"Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it." -- Max Frisch
In my previous installment of this three-part piece on STD (Sudden Technology Deprivation), I promised some perspective on my unplanned seven days without my usual tools... those tools that have so disengaged us from everything but bits, bytes and bleeps.
My adventure in the "Great Unplugged Universe" continues (please -- no acronyms).
Initially, I had to get into the rhythm of doing things differently. I now had extra time on my hands; what was that going to yield? I reverted to the methods of communication I grew up with: I called old pals from a landline... just to talk. I hand-wrote notes to old friends (a tradition worth keeping). I spent quality time with the written word, rediscovering "real" books and magazines, enjoying the tactile sensation of the cool pages in my hands. I did errands I'd been putting off for months. I volunteered. I listened to an actual radio and smiled as I fine-tuned the dials. I closed my eyes and listened to songs. I tidied up. I purged old paper files. I amped up the exercise. I opened my window and just looked outside. I daydreamed. I cleared my mind and actually made some memories that for once I didn't instantaneously share with everyone.
I remembered what I did before all this online activity began. I became more engaged in nurturing human connections and conversations and physically, really connected. I spent quiet time alone -- I actually had room for thought; allowing my mind to wander down a path I don't usually take, one without virtual demands and a steady stream of digitally shared experience. I meditated for longer periods and took walks, feeling the sun, energized by this undistracted opportunity to notice things that I'd passed by for so long but didn't actually see.
I took in the solitude while waiting for a pal for lunch. I enjoyed debating trivia with friends, without robotically searching for facts from the palm of my hand. Inconvenient, yes, but also authentic and freeing. I made the most of this unplanned time by filling it with social activities.
While on line (not online) at the grocery store, undistracted without my 2-by-5 inch "friend," I struck up a conversation with a woman whose cart had almost identical items as mine. She'd recently moved to the neighborhood -- into my building! We commented on our identical groceries and discovered other things in common. We're planning to get together. Whaddya know?! My face wasn't buried in my device and I made a new real live friend! When you're not glued to that "rectangular crutch," the unexpected can happen.
I had been living in an electronic fog. Cyber-"buzzed." Without realizing it, I always brought the whole wide world with me wherever I went, but didn't always see my smaller human world. Of course, the problem isn't the technology but how we use it. I was connected to everything and everyone but life and those around me. I was squandering free moments by monitoring email and other online activities. Status updates, web surfing, mindless searches and word games had added up to a whole lot of hours of my life! Did this really enrich my existence? It's mind-boggling how much mental space this cyberspace takes up.
It's so obvious that many of us spend too much time looking at life through some type of screen. Recently, in my professional existence, while working on the production of Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular, I noticed almost everyone was capturing this dazzling display through the limited, narrow lens of a camera phone and not fully immersed in this spectacle unfolding over their heads. Nobody watched the fireworks, they recorded the fireworks. They were removed from the experience but not fully living it. The experience really is in the memory, not the photo. By choosing to digitally document a "missed" experience, we sacrifice living it in real time. I never realized that my smartphone dying during that time would be a blessing. Otherwise, I might've missed out, too.
Since my forced detox, even after plugging back in, I've settled into a quieter rhythm and more natural zone of focus. I've unsubscribed from frivolous promotional emails, pointless newsletters, apps that are time wasters and reduced the frequency of refreshing email notifications. I've pruned my online connections. I've birthed new habits. I'm setting boundaries between work and personal time. I'm less scattered and distracted. I'm wasting less time. I have the reins in my hands again. I haven't been this productive or at ease in quite a while.
Did I miss being connected at first? Of course. Am I ultimately grateful I lost the "power" of technology for seven days? Absolutely. The electronic silence proved to be enlightening and forced me towards a healthier technology life.
My observations and resulting realizations are too numerous to cover here. My final reflections on the great "unplugged" will follow in an upcoming piece.