I am in Cappadoccia, Turkey, one of the birthplaces of civilization, and I am going through withdrawal.
1. I have not read an email or spoken on the phone for 54 hours. In other words, I am off the grid: no Facebook, no Twitter, no texting, no phone usage.
I'm not quite back in the early 90s -- I'm using my iPhone as a camera instead of my bulkier SLR digital; I have the iPad to write on, and the Kindle app for extra reads, supplementing my supply of real books -- making "carry-on" for 18 days even possible.
Only a decade ago, when I went abroad, I expected to be out of touch -- that only death or true crisis would intrude upon my travels. The world was bigger then.
Why does internet abstinence feel so challenging?
Temptations? I've been tempted to peek at email and check Facebook -- OK, I did send a photo from my iPhone yesterday to my Swiss friend sitting next to me so she could use it -- a slip of sorts, perhaps, but I'm not counting it. I will not take the chance of repeating even that incursion into digital communication. It's cold turkey from now on...
2. It's been a full week. My friends have finally stopped asking me if I'm getting wi-fi connection on my devices. The world continues to function without my input. Events both local and international unfold, and my lack of connectedness has no visible effect. I trust that I'll hear if Turkey invades Syria -- not that many miles away.
A short email sent by my ex saying that my dog is well but misses me was relayed via my Swiss friend -- another indirect communication -- not a slip, but oddly thrilling. Not sending a reply, a picture, a joking response, marks my steadfast separation.
I am left to myself and the seven eclectic fellow voyagers -- without the usual illusion that I'm still part of the life back home. I may imagine the emails piling up in my inbox, that numerous folk are stunned by my absence -- but my silence is no more than a blip on anybody's screen...
3. I'm playing at this, of course. Like a sensory deprivation tank, this is artificial: I am actually two clicks from anyone on the grid anywhere in the world. Why even bother?
Technology is neutral. Our relationship to it is not. As we continue to shrink the world, to make it functionally flatter and more manageable, we will be making choices -- choices that can enhance our participation in interpersonal relations and commerce -- brotherhood and world peace may in fact be digitally denied or elected one day. What is certain is that we will have to set our boundaries -- personally and professionally.
I have read that at least one European nation is considering limits on business demands for connectedness. That an employee cannot be forced to be available 24/7. Whether this is legislated or not, each of us will have to consider our willingness to shut off our phones, to go offline, to be unreachable for hours, perhaps days not only as an option, but as a necessity.
The simplest definition of being in the present is to be where your body is. While I am commuting eight blocks between my New York apartment and my Soho office, I can walk without passing a single person not on a device of some sort. On occasion, I am one of them. I find this disturbing because we are not where our bodies are. By not being present, we are missing the potential glory of the moment. Beauty and serendipity await us when we are in the present -- joy is enlivened not via text but via our senses. Are we sacrificing aliveness to an illusion of connection?
Don't get me wrong, I love technology. It brings options for communication and a certain kind of connectedness that are miraculous to those of us not born in this century -- but we need to be awake. The illusion of intimacy it provides can seduce us away from the real intimacy we crave.
In Hollywood in the studio era, movie magazines presented stars' lives as staged images -- an impossible illusion of perfection. This has crept into our consciousness. We think that fame and fortune bring a perfect life. Any star who bought into their PR was and is in danger. Today, via Facebook and Twitter, we can all present our lives as a production rather than a reality.
I have observed at close hand the tendency to put the recording of the moment before the experience of the moment. I could be posting photos and Tweets that would be likely to cause interest and envy amongst my "followers." That I truly am in a beautiful place enjoying myself is secondary to the ability I have to make it seem so with or without it being true.
4. Today, by accident I came upon the information that July has begun. I am not sure of the day of the week or how long I have been off the grid. It feels marvelous. I'm out of my life -- and I don't have to think about re-entry for several days -- a blessed state of mind! In recent years I have been as far away geographically, but I hadn't separated from the vibration of my life.
5. It's been almost two weeks now, and I am about to end the "off the grid" experiment.
I'm sailing on a wonderful wooden sailboat called a gulet across exquisite green and aqua waters, untouched hills and mountains in majestic witness of a timeless journey. When the wind is in the sails and the sea is not too rough, it is some kind of heaven.
In a few days I will begin the return journey -- a flight to Istanbul, a night in Amsterdam and then home to beloved New York City, to my sweet Lab, and the renewed excitement of work groups and sessions -- and a reading to celebrate The New 60, my recent book.
I've taken this hiatus from technology to prepare for my next level of embracing it: It's up to me to set boundaries as I embark on video conferencing, online classes with Learn It Live and Skype therapy sessions with far-flung clients -- another chapter in an age of constant development and change. It feels essential to practice mindfulness as I dive in ever deeper.
For more by Robert Levithan, click here.
For more on unplugging and recharging, click here.