Monday, March 7, 2011

My National Day of Unplugging

A friend gave me the heads up via facebook on Friday that this past weekend - specifically sundown March 4 to sundown March 5, was the second annual National Day of Unplugging, during which people are encouraged to back away from the PC and set down the smartphone.  This concept struck a chord with me.  This past Tuesday, I finished up a two-month annual stretch of intense pressure at work.  During this period, it feels like I could work every waking hour and still not get ahead.  Beyond days in the office glued to my PC, there are evening and weekend work sessions - thankfully from the comfort of my own home.  Combine that with catching up on the news, checking facebook and twitter feeds, blog reading, personal financial management, personal research projects and the (lately rare) composition of my own blog posts, and that's a lot of time spent online.  Finally, toss in prime time TV, and I'm probably spending something like 80% of my waking hours parked in front of a screen.

I've also noticed recently that all of this online activity seems to be rewiring my brain, leaving me with a critically short attention span.  If an application or page takes too long to load, no problem, just click somewhere else on the glowing screen and fall down some interweb rabbit hole.  My beloved blackberry provides me access to email and the web anytime, anywhere, and furthers the crack-like addiction to the satisfaction of clicking a button and receiving the payoff - more information, more entertainment, more of something different.  Pavlov would be delighted to see the ubiquitous manifestation of his research theories come to life as a nation of online junkies replicates itself through the power of social networking.

I knew I had a problem when I had to physically restrain myself from picking up my phone to check email at a stoplight - not because I was expecting a message or particularly wanted to receive any of the potential content therein, but simply because it was something else to do while waiting for the green light.  Really? I'm bereft without something to occupy my mind for all of 30 seconds?

So, at sundown on Friday, March 4, I accepted the challenge.  Could I unplug for 24 hours?

Here is a chronicle of my efforts to overcome the urge to plug into the matrix:

First, a fail... we were out running some errands when the sun went down Friday evening.  D stopped to peruse some vintage hi-fi equipment at a local shop.  I stayed in the car and took advantage of the time to call up our favorite pizza joint to order up the evening's dinner.  What?!  That's a perfectly legitimate reason for picking up the phone... actually making a call.  But what wasn't strictly necessary was then opening up the google reader app to catch up on some blog feeds while I waited for D to return.  I justified my actions with an assurance that my day of unpluggedness wouldn't really begin until I got back home that evening.

On the drive home, we encountered some truly impressive rain showers, and D mentioned he wanted to check the radar on wunderground when he got home to see what the storm front looked like.  "Ah ha," I thought, "I can do that right on my phone."  Really Keenie?  You need to look at a radar image on your smartphone to confirm that, yeah, that sure is some heavy rain... that you're driving through at this very moment?! (Relax - D was driving, so in any case I wasn't going to be DWO - driving while online.)

Arriving home, I picked up a pen and the New York Times crossword.  That's a nice analog activity to engage your brain, I thought.  However, I am firmly in the camp that likes to finish the crossword at all costs, even if it involves cheating by going to 'the Google' (as D and I affectionately refer to it ever since W's gaffe).  So after working through the puzzle for a bit, I got stuck.  My fingers were twitching and I cast sly glances at the laptop.  Surely it couldn't hurt to look up just one little crossword clue, right?  But, loyal readers, you will be glad to know I remained steadfast.

I woke on Saturday morning, and here is a brief list of the things I could NOT do because I was unplugging:*

* via notes take with actual pen and paper(!)
  • review the available services at a spa I'm visiting with a friend next weekend;
  • find out what I'd missed from my bleeps when I was too busy to stay caught up on blogs during the week;
  • figure out the consequences if I'd really lost my skipass, rather than simply misplacing it (fortunately, I used some of that unplugged time to - gasp! - get off my butt and actually locate it);
  • find out what the heck change at Warren Miller Productions resulted in nearly the entire film that I watched on Saturday morning, Playground, being backed by a thrash metal soundtrack like every other ski/snowboard adventure video, rather than the sublime musical choices that I remembered from the good old days;
  • look up Levi's Curve ID jeans, which I'd recently heard about on a daytime talk show and was reminded of by an ad in Vogue, which I was reading as an attempt to distract myself from the siren song of the interwebs;
  • and last, but certainly not least, work on my tax return (for which I use Turbo Tax - seriously, if you haven't tried it you totally should.  It very nearly makes tax returns painless - well, as painless as a tax return ever could be.)
Fortunately, that brought me to the part of the day where I actually accomplish things on the weekend, which provided a welcome distraction from my internet withdrawals.  I'm proud to say that I did manage to stay unplugged until the sun went down on Saturday evening.

So, did I have any great revelations from my own participation in the National Day of Unplugging?  Sadly, no.  But at least I proved to myself that, although it posed some mental difficulty, I could actually back away from the laptop for a while.

Signing off now before the monkey on my back strengthens his chokehold.


  1. I am so impressed! I nearly had a breakdown when I couldn't use my phone for about 10 hours. Long story. Just know that I felt naked and alone. I might as well have been Tom Hanks hanging out with Wilson. It was that bad.

  2. I am the complete opposite, I go days without going on the internet especially in the weekends and I am always leaving my phone at home or having it on silent and not checking it and missing calls and messages. Yes it drives people nuts but they know I have an answer phone soif they get really desparate they can leave a message. What really gets me however is friends who are sitting on their couch at home and text me instead of picking up the phone. I dont get that one at all.

  3. Nicki - There is something SO MUCH WORSE about not being able to use your technology, rather than simply choosing not to use your technology. Loved the Castaway reference, btw :-)

    Go-Betty - I'm terrible at the phone. I pretty much refuse to answer it unless I know exactly who it is. I don't do text conversations either, but I do like to send an exploratory text prior to invading someone's space with a ringing phone. Odd logic, but there you go.

  4. I am so bad. I feel completely lost without my phone. And like you I find myself checking my emails all the time for no real reason.
    I really could do with some self imposed time off the net and the phone, but I can't imagine it's going to happen until I'm in the fields at Glasto ;)

  5. Congrats on the successful unplugging!

    I've grown quite attached to my computer, but I've been known to leave my phone at home and not even notice until I return.

    I'll occasionally give myself vacations from technology, though usually between semesters or during the rare summer when I don't teach summer classes. It's hard at first, but after a few hours, I'm much calmer and it feels so nice to have a break from it. I feel like I finally get to slow down when I turn the electronics off!

  6. Hi Leonore, thanks for stopping by! It is true that technology is a bright shiny thing that consumes our attention and that feels good... taking that break allows us to center ourselves in a much calmer space.