Unplugged.

Last weekend I experimented with something lovely: Unplugging.

It was precipitated by a comment from one of my Writer’s Circle participants about wanting to feel truly relaxed.

I was reminded instantly of the deep relaxation I experience once a year when I’m up in the high Sierra mountains, truly unplugged. There’s no electricity, no telephone, no wifi, no cell service, nothing. If we do want to get in touch with the outside world, we either have to walk 15 minutes up The Road (there’s only one) to the campground to the public pay phone or drive 3.5 miles down The Road to the “City” (a rustic store that mostly sells pie and marshmallows to campers, along with a pay-per-day wifi connection).

On the plus side, making the connection hard to get to makes it a much more conscious choice. And when I’m in that world, and connected to nature and the basics of living, I am so much more relaxed than when I am at home in the thick of “so many things to do.”

I thought, why not see if I can make that feeling of true, deep relaxation happen for myself more than just once a year?

The connection for sensitives

This is highly relevant for sensitive, introverted, writers, and creatives, particularly because we tend to have such rich, complex inner lives and focus so much of our attention inwardly already. Although the technological connections we can make can feel external (because we are often connecting with others online, for instance), to me it feels like it takes us deeper inside our own heads.

And too much time inside my own head doesn’t really feel like a good thing. (A little like eating too much chocolate cake — there is a just right amount, but too much feels awful.)

Let’s face it, the constant accessibility of online activities — even or especially in the guise of “down time” — is highly overstimulating. Although we may be connecting with others, which can be considered more “extroverted,” or relaxing by playing around on Twitter, Facebook, or digital games, we’re actually taking in stimuli and information.

That information can become so overloading, it’s no wonder we feel distracted, busy, and overwhelmed. Couple that with the common sensitive’s tendency to be afraid that we’ll miss something, and you’ve got a recipe for constant overstimulation doing what might otherwise look like quietly being at home.

This is true for anything we’re engaged with that involves going deep into our own minds and not interacting in the day-to-day Real world. Even reading to excess, though I hate to say it. Again, too much of a good thing is still too much.

The invitation

So when my Writer’s Circle member raised this point, I thought, “Okay, it’s time to try a ‘technology shabbat’.”

This is something I’ve been hearing about for a while from Tiffany Shlain since I first got interested in her and her work Connected: The Film, about being interconnected in this new technological era. Like me, Shlain sees the possibilities in the amazing ways we are connected now. And she also sees the overwhelm factor associated with it.

She recently sent an email invitation to her mailing list, saying, “Will you try unplugging with me?”

My answer: Yes.

What’s a technology shabbat?

In her own home, Shlain’s family practices a regular weekly “technology shabbat,” from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, where they turn off their electronic devices and focus on their time together.

In her recent article on the subject, she notes “Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have compared the sense of technological dependency — the feeling that we must be accessible and responsive at any time and in any place — to that of drugs and alcohol.”

Case in point: It’s fascinating to me that apparently people are losing interest in visiting the mountain enclave we go to every year precisely BECAUSE it’s so hard to access phones, messages, and online accounts. But when put in the context of addiction it makes much more sense. We’ve become so accustomed to everything being at the tips of our fingers that we’ve become afraid to be without it. And to me it DOES feel like an addiction — something that’s hard to put down once I get involved in it.

So I decided to try a tech shabbat for myself.

And it was amazing.

Instead of being drawn to my phone or computer off and on all day to check email, or sucked into playing games with my son our iPad, we cleaned the house in a focused way. My son conducted experiments with glitter, water, and his sand box. I made banana bread for a family who lost a loved one recently, and I went to visit my dad who hasn’t been feeling well.

In some ways, it wasn’t anything particularly unusual or different than I might have normally done. In fact, the specific things we did we might well have done anyway.

But we did them without interruption.

I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Much. :)

I felt calmer. I felt present. I felt happier.

The real test came when it was over and time to check in again. Had disaster struck? Had anything gone awry? Would there be 18,000 emails from angry customers or desperate assistants?

Nope.

All was well.

And it felt great.

What’s been interesting to notice since then is 1) how I have gone back to being highly involved in the technology again, but while 2) feeling somewhat resentful of the intrusion of it. I was reminded that when I first started my business I used to methodically shut down my computer every Friday night and not reboot it until Monday morning. And that was back before I had a cell phone or any of the myriad of ways to stay plugged in. (Does this remind anyone else of The Matrix?)

I also feel myself turning over in my mind some new rules about how I want to regularly engage with technology or not. What time and where, those kinds of things.

But mostly, it’s been an incredible reminder of a simple way to create what feels like a vacation day to me, without even leaving town. What a treat!

Your turn

Have you tried unplugging? How did you feel? How do you do it? Leave us a note in the comments and tell us about it.

Join me

I’ll be doing this again this coming Friday night at sundown. If you’d like to join me and share here (afterward, of course) about your results, please do. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Considering that managing technology distractions is one of the things I most often deal with in my Writing Reboot sessions with clients, it’s clearly a significant issue for many people. This could really be a great experiment to try.

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Comments

  1. Good god, Jenna! Apparently I have been waiting to see all this distilled in one place, because it feels like something I’ve been noodling with for a very long time. The relationship between connection and unplugging, that is. You’ve provided me with some insights and perspectives that hadn’t quite sunk in before now.
    Thank you.

  2. Hi Jenna,

    When we go on vacation, we are unplugged. I do not bring anything with me and do not check email other than the last night for air plane check-in. And like you say, you don’t miss it. Last summer we went to a small town in vermont and our inn had nothing, not even a tv! We hiked right from our B&B into the Green Mountains.

    It gets you back in touch with your inner wildness.

    I get sick of this endless push for technology. It’s not good for humans.

    G.

    • Sounds lovely! That’s what it’s like for us too. So good.
      To me it’s confusing because I love the tech and the access it gives us. But it can be a real issue too. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Jo Wilson says:

    Jenna —
    Isn’t unplugging miraculous? I have been dedicating three or four weekends a year (sometimes more) to unplugging. I often do it at home – make sure that my home is tidy and fresh and that I can totally dedicate myself to writing or reading or meditating or doing whatever I wish. No phone, no internet, no television. I always come away centred and connected to what is important in my life. Somehow the world has continued without me and I am not bombarded by all the craziness that we are confronted with daily. I started this practice about 3 or 4 years ago and even convinced some of my college students to try it (and we all know how addicted they are to being attached to their devices. Several tried it and three of my graduates still do this from time to time now and send me notes of gratitude.

    • Jo, yes it IS miraculous, and what a gift you gave your students by modeling that for them. I love the idea of doing it for entire weekends throughout the year. It’s so neat they still send you notes about it. Very cool. I’m getting ready to sign off again tonight and I’m looking forward to it.

  4. When access to technology is limited there’s far less need to unplug. You can either go squirrel-nuts trying to find wifi or you can relax, use it when it’s available and refocus when it’s not. Nearby deer or moose cause the dog to freak out, generally when I’m trying to concentrate. What I need to know is how to unplug the wildlife. (Sorry, the dog is family. She sits. She stays.)

    • That’s so true, Phyllis. And I’ve only increased my access over the years, which in some ways, especially as a busy mom and business owner has really helped me, but in other ways, it has only made me more stressed. As one of my clients used to say about being highly sensitive, it’s both a gift and a responsibility. Seems to me technology is the same.

      That’s funny about the wildlife and the dog. That sounds hard!

  5. Interesting – I did something like this just this last weekend, although it wasn’t planned. I just started cooking and cleaning and puttering around the house, and I checked into social media a couple times, but didn’t stay there, lost interest, that familiar “fear of missing out” was just gone. And I felt the most calm and centered I’ve felt in – maybe – years? Awkwardly stumbled back in when the week began and feeling scattered and bounced around already. Of course, I love social media and the web, but when I listen to what my body and soul really want, it has its own agenda, and it’s important to stop the spinning and listen. Looking forward to another weekend to unplug.

    • Neat, Marki! It’s so fascinating to me how that fear of missing out goes so quickly once we get a little distance on it. I agree about the feeling of being centered and calm. Who knew it would take so little to get there. Our bodies and souls usually do have better agendas, don’t they? :)

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