Good morning! Time to get online!

I bookmarked this article from the New York Times a few years ago and read it again on Friday night. It wasn’t the inspiration for creating the “Unplugged” category on my blog, but it was definitely a motivator to try doing it again. (The first time I actively avoided using technology happened about two years ago.)

I think it’s worth noting that it was easier for me than it would have been for Kord Campbell: I don’t own an iPad, I don’t work with computers on a daily basis and I don’t ride the subway, so I have no idea how long I’d be offline inside a tunnel. That said, it’s not like I’ve been living in a secluded cabin. There’s still a TV in the house, I’ve got a laptop on my desk and an iPhone in my pocket… technology isn’t always in front of me, but it’s almost always there.

So I decided to try to avoid it on Saturday. I decided I was only going to use my phone for my alarm and that was it! Okay, I would have used it like a regular phone, too, but that was it! Until I decided to use it for listening to music later that night, but that was it for really real that time!

The urge to get online hit me as soon as I woke up. Normally, I roll over, then delete maybe a dozen emails from various mailing lists. (Admittedly, I let myself cheat a little bit right away: I’d written someone a message on Friday night about something happening on Sunday, so I opened up my email account, read that single reply, then turned off my phone again.)

In the early afternoon, our immediate family was meeting at a restaurant to celebrate several birthdays at once, so that helped pull me away from the laptop and television. It also helped pull me away from my phone as well because I accidentally left it on my bed before we took off, but the urge to use it was still there in force.

During the course of the meal, people were showing off pictures on their phones, looking for random information on the Internet… I wanted to pull out my phone for the same reason. I had some cool pictures I’d taken, there was something I wanted to look up during a conversation, but I couldn’t. My phone wasn’t there, but I wanted it. “Shawn wants the Precious, but the nasty little hobbitses left it at home.”

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad.

When I got home, I grabbed my phone, opened it up and saw that I hadn’t missed any calls. Didn’t check my email or Twitter, just closed it and put it in my pocket. Time to find something else to do.

So I started cleaning house. Or at least my small part of it. I’ve had way too much junk mail building up into little piles (that have slowly turned into big piles) over many months. After getting the space heater and humidifier out of my room—I’m hoping we’re finally done with blizzards here in Minnesota this spring—I plugged in my paper shredder and started clearing out some of those piles. I’d pull up a handful of old credit card offers, tear off the address labels, shred those, then dump the rest into a bag for recycling. Again. And again. And again.

It started getting tedious pretty quickly: tear, shred, dump. That’s when I cheated a second time by turning on some music. It helped keep my brain occupied, I could bob my head to the beat and occasionally sing along a little bit. (Yes, I can sing. No, I don’t do karaoke, so don’t bother asking.) It helped the time pass more quickly.

I was starting to feel burned out after a couple hours of being productive, so when the clock struck midnight? I turned into an electric pumpkin. Time to delete emails, scroll through my Twitter feed and play around on Facebook for a while.

Even though my “electronic fast” only lasted a day, I think it was worth it, if only as a reminder to step back once in a while. Focus less on online distractions and more on people. Get away from the TV and log off Facebook; enjoy spending time with friends and family. PUT THE SMARTPHONE DOWN. Unless someone’s actually calling you. Then it’s okay to answer the siren song of technology.

No laptop? No Internet? No problem!

[As handwritten on May 27th]

I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, which comes with the territory when you usually wait until the AM hours to start packing. Consequently, I’ve already taken a couple of naps today. Yay for naps!

I once again remembered why I don’t like talking about politics during lunch this afternoon. Discussion of constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage = pissed-off participants.

It occurred to me a couple minutes ago some of the effects of technology, which are… sorta negative: the immediate access to information.

We’ll be coming home on Tuesday the 31st. We’ll also be getting a phone call that morning. Mom thought we might be roaming up here—out of normal range for cell phones, so answering calls is more expensive. Thus, that person will call the house and we’ll listen to the message when we get home.

I’m not sure why Mom doesn’t know, but they built a tower around here a few years ago and we get really good reception now. I thought about telling her so we could get that phone call here or while we’re on the road. That’s when it clicked: we don’t need to know right away.

I’m still trying to avoid technology (and I’m not talking about lamps and the refrigerator). Up to this point, we’ve listened to the weather radio for a little while and the TV is on in the other room. I think I’m winning.

But the point is that I don’t need to rely on my cell phone on Tuesday. If we wait for a couple hours, we’ll get pretty much the same information when we get home. So I won’t say anything. If Mom figures out the reception deal, I’ll take the call. If she doesn’t, I’ll stay unplugged for a few more hours.

(Note that I’m not saying I don’t like the immediate access to information. I’ve already had the thought “I wish I could Google that” float through my head this afternoon, but I think I’ll be okay.)

[Author’s note: We ended up using my phone a couple times, which I don’t feel guilty about—the calls were pretty important. What’s ironic is that on a day when the sky was overcast and gloomy, my phone lost the signal in the middle of a call and we were in roaming when he called back. *facepalm*]

Time to unplug (again)

I thought of trying to write something more substantial in this blog entry, but I have things to do before 8:30am tomorrow, which is when I’ll be leaving for the cabin with some family members, which will hopefully include my grandma. (If she’s not feeling well, she’d rather stay closer to a hospital—can’t blame a 93-year-old for wanting to be cautious.)

I have work that I probably should be doing which would require my laptop, but I’ll be leaving it at home this time. At this point, I’m thinking I’ll leave everything home but my phone, which I don’t use that often anyway (one of the benefits of having an old-school flip phone as opposed to something that can access the Internet). There’s a TV and a radio at the cabin, but there’s also space to read lots of books and take lots of naps. I’ll probably be doing both.

I may do a little journal-writing and post it on here after I get home, but the important part is just getting away. The sun will wake me up instead of my alarm (whether I want it to or not), my email account will get stuffed with crap I may or may not read… all sorts of things that will be waiting for me back here, so there’s no point in worrying about it there.

So no computer, no mp3 player, won’t watch the TV… nada. I’m pretty sure I’ll feel at ease rather than anxious, but I probably won’t know for sure until after the second or third nap. Have a good Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

My Little Book of Revelations

Not surprisingly, I haven’t sat down to write something about the end results from being unplugged for the weekend. Part of that was because of school: we had our usual class on Thursday night, then another on Saturday morning. I’m not a morning person as it stands, but waking up for school? I was supposed to be done with that in high school.

[Update: It’s taken long enough to finish this entry that we had class again this Thursday, but in my defense, I had to prepare a two-person PowerPoint presentation. Aside from never having used PowerPoint before, I had a microscopic amount of assistance from my partner. Grrrr…]

Nevertheless, I’ve found ways to occupy myself that haven’t involved writing. Some have been productive; some… not so much. But I’m back to the blog and I’m being honest when I say I realized a few things about myself and society as a whole during the course of that weekend.

Perhaps the most important lesson was that if you’re going to write something by hand, consider your posture and body positioning before doing so. I did it for two nights sitting in bed, my back against a bunch of pillows, my knees pulled up and the pad of paper resting against my thighs. It was only two nights, mind you, but it made me glad I was schedule to visit the chiropractor that Tuesday.

Things were feeling out-of-kilter in my hand and forearm and stretching wasn’t fixing the problem. I told the chiro about what I’d been doing, she felt my hand, shifted bones in three places (which was actually kinda painful) and told me to apply ice and stretch out the top of my forearm by pushing my hand down with my arm extended. I never used the ice—adjusting my hand and stretching cleared things up just fine.

Admittedly, I turned on my laptop as soon as the weekend was over (i.e., shortly after midnight). I was concerned because I’d been reading before, put the book down for a moment, then woke up an hour later. If I tried reading and accidentally fell asleep again, there’s no way I would have been able to sleep that night. (It was hard enough with just the single nap.) So it turns out that my computer keeps me awake and it’s an excellent distraction from sleep. Using websites like Facebook and YouTube make distractions that much easier—you lose track of time and suddenly it’s 3:00 in the morning.

But it’s almost impossible to unplug completely and avoid all electronic versions of entertainment. Surfing the Internet, watching TV, listening to music—it’s all so accessible and it’s all been thrust into the forefront of our lives. We turn them on without a second thought and sometimes have them on without paying attention to them. I’m guilty of that one: I listen to mp3s on my laptop a lot while I’m using it. I may be doing other things, but having some sound in the background… would gray noise suffice? TV static? Humidifier? Electric heater? Possibly.

The easiest way to avoid temptation was to spend large chunks of Friday and Saturday helping my friends move. You might accuse me of cheating because we had the radio while packing and in the car when driving from place to place and that may be a valid accusation, but in that case, it works as a distraction from the doldrums of repetitive motion like when I was working in the kitchen: “Lift item off shelf, put in box… lift item off shelf, put in box… put box on floor, tape shut, put empty box on counter… lift item off shelf, put in box…”

But the point is while I kept my hands busy and my mind occupied with what needed to get packed, I never thought about what e-mails or videos on YouTube might be waiting for me when I got home. It was a relief from any temptation that might have arisen during that time.

[Given that the official experiment is done, I don’t feel overly guilty is saying that this blog entry might not be complete, but I want to post it so that people can read it while I go to a friend’s house for “Bad Movie Night.” Yes, I’m leaving to enjoy a type of electronic entertainment, but perhaps it’s better that I’m doing it with a group of people instead of just myself and the TV… something else to consider in the future. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend and try not to spend it all in front of your computers.]


[As handwritten on Feb 27th]

(Of course, writing that title makes it false since “this” is now happening.)

It feels like [February] 17th and 18th all over again. I almost never have evening plans—I’m boring like that—and somehow, I got triple-booked on Thursday and quadruple-booked on Friday. Seriously, WTF doesn’t begin to describe it.

In this case, I’m still trying to avoid using computers, but somehow, I ended up having to use one for doing paperwork. (Homework can wait for another day, but this stuff needs to get mailed out tomorrow.) I’ve been able to limit my usage to MS Word, music, e-mail and the blog’s dashboard, but today still feels like I cheated. I (almost) never have to use a computer on a given day… this sucks.

Since I’m not helping my friends move today, I’ve had more time (and greater temptation) to plop down in front of the TV to watch sports… thankfully, the Oscars are on tonight, so I’m feeling an instinctive urge to avoid the television no matter what channel is on.

I have been doing some more reading since yesterday, in part because I woke up at 5:30AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. Still, I polished off one bookmarked book, so I’m down to probably two dozen.

Reading is actually another reason why I want to use my laptop. I’ve got my textbook for class next to the bed, but it’s slow going. The prof made PowerPoint slideshows to outline Chapters 1 and 2—looking at those might help with quicker reading comprehension, but “Hey, Foot, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Gun and his sidekick, Bullet!”

That’s about all I can think of at the moment. I may finish this experiment with a recording describing my final thoughts, but if I do, it’ll probably be an audio recording. That way, I won’t have to worry about lighting, shaving, wearing pants… I’ll probably be wearing pants. Remember, this is a laptop and I have no desire to devise a new experiment that resembles “Shawn nuts roasting on an open fire.”

It’s been an interesting experiment so far

[As handwritten on Feb. 26th]

First off, I have to come clean and admit that I’ve done more than check my e-mail on my laptop. I’ve taken a look at the blog’s stats a couple times, see how many people have visited, delete spam, etc. I’m also using it to listen to music as I write this, but I had given myself permission to use my mp3 player during this weekend when I wasn’t allowed to surf the web or watch TV. There’s just one problem.

There’s no music on my mp3 player.

I’ve been using it to listen to an audio book and never got around to switching/deleting those files and replacing them with music, so… I’m cheating a little.

Honestly, I’ve been surprised at the siren’s song which is my computer. I went to bed early last night since I was tired, didn’t sleep well and eventually woke up around 3AM. Normally, I’d probably open the laptop and surf the Internet for a couple hours until I got tired again. This time (after a minor internal struggle), I read a book for a while, then rolled around in bed until I finally fell asleep.

When I woke up this morning, my first impulse was to check my e-mail. After hitting the snooze bar a couple times, of course. That was a little disturbing, to be honest. If it happens again tomorrow morning, I may want to consider signing up for EA: E-mailers Anonymous.

I’ve been fortunate in one sense because I have some friends who are moving into a new house this weekend, so I’ve been helping them pack and carry stuff, thereby keeping me away from computers. (Thankfully, I devised the experiment so I can use my phone. If I hadn’t, I would have been fucked—it’s important to know which house I should go to at which time if I’m going to help.)

There’s also a downside to helping them move (isn’t there always something?): I’m writing this by hand now and typing it out later, which means that sore hands and arms from lifting and carrying = hand cramps while writing.

So it’s true that I’ve been doing some more reading and other stuff that doesn’t involve having a computer in my lap. However, I miss the immediate access to information. I’ve had some conversations the last few days and I’m left to wonder when “Uncle Sam” was created as a kind of icon to represent the U.S.

I was also talking with someone about X-Men: First Class coming out this year and how we’re both disappointed that Kevin Bacon is in the film. She’s more upset about his presence; I don’t like the fact that he’s playing Sebastian Shaw. He’s supposed to have a more physically imposing presence than Kevin Bacon can muster, but I can’t just jump on Marvel’s website or Wikipedia to show pictures of them next to each other. (When I type this out as a blog entry, I’ll include some pics so you guys can understand what I’m talking about.)

Which one looks more like an evil mutant who could beat up the X-Men?

I guess that’s all for now. I’m looking forward to typing this (and other stuff) since it’s faster and more efficient, but I doubt that having to wait will lead to any twitching or sweating. The lack of Internet porn, though… go ahead, make a joke about the hand cramps. Then I can make a joke about having two hands. Now which one of us is gonna have trouble sleeping tonight? (It’ll probably still be me—not using the computer makes me want to go to bed earlier and it’s totally messing with my sleep schedule.)