This teen did a month-long digital detox. Here’s what happened

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-07-22 06:00

‘I don't think I've ever felt that human,’ Calgarian says

Imagine a whole month without your phone. Painful, right?

Now take that one step further and imagine taking a trip to East Asia from Canada and not being able to post about it.

That’s what Calgarian Khobe Clarke signed up for when he agreed to do a month-long digital detox in Mongolia with his dad, Jamie Clarke, one year ago in July 2019.

“It's like you die for a month because no one has any idea what is going on,” said Khobe, who was 18 when he went on the trip.

“That’s the biggest lesson I was taught, is to very much appreciate what is happening in front of you.” — Khobe Clarke

Khobe, right, and his dad riding horses in front of Mount Khüiten in Mongolia.

Khobe, right, said he repeatedly had the urge to post his trip adventures to social media. (Image submitted by Jamie Clarke)

Nervous about the experiment

Khobe wasn’t too eager to go at first.

In fact, he remembers telling his dad, ‘No. Not a chance. That sounds awful.’

But he decided to embark on the journey anyway — and what he experienced was life-changing.

“It was very bizarre. I felt like I was on a different planet,” Khobe told CBC Radio after he returned from his trip last summer.

In fact, Mongolia is located in East Asia, bordered by China and Russia.

A world map showing Canada, left, and Mongolia, right.

‘I felt more human’

Without screens, Khobe was forced to spend loads of time with his own thoughts.

“I'm so used to having some kind of distraction my whole life with Instagram and Snapchat and whatever, so I've never had to entertain myself for that long,” he said.

While that made him bored and anxious at first, those feelings quickly changed.

Khobe, right, and Jamie sitting in their tent surrounded by camping gear.

Khobe, right, and his dad, Jamie Clark, sitting in their tent surrounded by camping gear. (Image submitted by Jamie Clarke)

“I felt more human,” he told CBC Kids News. “I don't think I've ever felt that human.”

Khobe said he found himself thinking about his future, friends and the things that were important to him.

Reflecting on screen time

Despite Khobe’s improved sense of self-awareness, he said there were still moments when he would have liked to post to social media or connect with his friends and family back home.

“Phones aren’t all bad,” Khobe said.

But they’re not everything, despite what people his age might think, he added.

And now, one year later, he keeps reminding himself of that.

Khobe and Jamie posing with all their motorcycle gear.

Khobe and Jamie spent the first 11 days of their trip travelling across Mongolia on motorbikes. (Image submitted by Jamie Clarke)

“There was definitely some anxiety without it, but I would do it again,” he said.

Although Khobe says his phone habits haven’t changed too much in the past year, the trip made him very aware of the time he spends looking at screens.

“That’s the biggest lesson I was taught, is to very much appreciate what is happening in front of you, rather than what’s going on technologically,” he said.

Dad learned a lot, too

When the pair weren’t hiking or biking across the country, Khobe and Jamie would just talk.

Or they would be silent.

“Every night, you lay in the tent, and there is no distraction,” Jamie said.

“If there was a lull, no one would pick up their phone. There would just be silence until we moved onto another topic. I ended up learning so much about my son.”

Khobe and Jamie posing beside two camels.

Khobe and Jamie used camels, horses and motorcycles to get around the country. (Image submitted by Jamie Clarke)

Khobe said as soon as the pair landed in Mongolia, their relationship turned from father-son to buddies.

“It was like gaining a best friend,” Khobe said.

And they actually got along — minus a few snags.

Now, they’re closer because of it.

Khobe and Jamie smiling together on their motorcycles.

The father-son duo was all smiles while posing for a picture on their adventure. (Image submitted by Jamie Clarke)

Motorbike, horseback and camel

“Expedition Mongolia,” as Khobe and Jamie call it, wasn’t just about being phone-free. It was also full of adventures.

Those adventures took the pair across the country on motorbike, horseback and even camels.

After nearly a month of exploring the landscape — filled with vast plains, rivers and waterways — the father-son duo topped off their trip by hiking to the top of Mount Khüiten.

A picture of Mount Khüiten, which is estimated to be 4,375-metres tall. Climbing to the peak can be dangerous and involves trekking through snow and ice.

Mount Khüiten is estimated to be 4,375-metres tall. Climbing to the peak can be dangerous and involves trekking through snow and ice. (Image credit: Mongolia Trek & Club)

“It was super challenging and definitely a cultural shock for me,” Khobe said. “I’m not the super traveller my dad is.”

Jamie had been dreaming of going to Mongolia for a long time, but was already an experienced traveller and mountaineer.

Khobe, meanwhile, had never ridden a motorcycle or climbed a major mountain before landing in Mongolia. 

Although he had trained for a year leading up to the trip, climbing to the top of Mount Khüiten proved to be far more exhausting and mentally-challenging than expected.

But getting to the top made it all worth it.

“I remember getting there with tears in my eyes,” Khobe said.

“I grew up in the shadow of a very accomplished mountaineer, and this was the first time I could say, ‘I did it too.’”

With files from CBC News, CBC Radio’s Now or Never

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