What I Learned From My Digital Breakup

by Editor
Published: Updated:
By Gianna Biscontini

Today I realized I’m an asshole.

I was in the FedEx line for the billionth time, sending copies of my book to a store in LA. The young gentleman who has helped me each time I’ve come in waves me over.

“I got her! Hello Miss Bis… Biscon…” he said.

“Biscontini.” I said, smiling. “Almost got it!”

He knows how to cut the boxes and pack the books so they are protected. He knows I’m shipping them somewhere, and he always asks for the story of who they are going to. He also asks how the book is doing and what I’ve been up to.

We start our ritual. He takes my phone number and asks, on cue:

“Where are they going today?”

He is always so excited to hear where they are going and why.  A few weeks ago, when I was shipping copies to South Korea for translation, he genuinely shared in my joy and excitement.

“You caught me on my last day!” He said. 

“Oh no! Where are you going?” I asked, searching my phone for the LA store address. 

“Virginia.” He went on to explain what he would be doing.

“That’s awesome, good for you!” I said, looking up once between emails. 

A mold remediation repair bill needed paying. Car registration documents needed signing. My Newsweek article was live. 

He finished up and gave me my tracking number, our standard exchange. 

“Good luck with your book!” he wished, sincerely and with a smile. 

Distracted, looking at my phone, I paused. My brain knew a bigger response was warranted, but as it searched all it could muster was a mindless retort.

A quick glance up gave him a moment of my attention after a summer of his help sending my biggest creative accomplishment to date around the world. 

“Good luck in Virginia.” I said as I turned around, head down as I slipped the receipt into my purse.

As I walked outside, an awful feeling washed over me. That’s it?? I thought, walking to my car. It was the equivalent of thinking of a really good comeback two days after a fight.

I wanted to turn around. To tell him thank you for helping me and for asking about my book or my dog whenever I came in, always attentive and excited to hear any news. Habit carried me thoughtlessly to my car where I sat in near shock, feeling sick to my stomach and grossed out by my behaviour.

This month I spent a total of 10 days in tiny houses on a nature tour around the Northeast. I completely detoxed from the digital world, to the point where physical sensations I once considered normal — heart palpitations, headaches and a perpetually clenched jaw — subsided almost completely.

I read, studied human design, meditated, made my first campfire meal and hiked off leash with my dog. I came back home feeling lighter and more mindful. Traffic and noise I once tolerated now felt overstimulating. Things I took for granted became part of my daily joy.

But less than three days later, back in normal life, I hadn’t learned to generalize these new outlooks and practices.

As Yvon Chouinard once said of the rhythm and growth found in exploring nature, “The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of physical and spiritual gain… and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

I was now that asshole. An asshole who had gone away for a few days and assumed she had turned into Thoreau. An asshole addicted to her phone, like every other person I had seen engrossed in their screens during dates and on the playground with their kids and thought, “How sad.”

No matter how much I wanted to go back into that FedEx, I was too embarrassed and ashamed. Honestly, at a loss for words. But I’m a big believer that we can always do something. Even when looking back 20 years on all those cringe-worthy moments of bullying others or mistreating a friend or romantic partner, we can always decide to make a change. I couldn’t bring myself to go back into the store, but I could at least wake up the next morning knowing that I’m a better version than the person I was yesterday.

I was finally ready to do something drastic in a once-and-for-all, boundary-setting-ninja moment. This seems dramatic, but if I’m being real, so is my addiction.

My phone is the single biggest hijacker of my attention. It’s the thing that takes me — a social butterfly who truly enjoys connecting with literally anyone — and turns me into a distracted, disconnected pod person who smiles politely and gives tragically generic comments. You know the ones. You feel it when you receive it. When you interact with someone digitally distracted, the experience leaves you feeling a certain kind of deflated. Uncared for. Unseen even.

My goal was to decrease my phone time by 90%. I went home and checked the data on my phone to get a baseline. Average daily pickups was eighty-seven. Yikes. Average daily phone use was 6.5 hours. This left me with 42 minutes a day.

Forty-two minutes to talk, text and MarcoPolo with friends, post on three social media accounts for my business, and generally fuck about ordering dog bandanas and retro sneakers I don’t need.

While I put some parameters in place — 2 hours on weekends for longer conversations with friends and 5 minutes of bonus time in case my dogs were doing something incredibly adorable and needed to be recorded — I felt confident in my ability to carry on with the breakup.

The idea of publicly committing to such a lofty goal made me nervous. But so did my breakups with alcohol, sugar, unhealthy relationships and terrible jobs that threatened my wellbeing. From past experience I know that when we say “no” to one thing, we make time for countless other things. And maybe it can for you, too.

So, I’m committing to one full month of 42 minutes (+5, for adorable dog pictures) a day. This comes at a potential cost as I relaunch my business, market and sell tickets for my book retreat, and ramp up to the release of my audiobook with more press. But growth is supposed to be hard, right?

My hope with this experiment is simply, more. More connected conversations, present moment memories and focused attention on work I believe in. More living life in real time, outside the digital world we so aptly attend to. And, of course, to come down the mountain a more evolved human than the asshole that started the climb.

Gianna Biscontini is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst who challenges women to overcome narratives and fight for their rights to live interesting and authentic lives outside boxes created by society. Her work as a keynote speaker, lifestyle design and leadership coach, and writer has gained national attention in publications such as Forbes and has reached podcast audiences in over 100 countries. Prior to publishing F~ckless: A Guide to Wild, Unencumbered Freedoms, Biscontini founded the innovative employee wellbeing agency W3RKWELL. Connect with Gianna at GiannaBiscontini.com, Instagram and TikTok.

Related Posts