Park. Being in rural USA basically meant that our phones were stripped of the main function we use them for – communication. I’ll be honest, it was an adjustment initially, especially when I relied on it to communicate with everyone back home, but by the end of the week it felt liberating.

Our days were spent hiking through incredible alpine wilderness,

swimming in freezing cold glacial lakes,

and camping under the stars.

After a days worth of mileage was under our belts, we’d reconvene at the campsite, cook our meals, and revel around the fire, often singing Take Me Home Country Roads at the tops of our lungs. Completely gone was the perpetual need to update my stories on Instagram or to document every little thing. I found myself hardly ever reaching for my phone and I loved it.

Towards the latter stages of the trek we ended up in Waterton National Park in southern Alberta. We camped at the beautiful Belly River campground which was a vast meadow surrounded by forest, mountains and the Belly River.

While we were now in Canada, we still had absolutely zero service, and no chance of using wifi (as we could in Montana), unless we made the drive into town. This campsite was much more primitive – no wifi, no service, no showers, no electricity, it was glorious. The sunsets were ethereal and the stars were unbelievable.

Our evenings were spent by the Belly River swimming and, in some cases, bathing and washing in the river as cold as it was. At night, families of foxes would come out to play and would sneakily attempt to swipe at the food I would cook. Mars shone brightly over the distant peaks, as the milky way rose and fell.

It was a strange feeling. I felt disconnected from my life back home, but at the same time too, completely immersed and connected to everything around me – the amazing people I shared these experiences with, the beauty of the natural landscape, and even with myself. I truly found it much easier to be in the present moment and it was a beautiful thing. We could eat dinner at the benches and around the fire without the incessant need or want to check our phones and post stories of the food we were eating and things we were doing. We could engage in authentic conversation and truly hear and understand what each other was saying. I know it sounds romanticized but it all just felt so simple and right.

When I look back on this particular week and on other instances where I spent a decent amount of time without phone usage or screen time in general, it’s no coincidence that I view these times and experiences as some of the best and most memorable of my life. Because when all is said and done, I’d hate to look back on my life knowing that I wasted 5 years of it staring down at a phone screen.

Thanks for reading!

References & Further Reading

Off-the-Grid: 6 Months Without a Phone
Lessons learned from a hitchhiking trip as a phone-less millennial

7 Scary Things You Never Knew About Cell Phone Addiction

How Much Time Do People Spend On Social Media?

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