Unplugging is “to give up craving, to live mindfully, to move toward nirvana” (Sanskrit for ‘complete liberation’). -- Faisal Hoque
In my most recent blog, I furthered my exploration of the mind-opening experience that accompanied an involuntary, week-long personal technology deprivation. Here are my final reflections and conclusions. I feared isolation, a dizzying suspension in an unwired world without instant communication; instead, I found freedom, balance and textured interpersonal give-and-take.
Shockingly, my time "unwired" wasn't as painful as expected. Although I had no control over my inbox and couldn't take side trips on social media, I enjoyed my new-found offline freedom. I didn't lose any Facebook friends or real friends. I paused, but the Internet and the rest of the world carried on without me. I was zagging when the rest of the world was zigging. And that was ok.
As I started spending more time off the grid, I was able to focus more productively in less time. Had all those hours of online activity limited my attention span? Apart from the initial anxiety of what I was missing, there were no life-changing crises. I never realized how much time and energy I spent refreshing my inbox, being thrown off by an unexpected email or deciding when or how to reply to a message. Not having to make any decisions about email helped both my focus and stress levels. I found this hiatus refreshing. I still love being connected in cyberspace -- but not obsessively so. I didn't miss the technological tumult. I'm no longer "connected" to being connected.
By week's end, the quiet tempo of my days seemed less foreign and more familiar. My attention span had returned, and I was mentally less exhausted, impatient, distant and self-centered. I reconnected with me. I wasn't as stressed about not knowing new things; I learned that I was still present, despite not having shared proof of my online life. The word social media has the word me in it...and we're not all about me.
Now that I've tapped back into real life, I'm more aware of a quality experience. My days feel less frantic and rushed. I've tuned into the present moment less distractedly. I'm more fully enjoying offline time and no longer seek mind-numbing stimulation on a screen and playing along out of some sense of digital duty. How one-dimensional life can feel when you stare at a screen! Reducing that screen time has evolved into a renewed, focused, energized and more present perspective on life.
And what steps have I taken to belong in the here and now?
I've set boundaries on how long I surf the net, scheduled unoccupied moments and mindless browsing, and made lists of non-digital things to do. I guess you could say I indulge in less online snacking. I'm taking more space from email by communicating more by phone and checking email less frequently. (Let's be honest: would you rather be answering emails or catching the latest episode of Scandal?)
I now work without all the bells, pings and beeps that accompany internet connection and connect with my inner voice. You'd be astonished at how much more you can get done when not distracted. Now I find the need to turn off the cacophony that sidetracks me -- email, smartphone, social media -- to truly hear what I need to hear. I've learned that I miss very little by refraining from email marathons. Keeping my email open is a thing of the past. If I do have to open my inbox, I focus only on the task at hand. I'm more engaged in nurturing human connections. In the process, I've discovered some deeper part of myself. Surrounded by the noise of the world, we've lost the value of disconnecting, and we've lost something vital.
This break made me aware that blocks of time away from digital life are crucial both to personal renewal and to work itself. We don't have the time to think about how tethered we are until we step away. In order to fully enjoy technology, we have to learn to cultivate time disconnected from the eternal technological tangle that envelops us. The key to being more fully absorbed is to regularly and fully disconnect. It is the best way to connect. I felt empowered and enriched. It's much more gratifying to connect less with digital devices and more with our brains.
The learning is in the doing -- or not doing, in this case. We need to take our foot off the digital gas pedal. We shouldn't be so focused on a screen that we risk not living our lives -- forgetting the big picture -- the people right in front of us. Face time is important - we need to see each other. In choosing to digitally fill the moments documenting life and making sure we don't miss an email or update, we're missing out on living life itself. If we need to post a status update, we'd better make sure it's something we'd be ready to share in person. Shut down the display. Care about the moment. Experience. Watch. Enjoy what's real. Reconnect with humankind.
Don't sacrifice being social "offline" in order to be social "online." The depth of our real-life connections -- family, friends, loved ones -- is more valuable than our Facebook or Instagram posts with an online cast of thousands. Virtually-socialize less. Learn to decompress. Disconnect. Reset. When it comes to our relationship with a computer, stepping off the grid makes time spent together more productive.
Our devices keep us in tune and in touch. We're just a few taps away from millions of other people, limitless information and stimulation. To live and work in today's world is to be tied by technology for better and worse. But connectivity instills an unsettling sense of urgency. When we step away, we learn that many of those "urgent" items can wait. Most everything can wait. There has never been an email that needed to be read or answered in the time I'm walking from my apartment to the bus stop, or standing in line at the bank or sharing a meal with friends. I'm learning that most of my self-imposed deadlines and time constraints that caused my stress were pretty random.
The more connected we are the more we depend on the world outside to tell us how to think and live. Do we need to be online to thrive in today's society? No. But we do need to learn to balance online activities in our lives without letting them suffocate us.
I've made an effort to maintain new activities I began in my current schedule. I'm mindful of investing myself in whatever I am doing at the moment, whether it's viewing emails, reading a book, exercising or watching TV. It's a monumental step for me. Now, when I do something, I do it fully with the attention it deserves.
I survived my mini "fast" and have extricated myself from technological manacles. I've been given a gift of restored appreciation for balance. For seven days I stepped back far enough to see that, once we've sampled a life shorn of constant electronic interruptions, devices no longer become a full-time necessity. They become tools that I no longer keep within half-an-arm's reach of me.
Plunging head-on into the real world without communications gadgets showed me the difference between need and want. We would all profit from learning how little technology we could get along with. We never know when the digital world will work against us, forcing us into doing everything "the old-fashioned way."
And now that I've lived and learned through this experiment, I can continue seeking new ways to challenge myself. Who knows? Perhaps I'll compose my next installment from the top of Mt. Everest.