Doing a Ruby (Wax): What it’s like to go phone-free for a week – Hayley Matthews

Ruby Wax advocates the benefits of 'switching off' in her book Frazzled. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Ruby Wax advocates the benefits of 'switching off' in her book Frazzled. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Smartphones have become part of modern-day life, but being constantly in touch with the rest of the world via social media seems to be stressing us out, writes Hayley Matthews.

I was given a challenge ­earlier in the week by BBC Radio Scotland to go phone-free for a week and have a digital detox. No scrolling, no texting and no WhatsApping. I could use the house phone – but that was an issue as it fell down the back of the TV unit some time ago and seems to have got lost.

I was apprehensive, but I accepted as it was only a week. How hard could it be? Well, the fear of not replying to anyone was too much at times. I thought “people will think I’m so rude” and we can’t have that. So why do we feel we have to reply constantly to every text/email/dm/pm/WhatsApp/call? Surely even Amazon ­customer services switch their phones off now and then?

The day after the challenge was set, I found myself reading some stats from an RBS survey done in partnership with YouGov, stating that one in four 18-24-year-olds and 24 per cent of 25-34-year-olds find the pressure to answer calls/texts and notifications difficult to manage, compared to ten per cent of those aged 55-plus. I’m 38 and probably resonate with the younger generation here for FOMO reasons (Fear of Missing Out). My FOMO was in overdrive and my ­anxiety at not replying to people was on a par with the thought of leaving Christmas presents unopened until Boxing Day. Thoughts swirled through my head wondering what messages were coming in. It wasn’t good.

So how did we get here? I’m sure many say it’s just how we communicate now and that there is an expectation of an instant or prompt response. But what gives way to that urgency to communicate, I believe is the ability to switch off. The ability to balance work and life, putting quiet time first, seems to be quickly vanishing.

As Ruby Wax talks about in her book Frazzled, when a computer ­overheats we switch it off. So why is it so difficult for us to hit the stop ­button now and then? Could you imagine having a big red stop button on the top of our heads that we hit when needing a break? I’d be hitting mine once an hour!

According to the survey, younger people tend to report higher levels of small daily pressure and I find this worrying. The young should be filled with energy and happiness. I recently had someone dm me five times on social media within a day and ask if they’d offended me because I hadn’t replied. No, I just have a life! No ­wonder many say they feel pressure to reply to all emails and texts. It’s too much sometimes and not to mention that many 25-34-year-olds find it hard to make time for their friends. I can’t remember the last time I dug the disco boots out.

The over-55s certainly seem to not feel pressured to jump to every ping so I reckon they know something we don’t. Is there happiness in less social media contact? Well, I was hoping for some JOMO – joy of missing out – on my digital detox, but I have to admit that I cracked early days.

As a freelancer, my phone is a walking laptop. I don’t have a desk, a receptionist, a canteen or a PA – my phone does it all, well apart from make me coffee and a sandwich, but it does do the online shop whilst I wait for the school bell to go.

This is all with two kids and not that big a social life so, yes, I completely get why a quarter of 25-34-year-olds admit that they find it difficult to manage their work-life ­balance.

I might not have managed an entire week with no phone but I did do a ‘Ruby’ and switch off for a while. I think we’d all see the benefit in doing a ‘Ruby’ every once in a while, especially the young ones who would have more life and less work.