Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Need to Unplug

Hello. My name is Robert and I have an addiction. I love technology. Although I don't check Facebook and Twitter as much as someone in my family does (I won't go down alone dear), I do admit that there's a glorious sense of anticipation every time my phone buzzes, telling me that someone somewhere has something really important to say to me via email or text message.

There. I've cleared my conscience. Now what?

I recently heard an interview with Scott Belsky, in which he said that looking at your smartphone has the same effect as cocaine. It relieves anxiety and makes you feel in control. Now I've never tried cocaine, but I have a feeling that whoever came up with that fact is probably right on the money.

Technology has such a grip on our society. We have to acknowledge this before we ever hope to break free. In that same interview Belsky says that we have to ruthlessly pursue windows of non-stimulation. He says that true creativity will only happen when we are able to unplug from technology, because that is the only place where true and deep thinking can occur.

Where this really hits home for me is with my kids. Adam is already addicted to my phone, or more specifically, he's addicted to a game on my phone about ticked off birds. Getting him to go in his room and play is so difficult. His objection: That's boring! One of the solutions that Mandy and I have been talking about is starting a new tradition in our home, where 1 or 2 days of the week are designated tech-free days. That means no Backyardigans, Angry Birds, or Wii, but it also means no Facebook, email, or Modern Family. Instead, we will use our time to play games, take walks, read books, and, in the case of the boys and I, wrestle. This is what the home is supposed to be anyway, right?

I've been reading a book that Mandy got at Mom Congress. It's called Hamlet's Blackberry, by William Powers. In one of the chapters he quotes from Henry David Thoreau's Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.
I love those words. It's what I want for my family. It's also what I want for me. I'm making some changes when it comes to technology. Here are three things I'm going to begin doing that I know will help me during my hours at work.
  1. I am going to designate 3-5 times during the day when I check email. The rest of the time my gmail will not be up. And I'm going to disable the push feature on my iPhone. No more buzzes when I get an email.
  2. I'm going to stop checking email right before I go to bed and right after I get up. I've realized that nothing good comes from that.
  3. My most productive times are in the morning. For some crazy reason I've been waking up around 5:30 every morning. At first it frustrated me, but now I've realized that it's a good thing. I'm going to begin doing any creative work (reading, writing, thinking) in the mornings, and I am going to begin scheduling meetings and appointments for the afternoon.
I know that some of these changes, whether it's for me or my family, are going to be easier than others (I imagine that Micah is going to throw things when he hears how it affects him). And I know that just as with any addiction, there will be times when I'm weak. But I believe that change is possible. I have a feeling that we are going to one day look back on the decade when instant communication became a reality, and realize that it wasn't the best thing for us.


Andy Ashby said...

I hear ya. I check my Twitter on the elevator ride up to my office, send emails while I'm walking and check Wikipedia everytime someone in a movie references something I've never heard or (or am just interested).
I'm trying to ween myself off the iPhone by turning it off regularly or just leaving it in the car, but it's hard.


Thanks for the post Robert! I agree with the need to unplug. It's certainly hard, especially because I am on call 24-7 technically with my job.

Other than it being blazing hot this summer, it's been nice to have the outdoors to get out and with Owen and get him away from Netflix and Qubo. Things will get harder as the days get shorter and the time change. The idea of a scheduled unplugged night(s)might be the ticket. Great post!