There’s really no way around it: this pandemic sucks.
That said, it would have probably sucked a whole lot more if it had happened in another decade.
It’s the easiest time in history to stay connected with your friends, family and coworkers without seeing them face-to-face. I don’t even need to ask my friends what they’ve been up to anymore, because I’ve already seen it all on Instagram, while our entire Pique office can meet without having to gather more than six people in a room, all thanks to Zoom and Google Hangout.
In the past few months, I’ve found out friends are engaged over FaceTime, watched a coworker get married through a livestream, celebrated bachelorette parties and birthdays over Zoom, even (virtually) met a close friend’s new baby—all events that would typically have happened in person, but through a screen is better than not at all. I can’t honestly say I would have made it through the lockdown days with my sanity fully intact if I wasn’t able to shoot my friends a quick text or see my family’s faces, even if it was just over FaceTime. I don’t even want to think about how much more difficult living through a pandemic would be if we were still relying on snail mail to communicate with loved ones in other cities.
We also have more entertainment at our fingertips than ever, which means you can transition from your work day to the next episode of whichever Netflix series you’re currently binging without having to move a centimetre.
But that’s the other thing—with a job that requires me to stay glued to a screen for a minimum of eight hours a day and be constantly immersed in whatever news is going on in the world, good or bad (we all know it’s mostly bad), even the most mindless of Netflix reality shows aren’t enough to give my brain a break when I clock out for the night.
I’ll admit there were many days pre-pandemic that my phone could have been surgically attached to my hand and I probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference, but I’ve been spending what likely amounts to hours more in front of a screen a day thanks to our current circumstances, and I’ve definitely noticed a few changes.
(If you have an iPhone, I’d advise against checking the feature that allows you to see how many hours you spend on your phone, or how many times a day you pick it up. It’s truly disturbing, at least if you’re me.)
Despite all the benefits that come with technology and the ability to stay constantly connected to the outside world, the drawbacks are hard to ignore. I can’t be the only one noticing my stress level start to rise ever-so-slightly with every additional notification.
But when the adverse effects of screen time really become apparent is on the one day a week that I try to head for the trees and out of cell range. We all know how beneficial spending time in nature is for our mental health, but to me those benefits multiply exponentially when your phone stays on airplane mode.
With wifi and 5G networks available pretty much everywhere except the backcountry, there also seems to be an expectation that if you’re in cell range, you should be reachable 24/7. How many times has the worry crept in when a friend or family member you’re trying to get in touch with doesn’t get back to you? There’s a weird sense of freedom that comes with sending a “gone hiking, text you when I’m back” message, and not being able to reply even if you wanted to.
During a four-day camping trip where I didn’t pick up my phone for any purpose other than pressing play on Spotify or taking the occasional photo, I noticed how thoughts about work or the pandemic or other day-to-day responsibilities that typically take up my brain space started to slow down. The soreness in my jaw that’s become a regular occurrence from clenching it subconsciously was gone, and my most pressing concern was making sure a not-very-sneaky weasel’s continuous attempts to steal our snacks were not successful.
But like all good trips, it had to end. I turned my phone back on only to be met with a rolling stream of missed texts, calls, emails, Google Calendar invites and news alerts about yet another unarmed Black man shot multiple times by police. I immediately felt overwhelmed trying to determine what needed reading or replying to first. Gone was any shred of the blissful ignorance I’d enjoyed waking up in a tent on the beach.
I’m fully aware I’m preaching to the choir—I can’t imagine there’s another community on this planet more tuned into the benefits of getting outside than Whistler’s. But it never hurts to be reminded about the importance of disconnecting every once in a while, or that it’s OK if climbing up a steep boulder field sometimes (always?) feels more manageable than replying to a backed-up email inbox. Just like it’s OK to be grateful for the technology and connectivity we have access to, while simultaneously wanting to throw your phone in Alta Lake.