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.