By Alix Norman
In America, March 6 to 7 is National Unplugging Day. The brainchild of rebooters.net, from sundown to sundown, people everywhere are encouraged to forgo technology in an effort to reconnect with the real world. And I, personally, think it’s a great idea: not only does it help the environment,it also gives us the screen-break we need in this fast-paced, digitally dominated world.
“The balance is in appreciating and using technology the right way, but still knowing when to turn it off to experience life to its fullest,” says Dr Nicholas Bowman of West Virginia University, citing the pervasive reality of screen addiction and the poor work/life balance that comes with constant smartphone usage.
Experience life to the fullest? Why yes, I could use some of that; a day without any screens whatsoever might be just what I need. I mean, I never go anywhere without my smartphone. Ditto my tablet. And my laptop is probably more well-travelled than Hemingway. Okay, I’m not much of a one for television, but my main method of communication is via the internet; roughly 10 of my 16 waking hours being spent in front of a screen.
Now, before you throw up your hands in horror, bear in mind that I’m a writer of the modern age, required to spend a great deal of my time putting fingers to keyboard. Plus, there’s the research that work entails – how will I survive without Wikipedia to back me up? And I’m a great online communicator: programmes, apps and forums are my social bread and butter. It seems that a spot of serious preparation may be the order of the day…
First, I inform my immediate family (all of whom live abroad) of the scheme, and assure them my lack of online presence is not a cue to start ringing the local hospitals. Then I let friends and work know what’s going on (via the medium, of course, of computer and phone screens) and, finally, programme my email with an automated message. And then it’s time. I switch off the Wi-Fi before I go to sleep and unplug everything with a screen. The great log-off has begun…
In this digital age, I’m able to do most of my work from the comfort of home. Which means that there’s no morning dash to the office for me. Instead, I’ll lie in bed checking emails on my tablet, glancing, perhaps, at Facebook and catching up on the BBC. Eventually, I’ll get up and start my laptop while the kettle boils, before sitting down with a steaming cup of coffee to schedule, research or get writing. Today, however, none of that can happen: lying in bed, the almost apocalyptic silence from the airwaves is eerie. Cut off from the chatter of the digital diaspora, I find myself straining for sounds of life. In the distance, a dog barks. And falls quiet…
By lunchtime (pasta at the table as opposed to a Marmite sandwich at my desk, fingers itching all the while for a quick fix of online Scrabble) I’ve managed to hand-write half of a 1,000-word piece – well below my usual limit. Admittedly, I haven’t been bothered by the constant brrring of my phone, beep of my tablet, or clunk of emails falling into my inbox, but I have had to use my Encyclopaedia Britannica (you were right Mum, they really did come in useful!) for research purposes. And it takes a great deal more time to locate information about the health benefits of mangoes without the technology I – and my fellow Generation X – love so much.
Generation X (1961-1981), “live their life with technology,” says Dr Susan Weinschenk, behavioural psychologist and author, on www.businessinsider. “They work with it, they use it to be more productive. They like to customise and personalise. The Generation Xers are actually the group that is most enamoured by technology.” While Boomers (1943-1961) can easily live without technology, Millennials (1982-2002) have integrated it into their lives – but are generally happier to eschew tech for face-to-face communication.
Which is exactly what I have to do today: driving over to a friend’s house for a real-time dinner and a chat (after a relatively unproductive afternoon) rather than resorting to our more usual methods of communication, such as Viber, Hangouts or Skype.
Seeing someone in person actually has a lot going for it. It may knock spontaneous drop-ins on the head (that text saying ‘In your area, fancy a cuppa?’ goes by-the-by) but it certainly forces you to slow down your life and take the time to truly savour meaningful moments: because we’d organised in advance, couldn’t change the time and weren’t receiving emails, calls and texts, there seemed to be a lot more substance to our conversation than normal. Even the food tasted better without the constant background beeping.
Back home, on realising that even my sewing machine has a screen, I thank my lucky stars I can knit. But it’s not quite as fun clicking away without my more usual accompaniment of an mp3 or DVD. And with my tablet turned off, I can’t check my emails, or scroll through Pinterest, or even access Kindle. So, eventually, I resort to the written word, losing myself in the peace of a paperback. And calling it an early night…
The next day – minus the usual hunched-over-the-keyboard aches and pains, and pleased that I’ve done my bit for the environment (ditto the electricity bill!) – I felt remarkably refreshed. There’s certainly something about logging off that recharges the batteries and fills you with oomph. Which is a good thing, because somehow I had to find the energy to answer 93 emails, 26 texts and eight missed calls. By noon, the previous day’s good work was undone.
Going screen-free for a day might have been a good idea. But, in the long run, it’s just not worth either the planning or the consequences. I’m still trying to catch up on those emails. In between, of course, rekindling my unhealthy addiction to online Scrabble. Consider me Un-unplugged.
The National Day of Unplugging occurs each year in the States on the first Friday in March. Originally conceived by the members of reboot.com – a non-profit think tank of media-savvy Jewish professionals – the idea has since been embraced by people of all races and religions. Just not me. To find out more, visit www.nationaldayofunplugging.com