Connect More: How And Why To Unplug
I am old enough to remember when cell phones came in bags. I also remember dialup internet access, and what a loud, strident noise the computer made while connecting to the internet. My strong bias in favor of unplugging in the form of turning off your computer, cell phone, pager, TV, and whatever else may beep at you without notice may also be because I grew up on a farm. In addition, I ’ve hiked both the entire Colorado Trail and Appalachian Trail. One of my favorite sections on the Appalachian Trail was in central Maine, and I savored this section of trail in part because I didn’t have a working cell phone for over a week. Aside from hoping my family and friends wouldn’t worry about me, I was delighted with the chance to be more present in nature instead of worrying about whether I’ve missed an important text.
This is not to suggest I think society should return—even if people were willing to do so, and I doubt they are—to a time before smartphones, fast internet, twitter, facebook, and beyond. Nonetheless, unplugging more often helps us connect with nature, ourselves, and others.
There are many reasons why unplugging from technology, whether for thirty minutes a day or for days or weeks at a time if possible, is worthwhile. The first reason is stepping away from all of our instantaneous forms of communicating helps us realize most communication we receive is not urgent and, consequently, does not require an immediate reply. While it makes sense you would want to congratulate your friend Emily when she announces the birth of her first baby on facebook, she will receive your well wishes whether you send them two minutes, two hours, two days, or even two weeks after you receive this announcement. Similarly, most text messages do not relay information about an emergency you can or even should fix. Moreover, if someone is having an actual emergency, they can usually call 911 or the police or others for help.
Another reason to unplug from technology is to give your brain uninterrupted time to think, create, and relax. Life is, to a certain extent, full of interruptions; however, this doesn’t mean we should welcome and invite them at all times. This can mean turning off your phone when you and your spouse discuss your monthly budget, or turning off your phone and computer on Saturday morning so you can reflect on your week at work and what you need to accomplish over the weekend.
Still another reason to unplug from technology is to give yourself and excuse to enjoy nature without the threat of a friendly, though probably not urgent, text or phone call interrupting you. Nature, in whatever form most pleasing and available to you, is worth seeking if you need a pocket of time to step off the treadmill of modern living and simply be. Time in nature is a necessary reminder that, in the grand scheme of things, you are a small player in a big and complex world. While this may sound like a depressing reality, it should be a liberating one. Most of us won’t be world-famous, cure cancer, or earn millions of dollars by acting in movies or playing professional sports. This doesn’t mean our lives don’t have meaning or significance; it means we must become “right-sized” when we consider ourselves, and time in nature helps encourage us to think of ourselves with this perspective.
Unplugging is also beneficial because it serves to remind us that even if there is a wealth of information available on the internet, we don’t have to be online constantly trying to acquire more information. Similarly, being able to turn off your phone for a spell is a way of acknowledging that your relationships are strong enough to withstand periods of silence. Humans are, whether we like it or not, finite creatures, and this means we are wise to realize that we don’t have unlimited time or energy to look at and respond to facebook posts, answer emails, or search online for information about our favorite topics. By recognizing our finite supply or energy and time, however, we can respond by determining how and when we are required and/or willing to be plugged in to the technology in our lives. Such deliberate action, if taken, will reap enormous benefits. You will become able to say, “This isn’t urgent” to things you once considered minor emergencies, and, by doing so, you become free to concentrate on what is most important to you.
There are many ways to unplug. The first is to leave your phone at home while you take a walk around the neighborhood. Or, if a blizzard or rainstorm is raging outside, you can always turn off your phone and leave it in another room for a predetermined amount of time. Another way to unplug is to have a predetermined time every day, week, or month when you are committed to turn off your phone, computer, and any other device which could distract you. This is a more structured approach, and therefore will appeal more to certain individuals and less so to others.
Unplugging can also happen as a group effort. For example, a husband and wife can decide on an evening they want to spend together without interruption, and they can accomplish this by turning off their phones, computers, pagers, and so forth together. This can also be done while caring for children. Even if the children in your care love to play games on iPads or watch TV, this doesn’t mean you, as the caretaker, can’t turn all these items off in order for you all to make a fort in the living with furniture and blankets, go on a treasure hunt outside, or play Candy Land.
For those extra serious about unplugging, you can plan to unplug during the entirety of your next vacation. This will require some advanced planning, especially if you feel the need to let others know you cannot be reached during your vacation days, yet this can be a wonderful way to more fully relax and unwind while on vacation. Most email accounts offer an auto-respond option if you are out-of-the-office, and, especially if you are staying somewhere close to civilization, you can always find someone else with a phone or computer to use in case of an emergency.
Another way to unplug is to spend a night or two in a remote cabin or campsite. Such excursions are excellent opportunities to go star-gazing, do crossword puzzles, play card games, or simply relax and listen to the sounds of nature. Such outings can be especially restorative for busy and stressed families, couples, or even individuals. If your daily interactions with your spouse or children are constantly interrupted by phone calls, text messages, TV shows, and beyond, getting away for a brief period is a wonderful way to reconnect with those most important to you.
If the prospect of unplugging, not matter how briefly, gives you pause, you may benefit by deciding what small rewards you can offer yourself every time you successfully unplug. Since it is easy to be skeptical of the rewards of unplugging until you experience them firsthand, some form of external motivation or reward may be needed. It may also help to connect with a few friends or family members and plan to collectively unplug together. This approach provides easy opportunity to discuss the challenges and rewards of unplugging with someone else. Since unplugging, if done correctly, can promote greater connection with ourselves, our friends and family, and the natural world, it only makes sense, if you are so inclined, to make this a social act. If you cannot convince anyone in your life to join you, there are numerous technology-free retreats available in various locations across the globe. Since these retreats tend to be expensive, however, they aren’t available to everyone. In such instances, there is always the option of asking around if anyone you know has a cabin or vacation home you could stay in for free or a small fee. Whatever approach or method you decide to use, unplugging is worth pursuing.