Phoneless in Italy: What I Discovered

Phoneless in Italy: What I Discovered
Natalie Kozma
July 09, 2015
Natalie Kozma

This is not a standard blog with generic tips on how to thrive on social media (we can agree enough of those exist). This is a blog about why you should avoid it.

For my fellow marketing professionals, I understand if your skepticism just swelled. It’s safe to assume that your not-so “nine-to-five” job is engrossed with managing client social networks, and the naive notion of escaping it sounds like a rescue mission led by MacGruber.

But let me introduce you to a little concept called “la dolce vita,” and see if I can dwindle your dubiety. It’s a story that begins 4,646 miles away in Rome and ends back in lovely Lansing, with a delicious middle filling of churches, museums, gelato – and a lost cell phone.


I studied abroad at the American University of Rome in – you guessed it – Rome, Italy, from late January to mid-May (Why? See “Advertising Made Me Do It”).

The original purpose of the trip was to study communication in a global arena, step outside my comfort zone, broaden my horizons and every other cliché there is involving wanting to see the world. I was told it would be life changing. I knew it would be life changing. So how did my life change?

Aside from the obvious answer that I was living in a foreign country, adjusting to a new culture and devouring the finest cuisine on Earth … my attitude experienced the largest transformation. By March I thought I’d done a stand-up job assimilating to an Italian lifestyle. “Prendo un cappuccino e un cornetto con cioccolato, per favore!” I declared at a café for breakfast with a smidge more confidence than the day prior.

I could navigate from my apartment to the adored tourist spots, such as the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. I could order prosciutto over the counter at my local supermarket. With faint resistance I adapted to the oddity that if it is 65 and sunny, winter coats are still standard attire for Italians. “For me, it is always winter,” my Italian roommate Elisabetta said to me once, zipping her furry jacket as she looked in horror at my shorts and T-shirt. I counseled her never to visit Michigan in January.

It was a sweet life (but it wasn’t quite “la dolce vita” – I promise I’ll explain this concept soon). I wanted to share it. On Facebook. On Instagram. On SnapChat. But why? Part of it was to keep in touch with family and friends, but it became more of a vanity project. It felt good to get “Likes,” and Italy was giving me ample material to brag about.

So. Cue the attitude adjustment!


It was spring break, and I traveled to Spain for about 12 days. I’ll spare you the tragic details, but on the second day of my Spanish stint I lost my phone. Eight days remained until my flight back to temporary home base in Rome. About three weeks passed before my replacement phone arrived.

It took losing my phone for me to recognize how much I abused it, and also what little value it added to my life. Mindless scrolling, obsessive refreshing and unnecessary selfies – does this sound familiar to any of you? This was the turning point. Not just for my semester, but a turning point in my attitude about the role social media plays in my life. It will go down in history as the 2015 Liberation of Natalie’s Hobbies. The hours held captive from sifting through timelines were freed! Books were welcomed back to the bedtime routine! Journals, once desolate and hungry for handwriting, were pervaded with pages and pages of jocular tales! Dinner conversations flowed without interruptions from dings, pings or buzzes!

It all clicked, this lifestyle – the one where I was not constantly connected or concerned with a virtual reality. This was what “la dolce vita” means. In Italian, “la dolce vita” literally translates to “the sweet life” or “the good life,” which emphasizes the value of simple luxury. Italians enjoy a slower pace of life, and make time for what is important to them. Lavish lunches. Espresso breaks. Family time. My phone never made the list of “things I loved,” and by freeing myself of the need to impress others who were 4,646 miles away, I finally felt that I was embracing the Italian culture. I found serenity.  

I’m not trying to shame anyone here. This is just my experience, and why I believe there’s merit to balancing your social media usage outside of work. However, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling as if daily social media management is obligatory, or simply addictive. Just the other day my stepsister told me she deleted the Facebook application from her phone because she realized she wasn’t controlling it – it was controlling her.  

I won’t pretend to have the end-all, be-all answer to this problem.  We all are different and hold unique values. Instead, I can offer a short list of questions that can guide you to your own definition of a sweeter life.

  • How many hours do I spend on social media for work?
  • How many hours do I spend on social media outside of work?
  • Do I enjoy being connected at all times?
  • Does social media make me happy?
  • What activity do I miss doing that I “don’t have time” for?