I spent last month unplugged from emails, texts, and my favourite websites. The only way to get in touch with me was through phone (or for the stubborn, by texting Josh). It was like going back to the 1990s. The idea made me feel both anxious and excited. I thought it a worthwhile experiment to see how much the technological tools I choose to use impact my life.
Email is undeniably a life-changing technology, but I had reached the point where it was feeling less like a helpful, light-hearted tool, and more like a burden. I was resenting all the time I was spending with screens. I realized it wasn’t the fault of those emailing me: I had set up a system where email was my most used means to connect. It was up to me to change this. I was hoping to re-discover the benefits of email; to get a sense of how much time I was being effectively online vs. wasting time, and to help streamline my online practices.
But I was nervous:
Would I feel left out?
Would I be bored?
Would I be forgotten?
It was July 31st and I armed myself with some new pens, journals to write in, and a fat stack of books to read. I logged off of email, deleted my phone apps and turned off text notifications. I put a note on my website letting people know I was reachable by phone only.
Right after my unplugging, I felt anxious: what if someone didn’t get the message? What if someone wanted to get in touch but couldn’t? What if clients would get frustrated and kickstart the downfall of my business, resulting in complete financial ruin, misery and despair? Maybe I should check my apps just once more before logging off completely…
I resisted this urge, noting that the anxious thoughts rising up were not based in reality. I reminded myself that as a yoga teacher, I rarely (or more accurately, never) deal with urgent or life threatening situations. Yoga is the long game, promoting microscopic shifts towards alignment, sustainable health, and wellness. Yes, I still felt unsettled as I went to bed, but managed to talk myself down. Yet this made me wonder: why did these technologies affect my brain and wellbeing like this? Was I really that addicted?
I woke up on day one feeling light and optimistic. My anxiety had melted from a good night’s sleep (as anxiety tends to do). This good feeling continued for the entire month. I was amazed by how much free time I had without email – I never realized how much time it actually takes me to correspond this way. With email, it’s too tempting to take extra time to craft the perfect turn of phrase; to edit and re-read what’s written. This isn’t possible with phone. There’s no delete button. Phoning encouraged me to both be kinder by default, and to share my uncensored side. I felt vulnerable, but good. No one who phoned me was out to get me. My job isn’t to impress people with my vocabulary or my spelling. With phone, it’s clear we’re just trying to communicate, and we’re all rooting for each other.
I was completely un-tempted to check my usual social media stomping grounds until August 29th. We had visitors for the week and after they left, I longed to see the photos they had shared of our fun times together. I went so far as to install instagram on my phone, and enter my username and password: luckily I stopped short of clicking “LOGIN”. I was so close to the end, after all. And while there’s no wrong way to do a tech break, I’m happy I restrained myself. Instead of the photos, Josh and I just talked about these fun times and relived them in our memories/imaginations:
“Remember when we found that hole at the beach, and hid in it, trying to trick everyone?”
It’s about habit:
I was in a habit of checking my email to fill the gaps in my day. Have to think about something a little more deeply? Check email. Got a problem to sort out? Check email. Is there laundry to do? Check your email, girl! And so on. It added up to a lot of time.
Luckily I was able to shake myself out of this habit. I was officially back online last Thursday, but logged off again for most of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I intended to check email early on Labour Day (yesterday) to prep for the week but forgot about it until the evening. So this temptation to check has diminshed over the month. Yay!
Phone calls rock:
Do you email or text someone looking for a reply to a quick question, and they don’t get back to you right away, so you feel the weight of waiting with that question for days? A phone call is a simple solution to this. Phoning is quick and efficient, and can seem terrifying for introverts. But the more we practice the easier it gets. And the best part? You can hear people smiling and laughing on the other side, in a way that 🙂 and LOL or hahaha just can’t compare.
Texting is a bummer:
To me texting is a clumsy way of phoning. I use voice-to-text and end up having to go back and edit my message when Siri misunderstands my diction. My sister-in-law prefers text to phone because she doesn’t want people to hear yelling babies in the background, but I like to have that glimpse into their day to day, and would rather be privy to the Mav-don’t-touch-that’s and yes-you-can-have-a-cracker’s in between the regular conversation any day of the the week.
I love seeing what other people are up to, and I love sharing out the delights of my life via instagram. We can all agree that it feels good when someone “likes” what we post. It can feel affirming to know that people are picking up what we’re putting down. I also love being in a moment, enjoying the moment, without the thought of “oh this would make a great instagram post!” It’s liberating and probably very healthy for someone as easily self-obsessed as me.
Free time is golden:
Boredom can be a good thing. When I wasn’t so quick to fill the white spaces in my schedule with email, text, or social media, I was able to tune in more clearly to what I was feeling. It helped me get inspired. It helped me observe and appreciate the simple things. It helped me make connections in my brain. It helped me feel better.
In the end, I noticed that the most lightness and ease were felt during the first three days of the experiment. So I’ve decided to go offline for three days every single week: no email, text or online-time Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Of course I can make exceptions: this is for my own betterment, and there are many right ways to take a tech break. Knowing how wonderful it can feel to unplug I look forward to these open spans of screen-free time with eagerness.
Have you tried any amount of unplugging, or screen time-management? Or are you naturally balanced when it comes to tech time?