FINALLY, I thought. Netflix, emails and web surfing won't be able to distract me from all the other things that I always want to do on the weekend.
These words were the first to come to mind when I decided to join in the collective 24-hour digital detox known as National Day of Unplugging last Friday. I didn't worry about my ability to survive a social media hiatus -- unlike many people my age, I fare pretty well without it most days. I wasn't too excited to put my continuous texting conversation with my best friend on hold -- our mutual dependence on each other can border on unhealthy some days -- but I knew we could pull through. Overall, I was excited. I finally had an excuse to try something I had wanted to do for quite some time now -- fall off the digital grid, live in the moment and just see what happens.
However, within five minutes of shutting down my work laptop and silencing my iPhone, I felt anxious. Did I remember to tell everyone that I would be unreachable for the next 24 hours? Is there anything I'm going to need to do between now and tomorrow night that requires wifi? Oh well, it's too late now.
As I put on my coat and walked to the office elevators, I reached for my phone to check the weather (I'm a serial weather-checker. Blame my mother for that one). This might be tougher than I thought. I braced myself for the unknown between my office and the subway staircase, which turned out to be not so bad after all. I did not crush any candy on my train ride home; instead, I people-watched and quickly realized how many of my fellow passengers were plugged in themselves.
I decided to start my detox with a gym workout and a quiet night in. I couldn't remember the last time I stepped onto a treadmill -- an outdoor runner's mortal enemy -- without music-blasting headphones to distract me from utter boredom. This ought to be interesting. I switched off the mini television screen in front of me as well and started my three-mile run. Staring at my reflection in the dark screen, I focused intently on how my by body felt, making adjustments as my developing IT band syndrome sent the occasional jolt of pain through my right knee. Instead of zoning out and pushing through to the metaphorical finish line, I really listened to my breathing and pacing. And it felt surprisingly good. I ran fast, strong and engaged, and breezed through the rest of my workout, dodging the big screen televisions that covered the gym walls.
I spent the rest of the evening browsing through a stack of recipe books I had ignored for the last three months. After flagging the pages that would inspire my Sunday night cooking session, I turned out the lights. It was only 11 p.m., but I fell sound asleep within minutes.
Ten hours later, I awoke feeling more rested, relaxed and at peace than I had in months. I had forgotten these feelings of serenity and mental clarity, and I was beyond happy to have them back. As the sun poured in my bedroom window, I contemplated how I wanted to spend the surprisingly warm Saturday. Instead of rushing through a morning routine, I took my time. I was present.
After showering and tying my hair into a quick braid, I set out for East River Park with my current issue of New York Magazine and a coffee, and spent the next two hours soaking up the sun, sipping my caffeine, reading for fun appreciating views of my neighborhood I would have otherwise missed by staring at my cell phone.
The rest of my day unplugged included a little shopping, more reading, and a catnap just because I felt like it. I spent the half hour before sunset sitting on my bed just looking out the window and enjoying the stillness that had become so rare in my life. I had set out on this detox mission to do the things I rarely found time to do, but it didn't occur to me until these last few minutes to do nothing. So I took this little bit of time to be with myself, and experience living in the most idle of moments.
I'm pleased to say that when the sun did finally set and my technology ban lifted, I didn't jump to turn my devices back on. Instead, I attended my favorite spinning class and spent an hour catching up with my instructor afterwards. I didn't think to check my missed text messages, emails or social media notifications until 8 p.m. as I started the walk home. Immediately I noticed how different it felt to stare at my fingertips throughout my commute rather than engage with my surroundings. I had gone right back to being one of the plugged-in masses, and I didn't like it. I put my phone back in my pocket, and looked up -- it could wait until I got home.
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