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As things were winding down at work on a Friday afternoon, I was browsing the Tire Business site for a juicy piece of industry news and came across this post on the blog by Alaina Scott. Not only did I find the No-Tech Cold Turkey story interesting, it was downright inspiring! That really took guts for her to unplug completely from technology for a weekend.
At Net Driven, I find myself not just interacting with, but fiercely depending on technology daily. I had recently shared a book from Adobe/Behance's 99u series with our creative development team, and the major theme of this book dealt with removing yourself from "the stream." Tiffany Shlain put it best in her chapter where she challenges creative types to take a “Technology Shabbat,” where you basically shut out all tech from sundown on Friday until Sunday afternoon/evening. I challenged my team to do this at the time, but few of us were motivated enough to truly stick to our guns (I lasted a whopping 4 hours.)
Alaina and the other Tire Business bloggers described such wonderful feelings of freedom from the technology grip. I craved that feeling. It’s like they had gone back to a simpler time. This is something I needed in my life. This time, I can do this. I WILL do this!
To announce my descent into no-tech territory, I made a final post on Facebook to share the article with others and present my intentions. I felt like this would help hold me more accountable to stick to it somehow if I made my challenge public—or maybe just get the last-minute social media fix I so desperately thought my life needed. Either way, at 5pm on Friday, I closed my laptop and hit that lock button on my iPhone for what (I hoped) would be the last time until Sunday night.
Here’s what I experienced as a result:
Without constant access to my social media, I actually wanted to be more social with the world around me - imagine that! There’s a pretty amazing TED Talk where Sherry Turkle points out this strange effect that social media has on our actual social lives (no seriously, it will change the way you think about tech, check it out here. She calls our constant presence on social media “being alone together.” I realized during my no-tech stint that this was totally me! When I thought I was sharing my experiences with "everyone else” on my devices, I was also isolating myself from those in my immediate presence.
On Friday night when I eased into my no-tech zone at a local bar after dinner (I may have checked the weather and done a Google or two to plan for the next day…), and found myself much more at ease than usual. My boyfriend was out with me, and we ended up having a much more enthusiastic conversation than our usual chatter. He seemed more engaged in what I had to say, maybe because he knew he had my full attention? It made me realize that checking my phone every few minutes was definitely not helping the social side of my personality.
We later ran into some friends, and rather than anxiously checking my phone every so often, I sat and chatted with them at the bar for a good long while before I even realized how late it was. On our way out, I stood and waited for my boyfriend to go to the bathroom—usually a great opportunity to mindlessly browse Facebook on my phone. Without my phone on hand, I ended up striking up a conversation with a complete stranger (honestly he just had a really interesting t-shirt for his senior bar crawl that I had to ask about) that led to handing my card to that soon-to-be graduating Communications Major and asking if he was interested in working for Net Driven one day. Staring at my phone definitely wouldn’t have given me that opportunity!
No one demanded to know I was checking in there. The world didn’t end because I didn’t read an email or answer a text. I won’t regret that I didn’t Instagram a photo of my drink. Everything was okay!
I found myself struggling to remember what it was like to rely on “analog” technology. In my case, this meant going grocery shopping on Saturday with a...wait for it….written list.
I know, shocking! But I had become so dependent on my shopping list app on my phone that I had almost forgotten how to do this. On one hand, it took a little more thought because I had to start from scratch with the inventory for my shopping trip. On the other hand, however, the trip went much smoother without random notifications popping up every few minutes when I unlock my screen to look at my shopping list. Distraction-free shopping!
Later on Saturday, I had a 90 minute drive down to my parents’ house for an event we were attending together. I had made sure I was conscious of not using my satellite radio or Bluetooth connection to play music on the drive down. I made an exception when my parents called me to ask how close I was, but other than that I kept the tech off. I couldn’t stand the idea of riding in silence with myself that whole way, though, so I listened to FM Radio. I had almost forgotten this existed! I was actually starting to enjoy the excitement of scanning the radio to hunt for a clear station every 20 miles or so. Before satellite technology and digital music, the struggle of easy listening on a long car ride was most definitely real.
I was able to focus more clearly and listen better to my own thoughts. I think this was the biggest takeaway for me. I had no commitments on Sunday, so I decided to tackle some projects at home (that didn’t require my computer). Without constant noise from the TV or Internet radio in the background, I was able to focus better on things that I personally enjoyed and wanted to do. I had always thought it was my “creative personality” pulling me in different directions all the time, but I think in reality a big part of my difficulty in focusing was the technology I had surrounded myself with. I didn’t feel a nagging urge on Sunday afternoon to review emails, check on freelance work, or procrastinate on those first two items by wasting my time away on an assortment of social networks. I had dedicated time for myself. My thoughts were clear of distractions, so I could focus on doing the things that make me happy.
I read a book that had been sitting unread for weeks. I worked on a creative project that I had wanted to start since last fall. I cooked a really mean dinner. I took a long walk outside in the park near my house that I normally limit to 15 minutes.
I constantly deny myself all these simple pleasures in order to meet the demands of my captive tech and devices. In many ways, I love the technology I have in that it helps make my work easier and more efficient, it allows me to create websites and do what I love for a living, and, heck, it’s how I’m sharing this story with all of you on Tire Business right now. But there comes a point where unplugging can really be beneficial and healthy for you, I think. By the time I allowed myself to use my technology again on Sunday night, it felt odd. I felt like I didn’t belong on social media, or at least didn’t need it, as I often thought I did.
I insist that the no-tech weekend is a must for anyone that feels like they never have enough time, especially for themselves. I promise you, you will get a small slice of that time back in your no-tech zone. At the very least, for those of us on a budget: it’s a totally affordable stay-cation! And at most, I hope that in disconnecting from the constant stream you can reconnect a little with yourself.
I am grateful that the bloggers at Tire Business shared their experiences so that they could, in turn, inspire me and other techies to do the same. Keep sharing these great experiments and life hacks with us! Announced or unannounced on Facebook, I’m definitely going to “unplug” again in the near future!
Read Tire Review's Blog Post on Kathryn's challenge here.