Disconnecting (digitally) to Connect More Meaningfully
I closed my computer screen, grabbed my journal, and found a sunny spot outside—thank goodness for Tucson in December, where I live. It felt appropriate to take a break from my screen to write about disconnecting from technology.
Over the summer I visited the Guatemala 4-week Spanish Language program. I had just joined the Dragons Administrative team in a new digital marketing role—managing social media, blog, and email marketing. I was really excited to be part of the Dragons team and visit a program for the first time. Having worked in the educational travel industry since 2015, I’ve only seen an increase in the dependence we all have on our phones, and the interference they cause with immersive travel programs. I was especially excited to see how a program looked without the use of mobile phones for students.
In Guatemala I spent time with my phone, taking photos and communicating with the other instructors and admin via Whatsapp. Sometimes students would ask to see the photos I took, or requested to see an Instagram post that included them (here’s a beautiful photo of the group at sunrise, actually). But mostly, the students seemed content without their phones, and this was about 2.5 weeks into the program.
“I don’t really miss it.”
So I asked the group what it was like being without their phones, iPads, or computers for the last few weeks. To my pleasant surprise they responded with “I sleep so much better,” and “It feels so good to take a break—I know it will still be there when I get back.” Some said, “ I don’t really miss it. I love having conversations at dinner with the group instead of being on my phone.” I thought, Heck. Yeah. I need more of this in my life.
While it always feels important to take breaks from technology, it feels incredibly timely as we’re in the holiday season. The end of the year typically represents a time of gathering and reflection, and a great reason to be more present with our current surroundings rather than our screens.
I surveyed the Dragons Administrative Team and our Alumni Ambassadors about how they disconnect to connect.
Best tips and tricks for taking a break from our devices:
- I plug my phone in to charge in a different room so I’m not tempted to look at it last thing at night or first thing in the morning. I actually bought a nifty new alarm clock with one of those slow rise lights so that I’m not dependent on my phone for my alarm. When going out on a hike or drive somewhere, I’ll try to consciously leave my phone behind so that I’m not dependent on the GPS at every turn. —Aaron Slosberg, Director of Student Programming
- With family, we do try to keep our phones off and away from us so that they’re not at the dinner table or part of the conversation. One thing that is a pet peeve of mine is when someone is telling a story and they say, “Oh, let me show you the photo of this…” and while it’s relevant to the story, I think it just kills the conversation because they pull out their phone, scroll to find the photo, and then the description and storytelling kind of just grinds to a halt. —Dragons Admin Team Member
- I’ve started trying to unplug as much as possible during the weekends. I go hang out at my mother-in-law’s house. She doesn’t have wifi and I won’t touch my phone all day— just play with kids and drink tea and sit around talking and laughing. —Jenny Wagner, Staffing Director
- I like to set time limits on my phone and also temporarily delete some apps when I feel like I’m going on them too much. —Sally Thomas, Alumni Ambassador
- Communicate with others that you’re taking a break so they know not to worry. Additionally, let them know your preferred way of getting in touch or when you’ll be checking your phone/email/messages. —Alex Biddle, Digital Marketing Associate
Benefits we experience and activities to do when taking a digital detox:
- Surfing is the ultimate unplugged activity for me, my digital free safe space. —Aaron Slosber, Director of Student Programming
- I take detox breaks when I spend time in nature, go for hikes, and when I can go camping I rarely use my phone and it works wonders for me and my life. When I’m not on my phone, I try to journal, talk with friends, connect with family, make music or other art, go outside, workout, hike, etc. I feel it helps me feel more clear headed and more present. —Lily Conquanto Alumni Ambassador
- The benefits of disconnecting allows me the chance to take a few moments to reflect on the past year as I enter into the new year. Not to set “resolutions,” but to reflect on my experiences, who I have become, and life’s transitions. It forces me to sit with the uncomfortable in order to enter the new year with clarity. —Sarah Bennett O’Brien, Programming Associate
- A great way to disconnect is spending in person time with friends and family. Sally Thomas, Alumni Ambassador
- I absolutely love reading books, enjoy painting in my free time, and I often take walks in nature. It definitely makes me feel less lazy doing these activities than being on my phone, and I feel more connection with everything and everyone around me. —Julia Borque, Alumni Ambassador
- Playing board games! —Eva Vanek, Director of Outreach
- Baking, to fill the house with scents of cinnamon & comfort! Helps the brain disengage from the chaos of everyday life and focus on the simple pleasure of being “home”. Lisa Smith, Administrative Associate
- I love to post up at the breakfast table with my sketch pad and draw cabins in the woods. We have some land up on Lake Superior and one day I hope to build an artsy and soulful home for our family. Simon Hart, Director of Partnership and Educator Programming
- For me, disconnecting leaves room for surprise and spontaneity. I can’t help but view this through the lens of young children. There’s a cycle to this process, which is disconnect, then comes boredom (which usually leads to anger/frustration), and then spontaneous action…I love when we get to the final stage. Often it involves trashing the house to build a fort or an obstacle course. When they choose to draw quietly, it’s blissful. Whatever it is, it’s never something that I foresee, which is what I love most about disconnecting. I think the key is boredom. When they say they’re bored, I know we’re about to break through to something funky. —Reed Harwood, Executive Director
- My favorite things to do when I need a break from the internet are go outside or read! Neither of these activities require any technology so I can get a full break. —Alumni Ambassador
It feels good to take a break.
Even handwriting this post in a journal before typing it out was a joyful experience. I feel better. Don’t get me wrong, technology is a huge help for my day to day work and life, but it feels so good to take a little break. I hear the birds singing in the mesquite trees, I feel the warmth of the December sun, and see my dogs Bert and Ellie sunbathing and happy.
From all of us at Dragons, we’re wishing you a warm holiday season and hope you take time to disconnect digitally so you can connect to yourself and your loved ones. Here’s to soaking up the present moment.
Eager to keep reading about the power or disconnection and unplugged travel? You can check out this article for what it’s like to be on a Dragons course without your devices.