Smartphone Detox: A 12-Step Program

Is your smartphone by your side at all times? Can you not bear to leave it in another room while you sleep? Do you find yourself checking e-mail, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and texting dozens, if not hundreds of times a day? If so, it’s time for a smartphone detox—on the river. Our proven 12-step program is a guaranteed (if temporary) cure for your mobile device obsession.

1) Admit you have a problem

The first step is admitting that you are powerless over your smartphone. You’re not alone. Look around next time you go to a restaurant: People acting like they’re listening to someone else talk at their table, but looking at their phone. Other people waiting in line and scrolling through their smartphones because they’re bored. Everyone has a problem, it’s not just you. Admit it.

2) Believe you can do it

There was a time in your life when you lived without a smartphone. It may have been when you were 10 years old, or pre-1999, but there was a time. You did it once and you can do it again, if only for a few days or weeks. Believe in yourself.

3) Choose to turn off your phone for a few days

Commit to it.

4) Schedule a river trip

Really, what better place to live without your smartphone? Most of the day, it would get soaked, and you’re not likely to have cell reception wherever your river trip goes.

Main Salmon River Rafting | Photo: James Kaiser

5) Tell someone about your problem and your plans to deal with it

When you tell someone, your commitment becomes real. Tell someone who will hold you accountable—even if it’s a river guide you’ve never met before.

6) Turn on your out-of-office auto responder

Try a message like this: “I’ll be out of the office from [start date] until [end date], in the wilderness, with no cell phone or email access. I’ll respond to your email when I get back. Thanks!” The more you can make communication sound hopeless, the better you’ll feel when you’re on the river. Yes, you will have e-mails when you get back, but everyone’s expectations of instant response will have been pushed aside.

7) Turn your phone off and leave it somewhere safe

If your phone also doubles as your camera and boombox, switch it to Airplane Mode as soon as you start your trip. If your trip begins with a flight, switch it to Airplane Mode as soon as you get to the airport, and don’t turn it back on.

8) Reflect on how you’re a better person when you’re not constantly looking at your phone

In your daily life, how often do you check social media and e-mail on your phone just because you’re bored? When you’re waiting for a lunch date to show up, or waiting for the bus, or waiting for the barista to finish pulling your espresso? Ever avoided small talk with someone by pulling out your phone and pretending you’re interested in something on its tiny screen?

9) Make a rigorous effort to communicate with people on your river trip without your cell phone

Try verbal communication. Friend people in real life. Ask questions. Find similarities. Tell stories. Share jokes. LOL for real, audibly. Like things people say instead of “liking” them.

Whitewater rafting in Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park, UT.

10) Enjoy not communicating or absorbing media

Swim. Watch water run over rocks. Sit down in a camp chair and stare at trees or canyon walls. Spend some time not reading things, not looking at photos, and not talking to people. Relax.

11) Meditate on it

Breathe in the intoxicating fullness of not being a zombie. At breakfast, say to your fellow passengers, “Hey Bob, isn’t this way more fun than responding to e-mails? Cheers!”

12) Help others

Once you’ve discovered the joy of life on the river without your smartphone, find ways to avoid it in your daily life—maybe just for a few hours. And share it with your friends and family. Perhaps they, too, will one day see the light.

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