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Ask HN: Have you ever gone without a computer or phone for an extended period?
165 points by luddite99 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 184 comments
I've been considering going "cold-turkey" and packing my laptop away for a while in order to unlearn some bad habits related to focus/distractions/procrastination, but obviously there are downsides to this for someone based in tech.

I'm wondering if anybody in the community has ever attempted this and would like to share their experience.

A handful of questions to seed the conversation (but please don't feel obliged to answer them all): - What did you give up? How long was this for? Was this intentional or due to external circumstances? - What were your motivations for giving the technology up? - Was your overall experience positive or negative? In what ways? - Did you notice any changes in your happiness, focus or stress levels? - Is an "all-or-nothing" approach as such unrealistic? Would a strategy of using tech "in moderation" be more suitable? - Do you have any advice for how someone could regain focus, avoid distractions and generally use technology in a more mindful manner?

If you happen to know of any interesting blog posts/articles/previous discussions on the topic, please share.

Thanks in advance for your insights!




When Hurricane Maria hit us in 2017, we lost power for two weeks (we were extremely lucky in that - we were among the first 4% of the island to regain power due to our proximity to a hospital).

During those two weeks, my entire lifestyle changed, obviously, so it's difficult to know what changed because of that, and what was just the fact that e.g. I went from sedentary tech work to nailing salvaged roof scrap on top of the house on our farm.

But - my blood pressure dropped. I lost weight. I did a lot of reading of books. My notes are more interesting for those two weeks because they were ink on paper and I could insert drawings and diagrams wherever I wanted. They were more thoughtful and less reactive.

I fixed a mosquito zapper by sheer force of will (the capacitor was shorting across a resistor - poor design, but once I figured it out I could fix it. I'm still using that zapper today, and only shorted the capacitor out across my finger three times. Ow.) That day, I was become death, destroyer of mosquitoes.

I guess I quasi-fixed the roof on the farm house by sheer force of will, too. Had to dig the nails out of the scrap - no hardware stores open. My son considers it a formative experience.

So I didn't choose to go cold turkey, and it was only a short time, and its lifechanging nature is impossible to tease away from concurrent events, but still - anecdotally, it's probably worthwhile to try it voluntarily.


FYI, that resistor was probably there to bleed charge off the cap when power was removed from the circuit, to keep it from biting. Rather than bad design, it's a standard feature; as you've discovered, big caps without it can be mean, not only to careless fingers, but to the circuit they're in, besides. Granted, it sounds like the resistor had failed short as you found it, and without access to a replacement, cutting it out to get the bug zapper working again was a solid play. But now might be a good time to replace it.

Chesterton's fence is a useful principle for reverse engineering, and this is one example. Another is the snubber diode you find across switched inductive loads; the naïve assumption is that a reverse-biased diode can't possibly be doing anything there, and ideally you don't have to learn from expensive experience that, without it, the switch contacts will at best be eroded by arcing from the stored energy in the load finding a path to ground, and at worst that inductive kick will spot-weld the contactor and send the motor running away until switched out of circuit with a hammer.


> But now might be a good time to replace it.

But be careful about that capacitor, because it might be holding a charge that can't go anywhere but your fingers.


Ideally, you drain the capacitor first with the same resistor you're about to install as a bleeder.

Much less ideally, you can short a cap with a screwdriver or something, but the degree to which that's a bad idea scales at least linearly with the value of the cap.

I did that once with a photoflash cap, while trying to troubleshoot a failed Nikon SB-R200 ring-mount flash head - expecting the failure to be in the control circuitry, I wasn't sure whether it had died with charge on the cap. It had! Luckily I had the good sense to point the thing away from me, because it melted a chunk out of the screwdriver tip and distributed it as slag across my worktop. Even as it was, my ears took most of an hour to stop ringing.

A fair question at this point is: with a capacitor big enough to be that dangerous, why wasn't there the kind of bleeder resistor we're talking about? In this case, it's also a design feature, because flashes run on batteries and you don't want to waste charge, or have to wait all over again for the battery to charge the cap every time you switch on the unit. Too, these flash heads have no externally accessible contacts through which the cap might discharge into the user, and the charge circuit uses a MOSFET to switch battery power to the cap, so even if you go poking fingers into the battery compartment, it still won't light you up.

Nonetheless, it serves as a good example of why you want to be very careful with high-power capacitors. The one I'm talking about is only about the size of the second joint of your thumb, small enough to fit into a flash head that itself fits into an adult's palm. Even so, at full charge it had enough juice to blow up a screwdriver and injure my hearing - and if I'd been even more careless and discharged it through my actual hand, I don't doubt I'd have ended up with a permanent scar.

Be smarter than I was! Discharge your big caps through a high-value resistor before you do anything else with them.


I inherited a stereo amp from the 70s, and I'm pretty sure one of the capacitors has gone bad. I've managed to find a schematic and PCB layout for it (remember when service manuals were a thing?) but I've been too worried about discharging capacitors to poke at it.

For now, I just deal with a mains hum that's only audible when nothing is playing.


Amp power caps aren't usually bitey enough to be dangerous, although they will certainly hurt if you're careless with them. They also usually have bleeders, since a line-powered unit doesn't need to economize on power the way something like one of my flash heads does. I usually just poke a screwdriver across them when I'm doing a recap job, and I've never had them so much as spark. But for maximum caution, I'd use a 100K or so 1/2W resistor, connected with clip leads across the capacitor leads, and left for a minute or two prior to desoldering.

For an amplifier of that vintage, I'd probably be more worried about the fact that it'll likely be neither grounded nor double-insulated, meaning it's possible for an internal isolation failure to present a potentially lethal line potential on any metal parts of the case.


Yes, that lesson took very firmly.


If the spark literally jumps across between the leads of the resistor before the capacitor charges fully, it is bad design, and not a standard feature.

Once I insulated around it so it could do what it was supposed to do, the zapper worked perfectly, and still works perfectly.


It was pretty cool in its broken state, too, with a rhythmic spark occurring inside the handle (which houses the electronics). But I wanted to kill mosquitoes. Our house in Ponce was built for air conditioning - without power it was miserable, as the air circulation through the small windows was effectively nil. We were forced to keep all the doors open to survive.

That first day I killed over forty mosquitoes. Under the dining room table it was just bzzt-zzt-zzt-ztt. Seriously one of the more satisfying episodes of my life.


It might be a bit unorthodox and I would possibly get flagged for writing this but I found the ideas of Kaczynski on impact of technology on us very profound and thought-provoking[0]. I try to separate the "art" from the "artist" and do not condone his violent actions thereafter. But this idea has been around in various shapes where people debate if its true that techonology is evolving at a much faster rate than our minds can evolve to cope with its impacts.

It was very insightful for me to do an introspection of how I interact with techonology and broadly with consumerism and change some aspects of it to focus on what is really meaningful to me.

[0] http://editions-hache.com/essais/pdf/kaczynski2.pdf [1] audiobook: https://youtu.be/n5ITyifcYy8


Thank you for sharing this one, I agree with you that we should be able to discuss ideas on their own merits. I'm only vaguely familiar with Kaczynski's philosophy and his actions, but I look forward to giving this a read over the next 24 hours.

Just looking over the introduction, certainly some strong beliefs there, but it does resonate to some degree. It does feel like this rejection of all-encompassing technological progress in favour of simpler human living is present in a number of modern movements. Things like minimalism, mindfulness and paleo diets spring to mind. But then again, maybe these are all manufactured and part of that same technological/industrial/consumerist wave.

It often feels like I switch on my phone or computer and they are instantly steering my attention towards things which I did not intend and which my simple human mind is too weak to fight against. In an ideal world there'd perhaps exist an OS or browser which has been designed with human weaknesses in mind, something to help one direct their attention to what they initially wanted, and to put walls up where one's attention is likely to spill out into mindless consumption. But it does seem like the world is currently structured in a way that technology is incentivized to give us an overwhelming kind of freedom, both in the sense that one is free to easily give in to personal weaknesses, and also in the sense that corporations are free to prey on these weaknesses.


> Things like minimalism, mindfulness and paleo diets spring to mind. But then again, maybe these are all manufactured and part of that same technological/industrial/consumerist wave.

Of course they are. "Rebel", "counter-cultural", "subversive" anti-consumerism is the silliest and most conformist variety of consumerism. :-P


Is it? I think it’s people exploring things that are obviously broken. Even if I don’t agree with the methods and sure plenty of people wear it as a fashion. It costs a lot of money to live sparsely and look good while doing it. There is an elitism to plenty of the advertised flavors.

However, it’s pretty hard to escape how globalized disposable culture has stripped many people of tradition, useful sustainable skills, community, health in the food we can consume, and has catastrophically destroyed important and once seemingly inexhaustible natural resources. Corporate abstractions have moved our ability to feed ourselves and build in our local community in favor of branded single use items that once could enrich a wider community to a lesser degree sustainably. Now, due to a confused worship of disruptive extraction we juice a small group of folks into astronomical opulence. Forcing all of us into a minute to minute tax for just existing.

This isn’t just a problem for the poor. The rich are rudderless too. Their children also die deaths of despair due to lack of context and removal from diverse experiences. They spend their whole lives in preparatory intensive training to be the best and miss experiences that create resilience when the world doesn’t open every door. I’m not saying anyone needs to cry for the rich Harvard alum, but the gap means their bubble can only do one thing. Pop.

We have yet to see the full extent of our current supply chain disruption, but I think the Instagram star vegan van dweller trust fund hobo and the kid who just graduated high school in a dying coal mining town will be thinking about minimalism for reasons the same and different. Lack of essential medicines and variety of good shit to eat and drink spark the mind on how you might do more without depending on near literal magic to teleport essentials to you at a rate that our world obviously can’t support any longer.


There's a book written by Ronald E Purser called "McMindfulness: How minfulness became the new capitalist spirituality" that tackles this very question.

Certainly very enlightening.


Kaczynski really did everyone a massive disservice by turning to violence. He was a nut, but his criticism of industrialization is more coherent than you'd think. In an alternate universe he is a public "thought leader" giving TED talks on the subject.


His ideas are not original at all and he's no "thought leader"; the anarcho-primitivists had raised the same points a lot better and more coherently than he did. Just read the original sources, no reason to pay attention to a violent nutcase.


But don't take Anarcho-primitivism seriously. A lot of the "thought leaders" on that side of the Anarchist spectrum just use it as a means to espouse what would normally just be considered Fascism except with an Anarchist twist.

It's the same stupid arguments that people use to justify population control due to "overpopulation". There's a school of thought called anti-civilization that's a tad similar with some divergences that offers far more interesting critiques of industry. Once you get through that, post-civilization thought is also rather interesting.

But really, Anarcho-primitivism is essentially fascist dribble disguised as environmentalism and social justice.


> But don't take Anarcho-primitivism seriously.

Why shouldn't it be taken seriously when it's the only variety of anarchism that's actually self-consistent? You can't run a large, mass society on anarchist principles, because social organization on a large scale will always require some way of formally resolving disputes, and that pretty much implies that conventional politics and "rule" by some over others will be a thing.


A self-consistent philosophy based on a world with a 99.5% lower population seems like a step backwards for that 99.5%, regardless of how good it is for the freedom and equality of the remaining 0.5% of the population?

I mean, in my mind that's right up there with negative utilitarianism's benevolent world-exploder in terms of clever ideas that aren't good ideas.


Unfortunately sometimes the only way to find out that a clever idea is not a good idea is to test it via implementation.


I didn't say his ideas were original, I said they were more coherent than you'd think. And sure, read the original sources, but I don't see the harm in reading Kaczynski himself, if only to see how a smart man went down the wrong path.

The "thought leader" thing was supposed to be a joke.


> The "thought leader" thing was supposed to be a joke.

Yes, I got your point but it could be misinterpreted. Plenty of people are quite unaware of where these ideas actually come from, and who deserves credit for them.


Would you mind sharing some starting points for a reading list? I'd be curious to read some of the source material you're talking about.


You could begin with the Anarcho-primitivist philosopher John Zerzan. However, heed my comment above: a lot of the followers use this philosophy to justify horribly fascistic ideals. Take a peek at the alternatives to this such as post-civilization.


Could you name a few that you think are worthy?


Except Ted is no anarchist.


Whether original or not I am quite shocked by how easily this reads and how much of it rings true today.


TK frequently cited Jacques Ellul's "The Technological Society"[1]. This book gives a decent treatment of whether technology is part of the problem or the solution and also helps explain TK. Considering how Ellul's writing influenced TK it's also more understandable (though not forgivable) why he radicalized himself (after withdrawing from society and living like a hermit). Ellul makes you realize the problem isn't just a recent one, and that there is no "easy" (peaceful) way back ... E.g. the Luddites resorted to violence because they already knew and understood this - they knew that attacking the tools of power (science/technology) amounted to terrorism.

[1] https://archive.org/details/JacquesEllulTheTechnologicalSoci...


I agree that this is worth pondering. Also see (Sun co-founder and vi author) Bill Joy's essay Why the Future doesn't need us, which deals with these matters.

https://www.wired.com/2000/04/joy-2/


I found his manifesto very insight and opened me up to new ideas about technology.

Technopolis by Neil Postman is an in depth analysis of the way technology shapes society. It’s an easy and looks at technology in the broader sense and how the tool shapes the user.



Henry Rollins in Johnny Mnemonic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOovtZXYqj4


Is there a different writer with a similar viewpoint we could read about, if we don't want to read his work?


I would recommend John Zerzan's "Against Civilization".

It is in the same ballpark

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=9780922915989&i=stripbooks&link...


I'm curious why you don't want to read that work?


Glad you didn't get voted down.

People, by nature, have one dimensional views about a world that is in actuality multi-dimensional and highly complex.

Humans evolved this way in order to navigate the complexity of the world as quick decisions and judgements aid more in survival than best decisions made at the expense of haste.

It takes a lot of effort and luck to exit our biases and see that even a murderer, child molester, pedophile, rapist, racist, dictator etc. have multiple dimensions.

Not condoning crimes, but honestly I can relate to how someone like Dennis Rodman can chill with Kim Jong Il or even Hitler if he was still alive, but I'm not sure how people in general will react to what I just said and how far above their own biases they can pull themselves.

I guess we'll see with the karma, I used some extreme vocabulary in the sentences above. I think if the OP used the word "Unabomber" instead of "Kaczynski" people would be less forgiving as my initial reaction to his post was positive simply because I didn't recall who "Kaczynski" was...


re garding the CIA comment, there are core values that are exactly opposite of what was stated.

Candor is a fundamental quality for any CIA associate you should be upfront and open about what you want and expect.

Recognition of the potential for positive contribution by any and all people, some volunteer this willingly, some must be managed into such a contribution or placed in a context that creates positive results from seemingly negative actions.


Can dor is a stark contrast to skills it takes to be successful in the field of espionage and deception.

A person who is truly honest and open will fail to be a spy as he will reveal the true nature of his intentions way too easily. To succeed against foreign opposition you must be deceptive. To be deceptive means you cannot have candor. If the CIA requires candor as a fundamental quality of any associate then that means they require associates to have qualities that set them up for total failure.

Instead the unstated but obvious conclusion that can support two seemingly contrasting requirements to be a successful agent is this:

What the CIA truly values are people who are good at deceiving the organization itself into thinking they are honest and have candor.

Honestly, I don't think anything I said in this post is true.


First of all, if you are over a certain age, the phrasing of this question might feel surreal. Because before a not-that-long-ago date, everyone did this all the time.

That said, a few years ago I was forced to do this because I was on a beach in Mexico with no service.

It took several days for the addiction to wear off, and I had been already ‘on vacation’ for about 2 weeks previous, just I was still plugged in.

I highly recommend detoxing from screens regularly. Many Orthodox Jews I believe do this every week, and I have often tried to get myself to do the same.

I also have rules I never break: like never answer the phone during dinner.

There’s no good way to ‘moderate’ per se. Moderation will take the form of setting small strict rules and adhering to them.


I had the same thought, the 90s. And what did I do in the 90s? I smoked cigarettes.

All alone, at a bus stop, or waiting for a friend. It was torture just standing there as a teenager in the 90s. Had to start smoking.

I'm not saying smartphones made me quit smoking but mp3 players did give me an excuse to put headphones on and at least do something while waiting for public transportation and the like.

I did own a walkman before that but strangely it was never with me when I needed it, because of its size. It was a chore just to plan to bring my walkman anywhere.

Edit: This made me realize the first music player that was most regularly in my pocket was a Sony minidisc player. I also loved the format because it seemed so futuristic.


I remember being very bored a lot in the 90s. Waiting around in the laundromat, sitting in waiting rooms, riding the bus, doing house and yard work. Books and walkmans and gameboys existed, of course, but they were slightly too big to always carry them around in your pocket.

I was a very early listener of audiobooks on digital media players, which was a godsend for alleviating that kind of boredom.


I used to read a lot more books. I'm not sure I read fewer total words these days but certainly fewer books.


I've had the opposite experience with my Kindle.

I recognize that it's "technology" so perhaps some people don't count it, but when I "unplug" (either at home or when away), I bring my Kindle.

And since I started reading on it, probably 6-7 years ago, I would say I read 4-5x as many books per year as I used to.


> Books and walkmans and gameboys existed, of course, but they were slightly too big to always carry them around in your pocket.

Which is why purses/handbags/messenger bags are so great. And at some point in the 90s, fanny packs (which apparently are making some sort of a comeback right now…)


Since all that stuff's smaller now, men can cart around quite a bit of crap in a blazer or sports coat, appropriate year-round (though you may want different ones for summer versus winter depending on where you live) all while dressing their outfit up a notch or two.

Blazers: fashionable purses for men. Love 'em. Like a hoodie but with much better storage capacity (yes, really) and gives a better impression. They even hold books pretty well—you know those fairly thin mass-market fiction paperbacks, from like the 50s-70s? They must have been designed to fit in the outer pocket of a suit jacket or blazer without bulging or throwing off the fit of the clothing. If you don't mind a bump on your jacket you can put somewhat bigger books in there, too.

Sad when Winter's over, the jackets/coats go away in the closet, and you have to start putting your wallet and phone and keys in your pants pockets again? Wear blazers!


Can attest to being able to store keys, phone, comb etc. in blazer without it looking bulgy.

Books do affect the drape though, at least for the cut of blazer I prefer (cut close to the body).


Books. Comics. And the Walkman would go into my backpack which would carry said books and comics.

I've heard many good excuses for smoking but "I needed to keep my hands busy and I wouldn't carry a backpack" is a new one. :)


I strictly wore cargo shorts in summer back in school (2000s) because it was easy to fit a book in the lower pockets.


There is definitely an element of people wanting something to do something with their hands. I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say that smartphone usage helped cut back on cigarette smoking but it wouldn't shock me if there were some effect.


Much more likely, constant smartphone use gives you a dopamine hit strong enough to push away cigarettes.


I was 18 the first time I saw a computer. Before that, I gathered info from books, newspapers, magazines, libraries. I stored info on papers in notebooks, and on film. I communicated in person, on the phone, and via mail. And in general I was not very well informed.

I prefer the current situation, where more info than we can possibly use is instantly available. But I acknowledge that it can be overwhelming.


6 months while travelling in India in 2003. I had brought my Mac, but on the 9th day some mysterious force blew the "daughterboard" and bricked it. So I had to devote myself to meditation and occasional slow internet cafes.

I noticed how much the screen alters perception. It's a bizarre 2d world. Completely unreal. We evolved to live in our bodies interacting with objects, but instead we end up glued to pathetic little screens, addicted to "information".


As an American, I traveled in northern India for three months in 2004, two of them sedentary in Mcleod Ganj. It still resonates both from the contrast of India itself, but also in how I was able to happily fill my days without screens and fill them with friendly people. I'd amble around with my legs not unlike the way I amble around the Internet today. I'd 'waste' a half hour hanging out with strangers over metal cups of chai.

At the time, I had a Palm Tungsten and a foldup portable keyboard and would every day or so write a blog post on it. I'd send it out by putting its card (SD?) onto a USB adapter, dragging that to a slooooow Internet cafe where I'd hope I could connect to my Movable Type (Gatsby before there was reasonable JavaScript). If it didn't connect, no bigs.

It might have been the peak happiness of my relationship with the Internet. Just enough.

I got my invite to Facebook a year later.


I was up there for a month or two and did Vipassana there in 2003. It was wonderful. I met many very interesting people.

The town was already overpopulated for its size, but these days I hear it's really extreme. I talked to somebody who was born and grew up there. He said that now there are so many hotels and concrete developments all over the hills. It's just a mess.


I can only imagine. As if _where we are_ is a living thing as well.

I remember at the time there was a bend in the road where you'd face the beautiful Himalaya across the valley, but if you looked down the near embankment you'd see where all the bajillions of plastic water bottles were disposed of for a town that didn't (yet?) have a plan for them. Only tourists such as myself drank them.


Was there and in nearby places a year ago, and it's the same story that happened to Manali and now Kasol. The interesting culture and crowd move somewhere, it becomes a hub, it becomes overly crowded, and people move again.


It feels to me that the screen almost becomes perception after heavy usage. Like navigating a device and the apps within it becomes just another part of the world that we can interact with. And when we use a device we can go almost instantly from a thought to executing that thought by opening an app, making a google search etc. So it's almost as if the fact that things "lag" in the physical world, that it requires us to move and force things and use energy to action things is a positive. That friction between thought and outcome maybe is something that we need.


"Every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions, have the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension." - Marshall McLuhan

I don't deny our new super powers, but you have to take a break to let the perceptual system reset (eyes, feeling, smell, intuition). This is what is getting amputated. We don't realize it because we are stuffing our visual channel with information.

Much of this gives the impression we are powerful, but it's just overloading the circuitry. It's like primitive humans getting sudden access to salt sugar and fat and just gorging themselves.


FWIW, a 10-day meditation retreat is a very accessible way to try a really different lifestyle for a short period. (You’ll probably want to wait to try it until COVID is less of a threat though.) If you want a specific recommendation, the Goenka retreats (dhamma.org) are free (donation-supported), exist worldwide and are identical everywhere.

At such a retreat, you should expect to give up technology and live according to Buddhist precepts for 10 days, and one of the major claims of meditation is that it will help you unlearn bad habits related to focus and distractions, which can be carried back to the world with you once you complete the retreat.


I second this. If you can look past the "Goenka dogma", these 10-day retreats offered around the world are a great way to experience life raw and without distraction of technology or otherwise, in meditation.


I agree about the fact they're a great opportunity to experience a unique lifestyle for the duration of one's stay. I've never felt calmer in my life than during the Vipassana retreat I did two years ago. But I'd advise anyone thinking of attending a retreat to look up critical opinions on the topic. I was personally put off by the sectarian vibe that I felt when I was there, much to my surprise. The method has its merits, but it is not scientific.


Yes, there is a bit of "bullshit" that goes with a Goenka course for want of a better word. The way I looked at it was the only reason I was being annoyed by it was because of my ego. Question why those aspects of the course bother you.


It makes sense to answer in terms of ego, and it's true ego plays a role. But the way this truth is used to shield away from tough questions is precisely what sounds sectarian to me.


Did several months on one of the more remote islands in the Falklands - population: 6 humans, several thousand penguins and several million petrels. Apart from a rotary phone and generators the only other tech experience was the International Space Station flying overhead one night.

The first couple of weeks were a little interesting but after a while you realise that if it was important then you'd hear about it eventually.

Ah, simpler times.


Did a copy of Penguin News[1] make it all the way out to you? I subscribed after my visit and I always enjoy reading their hyper-local news.

[1]https://penguin-news.com/index.php/headlines/all-headlines


I grew up in a place with hyper-local news. Let's say, I'm not a fan.


How did you end up doing this?


I do this intentionally every year with a multi day food, people and technology fast.

I wrote a how to, didn’t get any traction here on HN, so direct link:

https://www.nicholasjrobinson.com/blog/general/five-day-fast...


I'm 56, so yes. ;-)

But in terms of ditching those things after getting used to them, it's only happened when my family went on overseas trips.

A problem for me is that the computer is not just a connection with the outside world, but has become a medium for thinking. Take away my Jupyter, and you've removed half of my brain.

But I've never used social media, so I have less to give up when I walk away from a screen. Unless this counts as social media, which it probably does in a sense.


People forget that even pre-smartphone, people would go on trips and put themselves behind a camera instead of entering the scenery.


Some people did. You can still see their caricatures in movies as obnoxious tourists doing silly things because they can't see much through their viewfinder. The reality though was that real cameras were big heavy objects that you had to lug around on a strap or in a case. The other option were cheap disposables or other types of cheap camera that were almost as bulky. It's not quite the same as always having something in your pocket that you can use to intermediate your experience. Most people did without cameras or kept them packed away in their luggage for those reasons. It's funny to think about the difference between how casually people take pictures now since they are cheap, quick, and easy compared to how the mood of a situation used to change when someone got their camera out.


Indeed, and I even didn't carry a camera. Maybe I'm a freak, but I didn't want to be distracted by it, and I never bothered to look at the pictures. There was always someone else taking pictures.


My job is programming, so it's hard to divorce yourself too much. However, I went something like 4 years without a cellphone plan (I had a phone, but used it as a mobile computing device). I've never really done social media (a couple of years on Facebook until I figured out what it was). Probably HN (and before it Slashdot) was the extend. But I've gone many years without anything.

In terms of communications, I think the biggest problem is other people's expectations. "Why do you have a cell phone if I can't call you?" They ask. People want to be able to demand your time almost instantly and they have no patience for other methods. If your timeframe for being contacted is a day or two, they just won't contact you.

So, if you do it, be prepared to be the one that needs to contact them. You're the odd person out. Nobody will follow your (to them) weird rules. It can be lonely if you aren't proactive.

Apart from that, I find that social media (especially HN these days, unfortunately) is just depressing. Someone has a bad day. They go on to whatever platform and release their stress by being crappy to someone else. People are depressed, they get some catharsis by unloading their depression on others.

I have to limit my time on HN. Strangely, I hang out on Reddit these days, but only on /r/cheesemaking, which is full of wonderful and cheerful people. For me, this is the key. It's not technology, it's people. The technology brings a lot of disparate people together and often pits you against them for the viewing entertainment of the crowd. Best not to go there, but it's not really technology itself.

In terms of stress levels for communications, I think setting limits for yourself is good. I'm actually very comfortable with being contacted with work. If you send me 100 emails an hour, I'm totally fine with it. Bury me on Slack, and it's OK. I have work habits that allow me to jump back and forth between my work and communication (took me 30 years to get good at it, mind you...) But others sink and I often see it. Communicate your limits and stick to it. If you only check your email once an hour, tell people and just do it. It will (usually) be fine, but you have to be consistent about it.

Again, IMHO, it's not about technology. It's about people. Choose to hang around people you enjoy and who give you energy. Draw defined boundaries for interactions that you can't handle and be consistent. This will give you the best benefit, I think.


I hear you on the /r/cheesemaking, although for me it is gardening. Unfortunately I spend most of my waking hours on a computer for both work and play. It didn't really hit me until the quarentine that I don't hardly do anything that doesn't require looking at a screen and it really kind of makes me mad. It wasn't always like this.


Because of an unfortunate house-sharing issue I ended up without any electricity at home for almost 2 months.

I still had a phone that I was charging at the office, and still used the computer at work, but all my time at home was spent mostly laying in the cold dark (it was winter time) letting my mind wander and reflecting about life.

After a few weeks my co-workers asked me why I was not moving, and were very surprised when I told them that the situation was actually pretty nice. You get to think about so many things that you would never usually, just because you suddenly have the time to do so.

I also believe I had my best nights of sleep during those 2 months as I was not going to bed right after spending 12 hours in front of a screen.


As part of the slightly older generation, the last time I was seriously "out of contact" was Inter-railing in the late 90s. We had one guidebook and the Thomas Cook International Rail Timetable: that was essentially all of our planning. We would routinely arrive in another country knowing only a fragment of the language and having no accomodation, and somehow this all worked out fine.

The downside is that I have zero photos of this time and only fragments in a diary. These days I would have several thousand selfies in front of the major monuments of Europe, like everyone else. The correct number is probably somewhere between those two.

I had basically no news either. Occasionally we would spot a headline in Le Monde or the SdZ. But it was the late 90s, so hardly anything was happening anyway. I think that would be my main reason to isolate from the internet today.


I don’t think an all or nothing approach is necessary.

I was too stressed out at one point and what worked for me was just making myself unavailable for certain periods of the day and handling emails, voice messages, phone calls, etc. in batch mode at scheduled periods of the day.

The details of how exactly you go about doing this will depend on your situation, but it’s quite doable.


Yes I have. It was called the 1980's.


Came here more or less to say this. I really think a pre-Internet, pre-highly connected brain is different from one where the Internet is ubiquitous. I am not saying it is better, but it is different. The idea that to look something up you have to remember it or note it down by your family's telephone on a slip of paper, go to the library, find a reference book you can't even take home with you, research it in that and maybe two other books, and so on... Yeah, 1980 was a very different time in terms of looking into topics of interest, especially for children.


The biggest thing for me are the trivia. Wanting to know something that wasn't actually important didn't used to be an itch. Hell the urge to know it would slide right off one's mind, because it was impractical to follow up. Way too much work to find out. Hardly a concern.

Now with the world's trivia (far from all the valuable or deep knowledge, even decades in to this experiment, but by god, we've got the trivia covered) available with maybe ten seconds of effort, it's so hard to resist looking up every little unimportant thing. "Who was that actor in that one thing?" Ugh, why do I care? Why would anyone care? ... but yes I'm going to check.


Yeah the 80s are definitely outside of my frame of reference, growing up in the 90s alongside the growth of household computers and the internet, living with technology has been the baseline for me. It's interesting to hear the experience of those who grew up on the other side of that divide and have an insight into both of those worlds.


Maybe I'm an outlier but I'm old enough, and I think the phone/screen thing is a fad. The moment more natural peripherals become usable the screen will go the way of the landline. (I mean things like AR in your contact lenses, input through gesture and dance via "wearable" sensors, holographic sound, and so on.)

I think you're also going to get colonies of non-tech people. (The Amish are among the best farmers in the world and have large families. They are the meek who will inherit the world, eh?) There may arise small towns and enclaves that are retro-tech as a way of life.


I’ve had the same thoughts about societies like that forming. It seems inevitable once brain-machine interfaces become available to the general public.


Even during most of the 90s, you had computers but not always with real connectivity on either laptops or phones. Thus, while I definitely was around and used computers in the 90s, they weren't omnipresent and connectivity was pretty much of the tethered sort.

Thus I did unplug during that period for several month-long trips to Asia but the baseline level of connectivity/online information/ubiquity/social media/etc. was much less than in the 2000s (especially the latter part of the decade).


I was computer-free from about 1984 to 1989, but I still had a phone.


1990s as well was mostly internet free for an average person. It was probably towards the end of the 1990s when people started getting wired.


I have stopped having my phone connected to the cell network, but not for the same reasons as you. I almost always have it in airplane mode except for the periods of time when I know someone will need to call me. My motivation was to not help build the authoritarian state which is currently being constructed in the U.S. - your location is tracked and sold in live time by private companies to whoever wants it, and government agencies regularly track phones (location & communication) at a huge scale with no oversight, clearly demonstrated once again during recent events.

I still keep it connected to home WiFi and keep Bluetooth on but without beacon scanning, and I do use it - so maybe not the most helpful response for you.

So far the only issues are that I don't get the occasional text messages that friends send. This can be mitigated by using applications like Telegram, Signal, etc., but not everyone is on those. If you had an Apple Phone then iMessage would also hugely help.

I would like to cancel my phone service completely but am not sure whether it's feasible to take that step, since many things 'require' you to have a phone number. For example creating accounts at many online services. It's also often required for government forms but in that case a human might actually be able to help you. Same thing for job applications, but in that case they might just not bother with you if you bring up this weird thing with them. As a final year college student that final one is the most worrying to me.


Now might be the perfect time to persuade people to get on Signal.


The last time I've done this for an extended period of time was '99, but at that point, I would go stay by a lake in a trailer for the summers (about 3 months). No phone, no tv, no internet, not a single luxury (and I was an internet junkie back then too). Both being away from technology for a few months, as well as being in nature was a great combo.

For a for days, it feels like my mind was emptying out - thinking of songs that were stuck in my head, working out problems that were in the back of my head, etc. Then suddenly my mind kind of quieted down and I was able to really relax in a fundamentally different way.

Coming back, it felt like life had the volume turned down. Commercials seemed even more ridiculous, obnoxious, and loud. Going back to the interrupt driven life was a bit hard, but more because it seemed so silly how stressed out everyone else is.

I felt it was really positive! Moderation might be fine, but I think the important thing for me was being unreachable, and having other people know I was unreachable. Sometimes I'll still do this for a week or two for vacation which is great, going to a national park and doing some hiking, paired with a long road trip.


At some points, when losing/breaking a phone, I have just refrained from buying a new one for a few weeks / a month. It felt pretty nice, actually.

For about a year, I used the Firefox developer phone with Boot 2 Gecko. It was kind of usable as a phone, but it really made me not use basically any apps apart from some lighter web use. It was surprisingly OK, for me, but sometimes a hassle.

Ever since, I have mostly gone without logging in to my social media accounts. Still am a HN junkie, though.

Lately, I have gone without a personal computer for uite some time; the last nine months or so, instead using my phone exclusively. Originally, I was hoping to be able to use Linux on DeX (with a bluetooth keyboard and a pretty decent 15" USB-C screen from Asus). It worked surprisingly well, but it was not 100% there so unfortunately, I can't quite recommend it. The point is moot, anyway, since Samsung cancelled the beta and removed the Linux on DeX functionality. I do use Termux, which is OK for a lot of things, and tried to use Andronix and similar offerings, but it's just too cumbersome. It's a bummer, because I'm pretty sure the hardware would be OK for the type of usage I need.

Another issue with the setup is that the screen charges over USB-C, so will quickly drain the phone battery. I use a qi wireless charger, which kind of works, but is kind of finicky. I still haven't found an adapter which takes USB PD and "feeds" it into the USB-C cable, ideally charging the phone and powering the screen at the same time. If anyone can give me pointers to that, I would be very grateful.



Thanks -- I have a similar adapter. However, the screen is USB-C only (I'm not using USB-C to HDMI or anything like that). What I need is an adapter with basically one USB-C male and two USB-C female -- one for USB-PD and one for the display. I'm not sure if there is something in the USB-C/USB PD/USB3.0/whatever standard which makes this impossible / too difficult.


Why don't you get the adapter I linked to, then another HDMI to USB C to go to the monitor. so Phone -> USB C (power into adapter) -> HDMI -> USB C -> Monitor


It's possible, but might be a bit awkward in how the devices perceive it.


Yes, don't know if it counts but I was without a computer and with no data on my mobile for 4 months traveling. Only used the phone for connecting to WiFi at coffeeshops to download maps and check buss/train schedules.

It was the happiest time of my life.

I don't think it is because I did amazing things but because small nagging feelings went away. For example, I don't need to know about the latest protests on the other side of the world. I certainly doesn't need to wake up to violent images and be shown how much the world sucks, because it steals my focus of what I should be focusing on, _myself_ and my carpe diem day (sound narcissistic I know).

I'm not a social person, but boy was it a game changer.

That said... it's very, very easy to get back into old habits and mentality. After 8 months after I returned to work I was probably the same old semi-depressed but joking me but with a little bit more hope. Also very expensive.

But for your question. I don't think there is anything wrong with computers or mobiles, it's when you get internet-access 24/7 instead of one hour per week that things start to get dicey. So I'd try to just limit that instead if possible. It forces you prioritise the things you _actually_ need from those that you don't.


I was without a phone for a out 3 months.

After the first week of constant anxiety because it constantly felt like I had forgotten something, it was incredible, getting used to not having Google Maps at all times, and drawing up the courage to ask strangers for help with stuff like using their stores phone to call a friend who I was waiting for, for directions, etc. it was absolutely incredible.

I felt like a literal weight had been lifted off my shoulder and felt more independent and free than ever before. I explored a ton more, and had a great time overall. I was also less stressed out and did much better at work due to the significantly reduced distractions.

Of course, I was completely single at the time, which made all of this possible. I’m not sure it would be doable either when in a relationship or married.

Also, a lot of people are commenting about retreats and stuff, which also I have done and is great. However, living your normal life without being hyper connected and your face in a screen at all times (basically going back to the 90s) is a very different and refreshing experience.


After a smartphone died a while back I went to a flip phone. I used a variety of cobbled together solutions to get SMS messages with calendar reminders, todo items, etc. The only thing I missed was Google Maps and Email. I was fine with both of these. Email should not be "urgent" and Google Maps was barely a consideration in a city I grew up in. But then we decided to sell our house, and instant back and forth using email, web links, etc was important. Going to new locations was happening a lot as we viewed homes. So I got a new smartphone. I really enjoyed the time without one. One trick I adopted after that and still use from time to time is putting my phone in ultra power saving mode. All the functions are still there but it is far less tempting to pick up. Example: no reddit app, so you are stuck using the browser, so you have time to ask yourself if you really need to go on reddit right now.


I've been pretty removed from the internet a couple of times while traveling under my own power.

In 2006 I was bike touring the US for 5 months. I got limited internet at libraries and hostels along the way. Pay phones were still a viable way to reach people; I did not carry a phone of my own.

In 2010 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Pay phones were no longer a viable way to reach anybody. I got my dumbphone (I valued battery life over internet) mailed to me at Fontana Dam, NC. I got limited internet at libraries and hostels.

In both cases, I didn't miss the internet and all it provides while I was traveling. I have found that it's really easy to fall right back into the same habits when I returned. I wish I could say that either time made a lasting change in my internetting habits, but I haven't managed it.

In my case, the change was driven by the activity and environment. If you do this in your environment, I'd be curious to hear whether you can parlay the cold-turkey approach into a lasting change.


I spent 6 months without a computer or a cell phone while doing a semester overseas in college. It was a conscious decision to not bring my laptop, but it wasn’t as hard back then as it is today to function without internet (this was over a decade ago).

I did have access to computers for schoolwork via the computer lab, and used those to handle personal tasks as well. But it needed to be a conscious decision to head into campus and use them. A public library could serve in a similar function.

One negative thing that I vividly remember from those days was having to rely on paper maps and getting horribly lost at times. I don’t miss that at all.

Overall it was probably the biggest period of personal growth in my life. That probably had more to do with the fact that I was experiencing life in a new culture for the first time, but having no screen to retreat to probably motivated me to get out and meet more people.

I too am considering a future that is far less digital than my current lifestyle.


Sans phone and laptop connectivity for about 6 months. Was working on a farm in Australia during a working holiday visa. Not my main goal, either -- I was there to do NBN work building fiber optic networks. But Abbott froze the project and I figured I'd give farm work a try for a little while. Didn't hurt that I was dating a Canadian girl who was a cook on the farm station.

I had a phone and laptop with me, but no connectivity. Only way out was the satellite link the owner of the farm had. We got plenty of satellite TV channels, but no real dial out. Owner would let us plug in once a week to the sat-router and check emails / quick facebook updates, but otherwise sans connection the whole time.

Played a lot of cards, talked a lot of shit, worked a lot. Big dinners with the whole staff and the farmer's family. Not a bad experience but not a great one, either.


>Not a bad experience but not a great one, either.

I think this is different because the circumstances chose it for you as opposed to actively feeling the need to disconnect.


There is so much to be said here, depending on where you want to go with this. Maybe you don't need to go full tech-less and stone age yet.

You seem especially triggered by focus issues. What's taking your focus away?

Is it any specific website (I'm looking at you, <social network>). How can you make it less convenient to use that website? Maybe log out every time, or block the dns, or flat out cancel your account.

Is it phone notifications, always pulling you away from the moment you're living? Disable or ignore them. It's pretty hard at first. The key for me was deciding when to direct my attention to my phone. I often put it in airplane mode and throw it in the backpack. Not having it in your pocket beeping all the time helps forget about it.

I quit facebook (and all other social networks, actually) about two years ago. I've been happier ever since. No longer comparing my (not so) hard life to that of others posting vacation pictures. Admittedly, I have recently re-created an account for work purposes. I made sure to unfollow every friend, so nothing is popping up in my feed. Nothing to look at, so I'm not spending time on facebook. It's still useful for one-to-one or group communications, but exposing one's life on it should be considered an offense...

Realistically, it's 2020. You can't get away from some tech, and probably shouldn't. Some parts of my sports actually do _require_ me to have a whatsapp account (damn you whatsapp for not respecting "do not disturb" mode!).

Also if you work in tech, well, no need to elaborate here...

Make it less convenient to waste time. Convenience is key. And turn off notifications/phones when you are busy on something else. Give your full attention to people you are talking to (and if they are on their phone, well it's their loss), other beings you are interacting with, the wind in the trees, or that movie you're watching. Whatever, but do one thing at a time.


Some good practical tips here, thank you for your response. I've been reading through James Clear's Atomic Habits recently and one of his core ideas is that one should try to make good habits easy to do and bad habits hard to do. Convenience of technology has definitely become a double-edged sword in a lot of ways.

For me personally, HN is definitely a focus-stealer (I think I have at least 100 HN tabs open currently, that I really should just go and close). It's a tricky one, because I get a lot of value from it, but I guess that value is diminishing if I'm checking up on things every hour or so. I imagine those who've gone full cold-turkey on HN aren't here to comment, but I'll assume they've found benefit from that. Might have to start DNS blocking this one for a while and see what happens.

I did the friend unfollow trick on Facebook a few years back now, and definitely noticed the happiness benefits straight away, but still often catch myself clicking through random profiles when I do have to travel there.

To your point on convenience, I'm often frustrated by how easy it is to type 'yc' or 'fa' into the search bar in a moment of weakness, and then go down the rabbit-hole of distraction for hours. Obviously, a responsive search bar is an immensely useful feature for a web browser to have but this convenience does often make it easier to do something that is not in one's overall interest.


Does "I was born in the early seventies" count? I spent the first decade or so of my life with "computers" as room-filling things in TV and movies, and boxes in school labs; laptops didn't reach a place on the price/performance curve that worked for me until around my mid-thirties, and I spent the first forty years of my life without a smartphone.

Honestly yeah, I think smartphones have done terrible things to my focus. I periodically delete stuff off my phone that exists solely to distract me; the only social media app on my phone is a pinned webapp for the Mastodon instance I run. Sometimes I go through phases of habitually setting my phone to airplane mode when I put it back in my purse, to throw up one more little barrier to make me think "do I really want to blow half an hour fucking around aimlessly scrolling internet trash in hopes of finding something actually interesting".

Really I'm a lot happier when I'm walking along looking at the world and watching my brain disengage and think big slow thoughts than when I'm walking along with my head down, constantly buzzing with tiny thoughts spawned by sites designed to keep me scrolling as long as possible to keep their engagement numbers up so they can look like a better place to sell ads.

My primary work tool is my laptop - but I'm an artist, I don't need to be online to get most of my shit done. I like to go work out in cafes and parks, with all the radios turned off to help extend battery life - and to eliminate the ever-present distraction of the Internet. I don't envy people whose work requires a constant connection!

I don't think a period of cold turkey would be a bad idea. Who are you when you turn off that constant stream of distractions, who are you once you've stopped craving that constant distraction? If you're young enough you might have no idea of who that is. Find out. Remember what it's like to be that person as you start experimenting with letting the Distraction Machine back into your life.


oh yeah, also I keep my phone's browser in Private Mode so whenever I go to a distraction site in the browser I have to log in every time, for every tab I spawn. It's really annoying but it's the right kind of annoying because it pushes me back out of this bad habit of staring at the phone when I'm out in the world doing stuff.


My experience was that one day my phone suddenly died and while I had enough savings for another one, I figured I'd wait, because there were other potential priorities.

Hilariously enough that €350 or so made all the difference when I got fired a month later and went two months without a job.

Anyway I suffered financially too much to be able to afford a phone for 9 months, so my means of communication was an old Nokia - it had "internet" and could just barely load HN, but always crashed soon afterwards.

The only moment I wished I had a smartphone was when I was after a 17h marathon behind the wheel and needed to check for directions in the middle of the night. I found a McDonald's which closed just mintues earlier, fired up my laptop and got just enough wi-fi time before they shut it down to find my way.


On one of my visits to SF from Boston for work, I realized I left my phone at home on my bed (there’s a sign of addiction right there: last thing I look at before sleeping and first thing I look at when I wake) and didn’t realize it until I arrived at the airport. My wife offered to bring it to me but I declined.

My coworkers were pretty amazed when I turned down a loaner on arrival in SF. It was a very refreshing week. I always like walking around SF but I feel that I paid more attention to everything. I still had a book I was reading so I got a lot more reading done, and made it a mission to hit a bunch of different parks while doing so.

I don’t recall even once missing it, and was sorta sad when I got home to it again. It’s amazing how quickly habits can die and take hold again.


I have read and enjoyed the book Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport: https://www.amazon.com/Digital-Minimalism-Choosing-Focused-N...

He doesn't advocate (necessarily) for absolutely zero screens, but it offers a very practical framework for deciding what is serving you and what is harming you, and it will result in less distractions and more thoughtful interactions overall. If you are already thinking along these lines, I think you would get quite a bit out of it. (It's also not "trite" as you might expect this sort of thing to be.)


I've had a few experiences with this:

I've gone to a meditation retreat twice. First time was 5 days, second time was 3 days. Both times no electronics were allowed, so we would put them in a locker when checking in.

Another time was unintentional when I was younger - broke my phone and just decided to see how I'd fare without it. Went 2-3 weeks I think. Still had access to other tech though.

All experiences without tech have always been marvelous. If I could get away from it more regularly, I would. Lately the primary goal for my business is getting it to the point where I can completely F off for a few weeks and things still run smoothly. Hopefully I'm there in a month or two.


Born in 63, so yeah many years prior to those devices becoming a part of daily life. Interestingly was just having a conversation with my son's about the first time I used an ATM.

Anyway, in the 90's I took a year off and did volunteer work while teaching mediation and other spiritual pursuits. I recall being asked to sign in a date and looked at the person at the person at the desk and telling them I didn't even know what day of the week it was.

In the last decade I've done a number of trips with my son's boy scout troop. Multiple weeks in Canada on canoe trips, or hiking in NM. No contact with the outside world, best healing time ever.


If your main issue is focus, and you work/are interested in learing in a suitable branch of technology, you can try going "off-grid":

Download every documentation you might need;

Delete every offline-capable time-waster from all your devices;

Remove your phone's SIM card (don't worry, you'll still be able to make emergency calls if such a need arises);

Unplug your internet router (and store it away somewhere inconvenient).

If you have to sync for any reason, go to a expensive coffee shop or the like that has WiFi and do your business there. You'll soon stop going so frequently because it'll hurt on the pocket.


Up to a few years ago, I would take vacations where I would travel for weeks without a phone. In my day-to-day, I interacted with technology for 10-16 hours a day, and that bothered me. So I would completely unplug. I would just bring a notebook, a pen, and a DSLR camera.

People were always shocked when they'd hear this. "How could you possibly travel without any electronics?" They were unfazed by my response, "This is how people took vacations up until 5 years ago."

My experience was positive. When I returned to work, I'd be full of ideas and energy. But it's less convenient. To travel safely, I had to research everything I might need: directions, alternative routes, phone numbers, restaurants, sites to visit. When I landed, I needed to find an international calling card and public phones to call my loved ones. These were difficult to find 5 years ago, and I'm sure it's close to impossible now. But everything always managed to work out. In a lot of ways, it created so much more of an adventure. It put me in a lot of unfamiliar situations that I needed to reason through.

There's no way I could do this anymore. I've started to prefer unstructured vacations where I travel to cheap places on a whim. Buying last-minute tickets is so much easier with an internet connection. Also, my girlfriend would never put up with it. She'd rather just have a phone with a map. And in some ways, that's so much more sensible.


You can still hide behind the camera instead of entering the scenery.


You don't invest in a good camera to leave it dangling from your neck. Finding ways to capture the experience is part of the experience for a lot of people. I don't know about jakevoytko, but photography is how I enter the scenery.


May I recommend:

The Frailest Thing: Ten Years Thinking About the Meaning of Technology: https://gumroad.com/l/CWRfq

Michael draws from Albert Borgmann, Jacques Ellul, Hannah Arendt, Esther Dyson, Guy Debord, Ivan Illich, Daniel Boorstin, Johan Huizinga, Lewis Mumford, Neil Postman, Marshal McLuhan, Walter Ong, and many others as he explores how technology and technological idealism shapes our thoughts and actions.


Prior to acquiring some tools for my most recent technological stretch, I had a cheap phone and a 10+ year old desktop I rarely used for several years around 2008-2010 give or take on either side.

I was doing different things during that period. Not much interesting sometimes—factory work, late shift. I'd sleep most of the day, go to work over night, get in around 4 AM, have a beer and taught myself mandolin and played guitar.

After a stretch of that I moved back to the city and worked in a warehouse in Film/TV and started a band with one of my old friends.

I was never completely without one, but my access was heavily limited. Other things will just fill up your time. For me: reading, music, writing, ...drinking, socializing.

What's funny is when I climbed up a few steps in my Film/TV job I was given a company iPhone which I ended up relying on solely for all of my contact information, etc. One day they decided to unilaterally rescind it because they suspected I would be leaving the company and I never retrieved my contact info for many old friends—especially after having left Facebook and all that. Won't be making that mistake again.

And then of course, growing up in rural Southwestern Ontario in the 90's saw limited access to most things computer. We just went outside a lot. I enjoy what I do, but I really miss that last part...


Yes, I moved to a new city, into a poorer neighborhood to save on rent, and tried to set up WIFI in my new apartment. While I was at work, the modem that was delivered got stolen off my front porch. I said forget it, and went 2 years without WIFI. I had data on my phone for the regular chores and such, but I went 2 years without youtube, netflix, steam, (many) reddit gifs, or anything else that was bandwidth heavy.

I read more, programmed more (rewrote one of my favorite video games), swam more, and started weight lifting (I can now squat 225 lbs now, and deadlift 315 lbs). I participated in low bandwidth discussion forums more, like Hacker News, and learned that civil online discourse is still a thing in 2018/2019.

So, I mean, life is out there, and sometimes sic accidentally sic culling your addictions before you realize they're addictions is an important first step. As for where I am now, I have since fled this city after COVID became pronounced, and I once again have the usual amenities - like WIFI - but my brain chemistry is fundamentally different. I now would rather program my own projects after work, or go for a walk in the park, or read some fantasy novel. I no longer binge netflix or youtube.


My PC broke 6 months ago. It's forced me to stop gaming and focus on work (as that is all my laptop can handle.)

I've seen an improvement in physical health and productivity, as well as a noticeable increase in "pleasure" from doing work.

This shift has led me to believe that videogames, atleast for me, were a net negative. I will still hop on Steam to chat with friends, but I don't feel the addictive pull to play that i did in the first few months.


My PC never broke, but for the first ~2 years of my undergrad (I'm about to start my final year) I didn't have time to play games at all because I completely overloaded myself with work.

It might be some combination of burnout and depression, but I haven't had much of that addictive urge either, since. When I have a free evening on a weekend I might put a few hours into a story-based single player game - finishing it in a month or two, compared to ~1 week at the peak of my gaming habits in high school.

It's interesting to hear to me that there's other people with similar experiences :)


Yeah, I went through this too. Thought I would play a ton in college just like high school. It ended up being the opposite, I never played a game while I was at school, and after that I just didn't find it nearly as addicting, I don't know why.

I'll go on binges sometimes, but nothing consistent, and my steam history usually has 0 hours nowadays.


Yes, I participated in a wilderness expedition in the early 2000s and didn't have access to internet, news, or modern amenities for about 100 days.

I lived more fully in the moment around me at times, and at others I receded into imagination and thought in almost a trance. The tangibility of reality became unavoidable for much of the day, and as a result of that when it was possible to recede and rest my mind, it was a deeper experience.


There's a line from the BBC series 'Absolutely Fabulous' paraphrasing here: "You get your dry cleaning back and it's a revolution" ... the jab here was banal things have become blown way out of proportion ... which they later associate with 'New labour' whether (-) overstuff the action with empowerment overtones (-) business' attempts to conflate routine service to be on par with love, family, and a sort Grandma as a dry cleaner who was always there for you to give love, a smile, iron your clothes all these many years.

In fact both avenues are so overplayed it betrays and reveals for what it is: a desperate need to be seen and taken seriously, which is why we're blowing more time talking about it here. What's going over there such that this became a real conversation?

If you wanna blow off computers for a while, for God sakes just do it and stop soliciting attention. You want to go cold-turkey on drugs, alcohol, girl-friends, job, computer, ... join the club: it's going on all the time. A revolution? Try MLK for but one relevant example. When did routine become such a big ask?


Until recently, traveling outside the US meant giving up all data and essentially making my phone a useless brick I carried around for emergency purposes. And over the last 10 ish years or so, there have been varying degrees of wifi availability- at first in your hotel- for a fee- then in your hotel- then sometimes there would be hotspots at restaurants, then they were at all restaurants, and now wifi points are pretty much ubiquitous across cities in Europe and Asia. I have switched to Google Fi these days, which more or less now gives me continuous connectivity globally.

My take on it was that being completely off the grid was a bit annoying- its nice to completely detach, but literally having no idea what is going on at home, especially if you are in a non-english speaking country, its a bit disconnecting, in a somewhat bad way. All in all though, a few days in you don't even think about emails or FB or anything like that and its really freeing.

Having wifi at just the hotel was actually really nice- We went and did our stuff during the day, and at night- either before bed or freshening up for dinner- you get a quick update on whats going on in the world. You are detached but not isolated.

Wifi hotspots being ubiquitous- its kind of annoying- that constant "pull" to get an update is still always there. Instead of enjoying the view of the piazza, you are checking FB, quelling anxiety about what emails might be there (however silly that is), etc...

And tbh- I actually have a preference for places without ubiquitious connectivity these days. The demands of work are ever increasing- its really nice to have that hard switch to say no I am not available, its not possible for me to be available and not feel apologetic over it. I am literally off the grid- it really lifts a lot of that burden and anxiety off me anyway.


Well. I am working as software dev and do not use smartphones.

I am far away from my home so I can't go without having phone at all. I have not seen movies for six months as part of... you can call it a challenge.

I am sure the other side has benefits in this is "way of Luddite", but goodies I think you get is:

* You got to make your time to fool around.

When you have so many other things where just go and have fun being a passive observer, it is really really easy to do so. But, if you remove those options it is really a free time.

It is free in the meaning you have no idea what to do with it.

I spend that time reading, learning math, writing posts (just for my team mates, I am not good at it). That had been really helpful for me because I am a mess and get easily distracted.

I can really go back and do those things where I am passive part of, but I want to keep it like this : I want to make time for that. It is just not the default setting.

These things I put around me, to organize myself. Hope this helps.

[Edit: formatting changes and some points]


Never saw the poster's user name. I used luddite in general sense. No pun intended


Just wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and stories here. Definitely a lot of food-for-thought in regards to how one can find a better balance in regards to their technology usage.

If I were to summarise, I'd say that the overarching theme (and there may be some selection bias here) is that while it is impossible to disconnect completely and indefinitely, there is clear value is doing it from time-to-time in order to step back and recontextualize one's relationship with technology - whether that is through travel, religious practice, external circumstances or a purposeful choice to limit tech usage.

Will definitely be trying a few of the suggested strategies in the short-term to cut back on distractions, but I'm keen to see if I can "engineer" a more long-term break from my phone and computer in the near future.

Thanks for the discussion HN!


I've done it without a second thought. I just went on vacation for two weeks to the mountains. No coverage and no electricity. I just turned off my phone and forgot about it.

I just gave a heads up at work that I was going really offline, so I was unreachable even for emergencies.

I don't think I missed it at all.

You just need to focus on other activities.


I've recently got a good old fashioned desktop computer, and switched to Thunderbird over webmail (ending a decade-old GMail subscription in the process). If I want to check emails or do admin, I have to do it purposefully and situatedly.

It's really thrown into contrast the temptation of quickly flicking on a mobile phone or work laptop to check something. There's a mental geographic context as well — I have to go to a specific place to do a specific task, and it can't follow me round the house. It also makes the work / life boundary a little bit clearer.

It's a little inconvenient, but the whole point is to underline the trade-off of that convenience. A week in and I'm tangibly feeling the benefit.

To the original point, I'm parted from my computer for hours rather than days, but it still helps.


I was without those until 2012 when I left Cuba. I did have a computer there, an old one with Linux, Emacs, and no desktop environment where I did freelance work and got online once per week to upload the work. I lived in South America until 2016 and still was semi-disconnected due to the prices of mobile data. Here in the US has been hard for me to get disconnected and mostly do it when I travel to Cuba for 15 days or a month to visit the fam. These are great days, feels weird the first 3 days but then you forget these devices exist and start talking to people, dancing, swimming, being immersed in the community and talking about topics one normally doesn't. It's a really rewarding thing and always makes me think that we are very disconnected from our true nature.


First 25 years of my life. It was glorious.

I would start by making a list of what you think are critical uses of tech, and work on trimming that list down until all that's left is almost impossible to do analog. You'll probably need to buy stamps and a good map, and learn to memorize phone numbers. Film cameras are cheap but getting processing and printing can be an expensive hassle.

I'm still wondering if search engines have replaced encyclopedias and libraries to the point that knowledge is lost or inaccessible without the Internet. I hope not, I don't believe "online is forever", too many sites and records just fade away when a book can last hundreds of years (or burn up in minutes, true).


A single book, yes, can last hundreds of years or burn up in minutes. A book printed in a thousand copies and distributed all over the world, including places likely to survive nuclear war, will last hundreds of years.


On that, I recommend "Fool's Gold: Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library"


I don't know if this counts, but every Saturday and Jewish holidays we can't use phones/computers. It's calm in a way. And also the only thing to do is to be with friends and family. A few times a year it can be 2/3 days long.


I didn't have a smartphone until 2009. I didn't have a cellphone until 2001. I didn't have a computer until 1989.

You might say this means my comments are irrelevant, since I'm talking about growing up without these things instead of giving up these things. However, it does lend perspective to my next statement.

Going without a phone or computer for days or weeks at a time doesn't faze me. I haven't tried going months without either one since the early 2000s, though.

In my day-to-day life, I stop using digital devices entirely around 8:00 PM, which is about two hours before I sleep. I also don't start using them until 7:00 AM, which is an hour or two after I wake up.


I make it a point to control my technology, rather than the reverse. Every single week I go without technology for ~25-26 hours. Frequently, as part of my religion, I have 2-3 day periods in the year (probably ~5 of those). I make it a point to take a one week vacation in places where even if I wanted to, I couldn't internet (they still exist!).

Every ~5 years or so, we ditch the universe for a month, and live, rather happily without computers, phones, and email. The reality is that a computer is no more or less of a tool to me than a hammer or a basin wrench. It just happens to be the tool with which I make my living.


Yes, for approximately three years. They were some of the happiest, cleanest, and most productive years of my life. I felt happy in the same way I think people felt happy before the technology existed. I eventually came back, because I was worried that I would miss a critical email. I often think about throwing it all away again, but now I'm a programmer so it's not as easy. I was working as a filing clerk when I tried the experiment. It was mostly to save money as I paid back my first degree.


I've done it for a week or two once a year on a trip to Kasol. I'd recommend it because it forces your brain to relearn behaviors and in doing so discover new things. Honestly though it's the same as anything else - I find myself locked in a battle between comfort and growth, and technology is the same.

Another interesting thing to do is instead of giving up your phone, remove all the apps you usually use and commit for a week to only using apps and websites you've never used before. Similar effect.


I spread out my vacation time throughout the year to take these little breaks.

I put away my computer and my phone is only used for emergency calls from family and close friends. I don't watch any TV or play any video games. No glowing screens.

I read. I paint. I work with hand tools and build wooden boxes and shelves. I nap. I read some more. I play with my kids. I teach them about woodworking, birds, ants, and gardening. And sip wine late into the night with my partner.

Programming will always be there. It can wait while I recharge.


Only by accident, for about a week (that's definitely extended for me). We went on holiday to a remote Scottish island and stayed on a camp site that allegedly had WiFi: well, they did, but not working WiFi.. Oh well, I'd brought my 4G phone, and .. no signal. So a trip into the only town where I was told "only one carrier had a tower there", so I bought a PAYG SIM only to find it was the old-style full size SIM and no, they didn't have anything more modern.

So, a week without..


You can literally use a nano/micro SIM as a blueprint, and then just normal scissors to cut the SIM to shape. It's what I did the last time I needed to.


I have gone without any phone/computer/etc completely a few times, once for 4 months, once for 3 months, and then quite a few shorter periods.

The main thing I learned was that when using the computer, I was using it too much. Even at work as a programmer, it turns out you do not need to spend most of your time in front of a computer coding. A bit more thought outside of the digital world can allow your ideas to form clearer, and then it takes far less time to code it.


I did no phone for a year while living really frugally in Guatemala. I chose to do it after an extremely emotionally taxing job to take time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was in my mid twenties at the time. I found myself way more present, I made lifelong friends and took more risks. Additionally, I had studied French my entire life and my Spanish is better (still not great) without any formal study.


The first 25 years of my life...


let's go ride bikes in the big blue room.


In 2015,I stopped using my mobile for six months or so. It was intentional.

I often found myself scrolling through apps. I didn't have any control on myself. It impacted my sleep etc. etc.

It was a bit helpful while it lasted but people where quite surprised when i told them i didn't have a phone.

I ended up wasting my time on my mac rather than on my phone.

Last weekend I didn't use my phone or my mac for 24 hrs. It was liberating. Highly recommend it.


I had an EU sim card with 100G of data on a cycling trip from France to Greece, which was great for planning ahead every day, finding places to eat etc.. once I was out of the EU (Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania), data cost rose to about 1€/MB.. so I had to cross 3 countries on Airplane mode, which was arguably the part of the trip where I was the most “present”.


I was without a phone from Autumn of 2015 until the Winter of 2017, when I got my first smartphone. I used to keep regular habits, going to certain cafes weekly on certain days, so that if anyone wanted to find me they knew where I'd be.

Do note that I didn't have a professional life at the time which made this much simpler.


This is a great question. I try to spend my evenings without my phone now, and spend more time with family or reading. I also put it in either airplane mode, or do-not-disturb, plugged into a charger. I've been increasing the amount of time I can get by without my phone. The effects have been positive


You may enjoy this classic verge piece: https://www.theverge.com/2013/5/1/4279674/im-still-here-back...


30 days and although at first I was anxious, it ended up being the most peaceful 30 days in my adulthood.


Being paid to work with computers aside, I think I'd get by admirably, so long as I have the opportunity to read, write, draw, and still be able to make some form of a living from creative work.

That said, I would need some way to at least make sure my family is ok, when I'm away from them.


Not sure how you mean, does it count that I didn't have access to a computer at home until 1995? I didn't even get my own phone until 1998 or my own computer until 2002.

If this experience counts then I can say that I cannot remember being happier or less distracted back then.


For me it was called the 90's.


I did it for about 3 months while backpacking around South America in 2007 (before smartphones). I occasionally use the internet via 'internet cafes' to send a few emails and to research destinations. I kept a hand-written journal every day.


I'm surprised backpacking isn't a more common answer. Pretty much every time I go backpacking, I'm essentially isolated from the world. My phone is just a camera/reference device at that point. Like you, I spent a few months backpacking before smartphones, and it was amazing.

I ended up losing my camera charger too, so I had to sketch everything I saw in my journal. I got pretty good at it, and realized how much more methodical, thoughtful, and slow sketching is, compared to photography. It was an enlightening experience. I bet you treasure your journal a lot. I certainly do.


I backpacked through the Himalayas for 2 weeks to Everest base camp.

I had internet access throughout the whole trip, so I'd say it depends on where you're backpacking.


That's true EBC is quite the metropolitan hike. I ended up traveling solo in the Indian Himalayas, through Uttarakhand, Himachal, and Ladakh. It's far less developed. I spent a few days without seeing a single human. This was also back in 2013, so it may have changed by now.

But more generally, I'm often out of the service area when I'm backpacking here in the US, so no internet for a week or more. I suppose by backpacking I strictly mean multi-day wilderness camping on remote trails, and not well-established treks between huts or campgrounds.


Yeah it seems like backpacking is a great opportunity to do a bit of reset in terms of technology, limiting it to those essential logistical tasks, but allowing one to get the majority of their social and experiential needs fulfilled in the physical world.

Do you think if you were to do the same trip today (let's assume no covid nonsense) you would use the same balance of technology, or do you think that things have become much more integrated over the last decade?


Each year, my extended family goes on holiday at a remote piece of property we own. There are a few cabins on the property with enough technology to make life there convenient and comfortable: solar panels, refrigerator, electric lights, running water - but no internet and limited cellular coverage * . My family makes an effort to keep electronic devices off and out-of-the-way, or only used in a limited fashion (such as using a laptop for writing). I prefer to keep my phone off for the duration of my time there, which is typically 10-14 days. This would be unthinkable for me in my daily life, but without internet access it is easy.

The reduction in stress and increase in my happiness is quite profound. My stress levels are noticeably lower than on a typical holiday, and far lower than my normal levels. I attribute this partly to the lack of internet, and partly to the experience of being "close to nature". Possibly it is also the quiet and dark nights that lead to great sleep.

I don't think there is any change in my focus (which is quite poor). I read more than I usually do, but maybe that is just because there is no internet to read.

One other interesting factor is the air. The air is much fresher feeling. When I return to civilisation on the trip home, the air makes me feel sick. Eventually I adapt, or stop noticing how disgusting the polluted air is (and how loud car traffic is). I wonder if the air quality influences my mood at all.

During the voyage home, there is a point at which the data signals return. This leads to an amusing deluge of notifications on our phones. The most amazing thing is how little I care about any of it.

Normally I check notifications often. I sometimes even find myself checking my phone out of habit when there is no notification.

Similarly, I don't care at all that I missed 10+ days of activity on HN and Reddit. Why is it, then, that normally I feel like I have to check every day or I am somehow missing out?

Based on this, I think you will find it becomes easier to live without technology the longer you go without.

If you want to see someone who has taken this to an extreme, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ir-s8KRN97Q

* In the past, there was no cellular service at all, but it seems that new towers were erected close enough to the property that it is possible to get a signal. In any case, it is not such a bad thing in case of emergencies.


At one point in 2003, my CRT monitor died and I didn't have money to buy a new one for two months. I was still using my computer to play music, by blindly typing commands in the console - I remembered the folder names.


Prior to 2006 I had never touched a computer, and my phones, if I had one were the classic Nokia types. Between 2000 and 2006 I didn't even watch TV. Spent most of my non work time exercising, drinking, and reading.


I sailed around Tahiti for a week with family on a 45’ catamaran. No phone, no laptop. So peaceful.

I returned home refreshed, and it showed in my day-to-day focus. Though I find this in all adventures, so I’m not sure if it’s related to screens.


You could always just wipe your phone, and uninstall all possible apps.

On an iPhone don't sign into icloud, press and hold and delete anything with an X.

hmmm. crap. You can't uinstall safari. Just put it in a folder and don't use it.


10 days at a vipassana meditation course (silent course, no books,no pens, no talking). Highly recommend. You come out realising what a waste of time all the things on your phone / fb feed actually are.


Computer no, but I've had gaps in phones spanning almost a year each. It ended up being quite the inconvenience for others even though I could make due with desktop SMS/Calling apps.


A great scenario for this is when there's a power outage for several days. You find other things to do like actually talk to other humans or get out of the house.


Yes, 1949-1965. Not a lot of computers around, very expensive.


Yes, I've done this for a few months at a time.

Buying notebooks to write in, and books to read, and a radio to listen to, helped.


Yes.

From birth to age 12.

My technological monasticism was aided by the era, since the period of time we're talking about was 1970 to 1982.


Vipassana meditation camp for 10 days.


I had a friend who did one of those. Said it was transformative. Sounded brutal, tbh.

Did you get what you wanted out of the experience?


Yes. Yosemite Valley around 2006. It was a glorious 2.5 days.


Longest for me was probably ~2 weeks while at burning man.


Well, birth through about age 13


I was a (20% share) co-founder of a successful(ly bootstrapped) company in the telecomms space 14 years ago.

When the company was +-10 years old and quite successful a European investment firm came along and started discussions to acquire a share in the company.

I've been thinking of exiting at that point already (wanted to relocate my family to another country) so it was a very fortunate happenstance; I discussed it with my colleagues before and this was my chance, and I was taking it.

After a 9 month handover and training my replacement period I sold all my shares, took my family on holiday, and went completely off-grid for just over 8 weeks.

By off-grid I mean we went to a place with no internet, no phone, a single solar panel powering a few LED lights, a gas digester powering the stovetop, oven, and fridge, solar-heated water, and lots of open space and a sea breeze at night.

After 10 years of working at least from 8h00 to 19h00 weekdays and a few hours every weekend it was jarring. The first three weeks was a mental shock; it felt like my brain was almost "clogged" and not forming thoughts properly, almost like your ears feel when getting water in them.

Reaching for your phone only to have it do nothing stimulating because there is no signal was really difficult to get used to - but it highlighted how often I used gadgetry to pep my energy levels.

By the third week we did start getting into the rhythm a bit more: going to farmers to buy food very early morning, attending a nearby town's Saturday morning market for other bits and bobs, walking to the various neighbours to chat etc.

Our day was fairly full and structured, e.g. we'd have the kids gather wood early mornings, then walk to the beach (about 4km walk), spend some time there, come back, shower outside, prep food, do a late afternoon walk (mostly to a neighbouring farm or two), chat days away.

We had another burst of under-stimulation/restlessness around 6 weeks, and we started driving to a nearby library to get some books for a little more mental engagement. Around the 8th week we started craving "normal" living a little, missing the extended family, and more, so decided our time off the grid was done.

We hired a houseboat, spent a few nights on it, and then slowly drove a rambling 2000km back home over 6 days.

If you can find a place devoid of cell service and internet I can recommend it - and I still am very cognizant of how easy it is to use phones / laptops / etc to lose hours of your life every day.

I also think my addiction to technical stimulation was related to the constant stream of novel content - I felt less like reaching for a device after I internalized that it doesn't have something new that I can consume.

Using these devices mainly for creating rather than consuming is less problematic, and less addictive (for me at least) and I still try to focus on creating rather than consuming content when I use my digital devices. Fully aware of the irony of posting that sentence in a social site ;)


I spent two years (2014 - 2016) living in a foreign country without a phone, they were some of the best years of my life.

I moved to a new country and there were a couple of barriers that prevented me from getting a phone right away. I decided to forgo the opportunity when it finally arose. I kept a kindle fire, a notebook and pen, and a cheap digital camera on me at almost all times. I can't recommend it enough.

When going new places I studied the location on google maps before leaving home. Instead of getting out my phone to find a place I had to ask for directions. Instead of googling for new places to try out I just walked around and discovered things for myself. Fortunately this was very walkable city. Keeping track of my surroundings mentally was stimulating, and I developed a great sense of direction. I challenged myself to keep track of North at all times (surprisingly easy in a city with streets laid out on a grid).

The language barrier was crazy, but without the ever present distraction of a phone I was able to learn so much. There was no "let me get out my phone and translate this" option, I was forced to learn. I did have a kindle fire that had wifi capabilities, which I used occasionally to send emails in a pinch, but this was few and far between. I kept Anki SRS on it and in those moments that fall in the cracks of life I was studying language flash cards or reading a grammar guide.

When I made plans with friends we had to arrange details ahead of time, usually via email or any one of the messenger apps you can use on a PC. This may have seemed like an inconvenience but it inadvertently introduced more structure to my life. I can remember only twice that my lack of phone made meeting up really difficult, but both times we eventually found each other.

I read so many books in those two years. The order imposed on my life by having to plan ahead, along with removing the distraction of a phone, supercharged my reading time. There were Friday nights where my friends had beer without me because they couldn't get a hold of me, but if I really wanted to I could have reached out.

Anything that I really needed to remember, I just wrote in a notebook. I didn't keep an app for my budget or diet, I just wrote everything down. The act of writing these things down made more mindful about how I spent money and ate food, I didn't need analytics from an app to help make decisions any more.

It seems like you lose a lot of convenience, but what you gain back is so much more valuable. My mind felt clear, when I look back on those years I don't remember all those things I wished I could have googled on the spot. I remember being completely engaged by my surroundings. I understand that living in a foreign country is the thing I look back on so fondly, but the no-phone situation was the music the play was set to. I can't recommend it enough.


Yes while on an expedition


this is heaven. I wish I could take every break this way.


i forgot to bring my phone to the toilet yesterday


I remember when I was a kid, before the internet became ubiquitous, sometimes I would decide to re-read a book I already read from scratch.

Nowadays I can't even finish a book.

I'm not sure how relate-able that experience is because I was an only child and I was alone a lot. I'm sure most people (aka people with siblings) never get bored enough to re-read a book from scratch.

I guess I would say the good thing about the internet is that there's now a never ending stream of things to learn. The bad thing is that now I have lack of focus.


You can't really give up computers without giving up driving, possibly using a thermostat, a coffee machine, etc.


There is a difference between a laptop and the circuit boards used to run your coffee machine. For example, op would never see your comment on his coffee machine and is a good example of the types of things he probably wants to remove from his life by shutting down the laptop :)


Come on. You know what OP meant, and it wasn't "anything with a microcontroller". What benefit, if any, could such pedantry bring?


I think we can safely assume that the OP is asking about a personal computer.




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