Digital Downsizing: Embracing True Presence in a Connected World

by | Health, Productivity, Travel

Digital Downsizing

In June, I had a revelation that may redefine how you interact with the world around you. I'm talking about a whole new level of presence and connection, thanks to my digital downsizing experience.

Ashville_Retreat

Journey to Being Truly Present

Picture this: a retreat in the mystical mountains of Asheville, an idyllic setting where time seems to stand still. Upon arrival, I discovered something both thrilling and uncomfortable: a cell phone dead zone. No service, no notifications, no distractions. Just pure, uninterrupted time with nine other inspiring speakers and business owners.

The Glorious Disconnect

For the first 24 hours, I'll admit, I felt the pangs of withdrawal. My fingers twitched to scroll through my phone, check my email, and send a quick text. But as the hours turned into days, something extraordinary happened. I felt a freedom and clarity that I hadn't felt in years. I was truly present, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too.

Our meals transformed into lingering conversations filled with laughter and insight rather than hasty bites in between phone checks. Activities became immersive experiences, free from the urge to check in or report back to the digital world.

What I experienced is that I've often felt that I was disconnected, but I wasn't. As long as I knew when the next time would be that I could check my phone or laptop, send a text or an email, or listen to a voicemail, I was never fully present. I was always anticipating a message or interaction. After about 24 hours of this lack of access, I felt what being truly present was like. And it was glorious.

Digitally-Downsized Vacation

I downsized recently for our 25th-anniversary vacation. We went to New Orleans and Portland, and on day one, I sent one text to my parents thanking them for being so wonderful to my husband. Then I didn't look at my texts, emails, voicemails, or Voxer messages for seven days. The only badges I have on my phone are voice mail because if someone calls nowadays, it means something, and Voxer, which is how I communicate with my team. I took those badges off and moved Voxer to my third screen on the phone, which is also where my email app is. This kept me from getting tempted to check it. The text was sticky. I have an OOO message on my emails and voicemail, but how do I let people know I won't respond to their texts?


It was a little bit of an inconvenient hack, but I achieved it nonetheless. I went to my settings to the Focus Mode and selected Driving since that is the only one that will give a response. I changed the response to say I'm away on my 25th anniversary and will not check text messages until July 25th. It was inconvenient because every time I wanted to check my phone for something – finding a restaurant, turning on music when I worked out, or checking a map, I had to select ‘I'm not driving' (it's a safety feature) and then turn it on again to the driving mode when I was finished. Still, it was worth it to be truly present with my husband.


It was a digital downsize. I still used my phone for maps, my Daily Burn app, checking my Oura Ring, and running my Apollo Neuro at night. However, I didn't interact with anyone electronically for the entire trip.

Lessons Learned from Digital Downsizing

Marcey-Kevin-vacation

Digital downsizing is more than just putting your phone away; it's a conscious decision to be fully present in your life. My husband, Kevin, might not have been the biggest fan, but I was on cloud nine. It wasn't always easy, but the inconvenience was a small price to pay for the connection and presence I felt.

Here are some of my takeaways from this eye-opening experience:

  1. Digital Downsizing is not Detox: “detox” implies that our devices are harmful. But it's not about eliminating technology but mindfully using it.
  2. Being Truly Present: Not checking your messages isn't the same as being unplugged. You're not fully present if you're still thinking about your emails. Your family can even feel “anticipatory stress,” knowing you might be distracted at any moment.
  3. Challenges and Rewards: Digital downsizing comes with challenges, such as finding the proper settings on your phone to avoid distractions. But the rewards, like deeply connecting with your loved ones, are priceless.

Your Digital Downsizing Challenge

I urge you to try this digital downsizing experiment. See if you can go 24 hours or more without messages coming in or going out. Feel what it's like to be fully present. Experience a vacation without the constant pull of notifications and social media.

I know it might sound daunting, but I promise you, the benefits are life-changing. It's not about disconnecting from the world but reconnecting with what truly matters.

So, brave souls, are you ready to take on the digital downsizing challenge? I'd love to hear about your experiences and how this mindful approach has affected you and those around you.

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“Your Weekender Snapshot and Tim Ferriss’s Five Bullet Friday are my favorite emails I receive.”

jim west

Principal and Managing Director, GFF Architects