I’ve told the story of how I founded TTYL more times than I can remember. It’s the question that I always get asked at my events, from distant family members and even on dating apps. “Wow, such a great idea! How’d you come up with it?”
For starters, my brain doesn’t work linearly. I’ve never been particularly good at Math or Science, making it extremely difficult for me in high school to get by in those subjects. I thrived in English and anything artistic, but after school activities were where I could shine. I couldn’t wait for that school bell to ring so that I could rush out the door to meet my mom, grab a pastry, and leap into dance class, cartwheel into gymnastics or belt into chorus. There was nothing I liked more than to perform and let my creative side run free.
At home, my parents restricted my technology use from an early age. I distinctly remember my mom coming into the den to tell me that this was the last night I could watch a Disney movie on a weeknight. I was four years old. From that moment on, the rules were: no TV Monday-Thursday, no video games at all, restricted computer usage when it came to playing games on sites such as Miniclip or Addictinggames.com and no Wii or Guitar Hero, etc. Basically, my parents were healthy tech before it was a thing.
To this day, I feel guilty about watching TV during the week. The only time I’ve ever been grounded was when I snuck the first five minutes of The Ultimate Christmas Present, Disney Channel Original movie on a school night. With my parents’ regulation, I found TV to be a luxury. It was something that you should earn, not something that should be used as a distraction. In middle school, my Friday afternoons became a tradition. I would come home to make a box of Annie’s mac & cheese and sit in front of the TV for hours watching American Idol with a friend.
During the week, however, my afternoons were fueled by my imagination. Dressing up as Ariel and singing, “Part of Your World,” around the house at the top of my lungs while my mom cooked dinner, building Lego castles for my Barbie dolls and anything arts & crafts were in my constant rotation of activities. My imagination was able to run wild because I was given the space to be bored.
In the 21st century, boredom just doesn’t exist, especially in New York City. Even when I’m trying to create space by going for a walk or taking the subway without headphones, as I often do, I am met with constant distractions. People are bustling about going every which way and the ads on the subway are so intriguing today that I find myself reading and re-reading them rather than sitting in my own thoughts.
As I look back on that time in my life, I have realized that my parents were providing me with a unique experience that is becoming rarer and rarer every day. Having the space to be bored fueled my creative outlet, allowing me to find my true potential. Today, I have applied this childhood solo playtime into what I call, “solo experiences.” Every week, I block out a night, a morning or an afternoon and I take myself out on a date without my phone. As I found myself getting busier and busier—balancing everything from a full-time job and starting a business to working out and having a social life—I found myself missing the alone time that I took advantage of as a child. To feel more grounded and connected to myself, I made myself a priority and reincorporated “me time” into my weekly routine.
These experiences have included everything from going to a concert by myself to trying meditation to receiving a reiki session. Since I’ve been incorporating more play into my life and getting outside my comfort zone, I feel more fulfilled, lighter and full of energy. Ideas will often pop in my head in these moments because I have given my mind the space it needs to make connections. These hours have allowed me to learn about myself in ways I never had before and they give me the rejuvenation I need during the hectic workweek.
Another habit I have re-incorporated into my life is reading. I prioritize books on television. I leave a book on my nightstand and my phone charging in the other room so that when I go to sleep at night, I feel a pull to read a few chapters rather than scroll through Instagram. This habit has not only helped me sleep better, but my mind is clearer when I wake up in the morning as well.
In addition to filling my afternoons with play as a child, I would have a multitude of meaningful conversations with my mom for hours and hours and hours. Again, at the time, I didn’t realize the significance of these conversations, but as I look back now, I realize that not only was this precious mother/daughter bonding time, it was also a genuine human connection and a constant deepening of our relationship. To this day, my favorite pastime is to have a simple conversation with a friend over food or a cup of matcha or spending an afternoon together adventuring through NYC. From these interactions, I can understand my friends on a deeper level, therefore creating a bond that I nurture every time we get together.
As I’ve taken the time to learn about my friends, I have been able to connect them to each other as well. I’ll gather a group of three or four friends who haven’t necessarily met and set them up on a somewhat “blind date.” We’ll all go out to dinner and an event or a comedy show or grab drinks. I’ve found that combining the act of sharing a meal and going on an adventure allows you to really get to know a person. You can learn about them over the meal by having a meaningful conversation and then by going through a shared experience, you are making memories together.
Having meaningful connections is one thing, but finding time to be creative is another. Creativity is often now associated with how people express themselves on Instagram and people have lost the interest to play because they are filling their time with technology. With the influx of technology, social media, and the abundance of entertainment in the world today, it’s become increasingly difficult to find time to focus on our own creative outlets. As I’ve grown up in the digital age, I’ve felt that technological pull many times and have often fell victim to it like everyone else.
TTYL was born out of FOMO. Yes, you heard that right. I had a bad case of it while on vacation with my family and quickly came to my senses after scrolling mindlessly through my friends’ Instagram stories, wishing I was with them. I recalled this time in my childhood where my parents, sister and I would sit around the fire playing Sorry! or putting a 1,000 piece puzzle together. During these wonderful moments, we had full conversations with one another that flowed easily because we had something fun to play with. I realized that people were able to bond more by having a meaningful conversation through a shared experience.
TTYL came to life from the nostalgia of my childhood. From board games to arts & crafts to performances by singers and comedians, I realized that I have always been happiest when separated from technology and creating a shared experience for people to enjoy. The importance of play today is vital for our creativity and imagination. Since technology isn’t going away, we need to find experiences that allow us to create the necessary space in our minds, which I believe will cultivate a more positive and less lonely society.
But if I was really forced to put it into a Math equation, I would say this: my unique upbringing + my theater degree + the rise of social media/technology = TTYL. I can’t explain it. That’s just how my brain works.
Liana Pavane is a digital wellness expert and founder of TTYL—a tech-free community dedicated to human connection. Liana founded TTYL in 2018 to help people have a healthier relationship with technology and social media. Since launching, she has been featured on NY1, Bedford + Bowery, The Joy List, the SHIPS podcast, and more for her work in digital wellness. As a professional community builder, Liana believes in the power of unplugging and living in the present moment. Her tech-free events have been hosted at prominent spaces such as Athleta, Showfields, The Assemblage, The Phluid Project, and Tijuana Picnic. Liana is also a born and raised New Yorker who studied theatre at Ithaca College. When she’s not growing her business or hosting an event, you can find Liana networking with like-minded people or finding joy away from her phone.