Diary of a 6-Day Digital Detox — IT WILL NOT BE OK

·Managing Editor

No one loves the Internet and her smart phone as much as Yahoo Managing Editor Jo Piazza. Her phones (yes, plural) are essentially extensions of her limbs. And so we weren’t entirely sure she would survive in the Galapagos Islands with no phone service or Wi-Fi for five days. On the sixth day of the trip, her ship — the Letty from Ecoventura tours — circumnavigated the island of Santa Cruz, and she had Wi-Fi forapproximately 12 hours before being pitched back into the ’90s. Thankfully, she didn’t know she was entering a digital black hole until it wastoo late to turn back.

WATCH: Adorable Sea Lions Jo Did Not Put on Instagram

Here is a diary of her digital detox.

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Desperately searching for a signal on the cliffs of Plaza Island. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Day 1

I’m not going to have the Internet on this trip. I learn this only as I reach the airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador, from which I’m departing for the Galapagos. No Internet, not even roaming on my internationally enabled phone, which usually gets service everywhere.

In the airport, I turn on the computer and furiously search for a Wi-Fi signal. Of course, Juan Valdez Café has one. I race over, laptop balanced like a waitress’s tray on my open palm.

“Wi-Fi code,” I huff.

“Latte?” the girl behind the counter responds.

“Weefee!!!” I say again, with greater urgency.

“Latte?”

“Fine, latte,” I scrounge around for a few dollars in my pocket to pay for an incredibly overpriced latte that comes with the Wi-Fi code. The password is JuanValdez, by the way. I send two stories I’ve been working on, hoping they’ll attach to the emails before the plane finishes its boarding process. I am the last one to go through the gate. The stewardess wags a warning finger at me.

I get on roaming as soon as I land at the San Cristobal Airport. I furiously email again and tie up all the loose ends. I let everyone know that I will not be available. I am convinced I will get the most important email of my life while I am gone … a life-changing email that could change everything, the Sliding Doors of emails.

I write to my boss.

Her response: “Great. Enjoy it have fun.”

I email my book editor.

“Good for you.”

No one seems concerned. I question the importance of my place in the world.

I email and upload pictures to Instagram and Twitter as if these are the last messages and photos I will ever send. These are the things people will remember me by … for at least five days. I believe that. I can’t stop myself.

Related: Are You Addicted to Technology? Check Into This Hotel for a Digital Detox

The time is here (cue creepy Law & Order SVU music). The Internet is gone.

We hop into a small panga boat and head to the beach. I don’t bring my phone. What’s the point? I get closer to sea lions than humans should ever get to sea lions. I take selfie after selfie with my Go Pro, but I am a digital cripple.

I console myself by thinking how productive I will be on this trip. I will finish all of the books about the Galapagos that I brought to the Galapagos. I will finish writing that proposal for a new novel. I will upload my photos and videos each and every day and catalog them.

There are moments when I think all will be OK and then moments of complete panic. Yeep! I’m going to sleep.

Day 2

Is this how heroin addicts feel their first morning without heroin? A little shaky, picking up an empty needle and tapping it, wondering if there are a few drops of heroin left. I do that with my phone, shaking it in hopes that there is a wisp of a signal in there. There is not. No heroin for me.

Not being able to Instagram the greatest sunset of all time or the cutest baby sea lion that ever lived has led to some existential questions. Do these things exist or matter if the rest of the world doesn’t know about them? I’m turning into the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the Galapagos. Do I matter?

If there was ever a place that you would want to document and broadcast with immediacy this is it. Everyone needs to see these baby sea lions right now!

There is nothing quite like a sunset on the equator when the sun appears to melt like an egg yolk into the ocean, turning the clouds above it into vivid bursts of rose and burnt orange. I needed that sunset. Without a phone to hyperlapse it, it almost feels more real. 

I occupy myself by organizing my iPhoto library, which has led me to accidentally delete my iPhoto library and 15 countries worth of pictures. I am now spending more time staring at a spinning wheel on my computer than I would have if I had just had the bloody Internet to begin with.

As we move toward the island of Española, I hear a familiar ping and see one bar … one tiny bar. It tells me I have a Facebook notification that feels like a hit of cocaine, but before I can load my email or send a tweet, the bar goes away.

Wait, it’s back. Maybe it will be better if I go to the top of the boat, instead of the bottom of the boat, where my room is.

Oh, it’s back. I can tweet. I am going to tell the world about deleting my iPhoto library. The whole world obviously wants to know about my deleting of my iPhoto library.

It’s gone again.

DAY 3

I can’t stop touching the phone. I go through the motions of what I would do if it weren’t lifeless. I touch the Twitter button and the mail button and the Facebook button. Then I repeat. Sometimes this happens for an hour or more. Then I get mad. I am irrationally mad at my phone for being unable to function like a phone.

Am I more mindful? Not really. Bored? Not really, either. I’m getting used to not having my phone with me all of the time. I don’t need it when I go to the bathroom or take a walk. I really don’t. Why do I always bring my phone with me into the bathroom, anyway? It’s kind of gross.

I miss it other times. My computer is still misbehaving, and I have no way to find out how to fix it. Mercury is in retrograde, so I can imagine that things will only get worse.

I’m writing notes again in a small, white notebook that I now keep in my pocket where my phone used to live. I make lists of things I will do when the Internet is restored, people I will email, things I will Google, witty tweets and Instagram captions.

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Taking notes next to a marine iguana. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

When I get back to my rubbish phone, I write the emails and then fire them off … to nowhere.

I’m not one of those people who is so immersed in my devices that I never see the places I wander through. People, and one-on-one conversation however, do fall through the cracks. I’ll admit that I use technology as a constant crutch to avoid small talk. Now I have no shield.

Gentility returns to meals with no smart devices.

We get to know one another fairly quickly on this boat. There’s Camilla, a financial journalist and artist turned entrepreneur, Carri, a travel blogger, and her mom Tina, both from Colorado and avid outdoors women and Ed and his wife Carol, married almost 30 years. Ed is a journalist who covers the Caribean. Carol is a massage therapist. They have a dog named Benny.

We soon learn everything about one another in the time that would have been dominated by tweets and the checking of email.

Related: A Tech Geek Gives Up Her Smartphone for Guidebook Travel (And Survives) 

It’s 3 a.m. Our boat is pitching back and forth as we cruise in between Española and Floreana islands. I convince myself that chocolate cures seasickness, and without being able to use Google to correct myself, I eat two bars.

DAY FOUR

I don’t know what day it is anymore, which leads me to believe that my basic survival skills have been whittled away by a decade of “smart” device use. Given my surroundings, I’m curious about what this means in the whole “survival of the fittest” paradigm. I am obviously no longer as fit as I once was. This does not bode well for my chances during the zombie apocalypse.

I wish I’d brought more copies of the The New Yorker with me. Now would be an incredible time to finally cut into some of that New Yorker guilt compounded by the four months of magazines where I’ve only read “Talk of the Town” and “Shouts & Murmurs.”

Related: Does Technology Ruin Travel? A Social Media Addict Comes Clean

I’ve made a list of things I would like to Google. In the beginning, I would pull out my phone and try to Google them, even though I knew it was futile.

1.     How long do giant tortoises live?

2.     Do sea lions have a belly button?

3.     Where was Jurassic Park III filmed?

4.     Kanye West AND Galapagos (don’t ask)

DAY FIVE

God, I love napping. When did I stop taking naps? I think it might have been right around the time that I got my first smartphone, that T-Mobile Sidekick that flipped its top like the doors on a DeLorean.

As we sail by a dormant volcano, someone asks me how many major plates make up the Earth’s surface. I take a moment to think. I have no idea. Wow, I’m using my brain instead of reaching for Google. Someone else says 12. I think he made it up.

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Making peace with just chilling. (Photo: Ed Wetschler) 

I’m about 20 percent happier without my devices dominating my every waking moment.

We’ve started a nightly card game, instead of everyone just sitting and staring at his or her various screens. It’s adorable. I almost fall asleep staring at the stars and trying to guess at the constellations.

DAY SIX

It’s midnight and we have Wi-Fi, we have Wi-Fi, we have Wi-Fi. I gorge like a 5-year-old given an entire bag of marshmallows. I don’t know what to do first. I blindly flick from Twitter to Instagram to email to other email to other email to Facebook to the Internet to the Skimm newsletter. My pupils dilate and my heart begins to pound faster and faster. I can feel adrenaline rush through my veins. This can’t be healthy. I have 2,000 emails, only about 1/12th of which actually need a response. Everyone always says enjoy the detox. Nothing major will happen when you are away. Only two slightly major things happened while I was away. I handle them. To be honest, if I hadn’t handled them, someone else would have, or they could have waited until I got home.

Now I’m just f—-ing around on the Internet. Oooooh, a cat-in-a-box video.

I’m ignoring the rest of our group. I feel guilty about ignoring the rest of our group. But I love the Internet so much.

I have a headache. Feel nauseous. Too much too soon. Need a breather.

Twenty minutes later…

I love Wi-Fi. I love Wi-Fi. I love Wi-Fi.

DAY SIX

It’s gone again. I think I’ll be OK. It’s all going to be OK. Where are the playing cards?

CONCLUSION

When I returned home and began to tell people about my stint without access to the Internet they all expressed a similar sense of longing. “That must have been wonderful” they all said with a look in their eyes that told me they’d indulged in this particular fantasy more than once.

The digital detox is the juice cleanse of technology abstention. Juice cleanses don’t actually make anyone healthier. They do, however, make you much more mindful about what and how you eat. In a way, the digital detox does the same thing; it makes you more mindful of how, what, and why you consume on the Internet and how you use the devices that tap into it.

I’ve emerged from this brief exercise with three new habits that I would like to put into practice while traveling and at home.

1.     No more phone first thing in the morning. I go to bed at 11 p.m. and I wake up at 6 a.m. I don’t know why checking my phone first thing in the morning is the most important thing to do. No more.

2.     No checking the phone right before bed. This is an easy one and something I have always known would help me sleep better, but I have never fully embraced it.

3.     No more phone during meals. I don’t need to Instagram all of my food, and I want to be more present while I am eating and spending time with other people. I miss spending time with other people.

In the end, everything actually was OK.

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