“Life is what happens while we’re busy worrying about everything we need to change or accomplish. Slow down, get mindful, and try to enjoy the moment. This moment is your life.” ~Lori Deschene
Technology is everywhere today, integrated into our lives from the moment we wake up and check our email to the twenty minutes we spend checking our Twitter feed before falling asleep.
From smartphones and tablets to Fitbits and multi-display work computers, it’s hard to use technology mindfully, and most of us spend a great deal of time throughout the day looking at screens.
Choosing to unplug, disconnect, and put down our devices is a deliberate decision. For me, the decision to unplug came as I was preparing to set off for a year and a half of traveling around New Zealand.
I had just left a job where I spent most of my day emailing, updating social media, and scouring the Internet for websites that would be useful contacts for my company. I would get home from the office and eat something while simultaneously scrolling through my personal Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and email accounts. The barrage of information was endless. I would often end the day red-eyed and battling a headache.
I realized I didn’t actually know how to relax and unplug, and I also realized I didn’t know what a huge toll the excessive screen time was taking on me until I stopped the flow. It took a few weeks, but slowly the constant need to check feeds and update statuses faded, and I spent a great deal more time actually, well, doing things in the world—without posting about it.
Deciding to Unplug
Since I was embarking on a new chapter in my life, it seemed like a good time to try something new and try to not let technology take over my life. I was afraid of missing out on the experiences I would have while traveling because I was too busy trying to take the perfect photo or craft the perfect post instead of just being there and enjoying the moment.
I sold my smartphone, cancelled my cell phone service, deleted my social media accounts, and asked all my friends and family for their mailing addresses so I could send postcards and letters instead of emails and tweets. I went cold turkey and all-in.
While resistant at first, most people close to me were supportive of this change in the long run, although I did get the occasional, “How will I ever contact you if you’re not on Facebook?!” I figured the people who mattered would find a way to stay in touch, Facebook or no Facebook.
My partner and I decided that while traveling, we would share one iPad mini we’d use to post monthly blog posts about our travels, and all other devices would stay at home. No phones, no nothing.
Technology’s Impact on Behavior
The effects of technology on our thought patterns and behaviors aren’t great. The presence of technology seems to give us a free pass to be rude and unmindful in group situations (i.e. texting during dinner), or to flake out on our friends. It also changes the way we interact with others, including our children, when doing an activity together, like reading.
“Electronic readers seem to change the types of conversations that parents and children have over a story,” according to KinderCare Learning Centers. “With e-readers, we adults tend to be more prescriptive when talking—push this, swipe that—and less conversational…”
For all the talk about technology connecting people around the world, it certainly does its share of creating disconnection, too. I strongly believe we would all be happier if we spent more time face-to-face and less time face-to-screen.
Together but Apart
I recently moved into a new house, and it took a few weeks for my Internet to get hooked up. There was a very noticeable shift in my behavior and that of my roommates once we were online.
Before the Internet, we all interacted with each other when we were in common spaces, playing games and talking about our days. With the Internet, we were more likely to be in our own rooms, procrastinating and wasting time.
Of course we still interacted and still have frequent game nights together, but often the presence of a smartphone or laptop changes the entire vibe of an evening. I long for the days when we were unplugged and connecting more deeply.
Physical Reasons to Unplug
In addition to emotional and behavioral patterns, the physical costs of excessive screen time are great. Vision and eye problems like dry eye syndrome can be exacerbated by too much screen time, while headaches and back problems are common among people who sit in front of computers all day. Lack of exercise due to too much sitting in front of computers directly leads to obesity and other health issues.
Somehow, these ailments don’t seem to stop us. We’d rather end up at rehab camps for tech addicts than set down our devices. Do we really want to be chained to the Internet and at the beck and call of each notification that lights up our smartphone?
A Different Way
It’s unrealistic to banish technology from our lives completely. But we can take steps to unplug from certain networks or devices, or to designate a no-tech period in the day that’s screen-free. For me, finding that balance is key.
Once I returned home from my travels, I found myself wanting to connect to all the social media networks I had abandoned. I wanted to share travel photos and stories and see what friends had been doing while I was gone. I felt torn between this urge to scroll and post and the desire to stick to my commitment of trying to be a more mindful user of technology.
So I made some compromises. I waited a year before getting back on Facebook (and have since found it significantly less interesting) and I use a flip phone (I know, I know—living in the Stone Age) instead of a smartphone. I know I have to make it easy for myself to not get sucked into the social media/internet vortex.
One technique I also like to use is list-making. Have you ever gotten online to do one simple thing and then found yourself staring blankly at your computer an hour later, having no idea what you set out to do in the first place? I like to make a specific list of what I need to accomplish online and stick it in front of my laptop where I can see it. That way I’m reminded of my goal and purpose for opening my computer.
Finding individual solutions is the key to success, whether you need to get outside and completely away from technology, or you simply need some productivity tools to keep you on task so you can be done with your work sooner. Either way, everyone can benefit from unplugging from time to time. Our health depends on it.
About Lettie Stratton
Lettie Stratton is a writer and urban farmer in Boise, ID. A Vermont native, she is a lover of travel, books, tea, bicycles, plants, and the outdoors. Visit her at lettiestratton.com.