My great aunt used to unplug all her appliances when she wasn’t using them. She would even turn off the water running to the washing machine when she wasn’t doing laundry. I have been thinking about her a lot lately and how she would softly float between outlets and say, “I unplug to save energy.”
I picture her now and her words have a whole new meaning. Of course, it is still wise to unplug appliances to save energy, but it also works to unplug emotionally from handheld devices to conserve the energy that is generated through completely landing in the moments we are given.
Some people call us a nomadic family. Our home is wherever we are together in the world. While our goal upon leaving our more traditional life in 2013 was to rely on technology less, lately, it hasn’t felt that way. I sometimes blame it on the fact that we have been in the USA for the past 10 months and Wifi is everywhere, but I know that is just an excuse. I sometimes use work deadlines to explain away the fleeting hours, days, and months.
We rely on devices every day to build our location independent businesses, download books, research core curriculum, plan travel, and stay in touch with loved ones. Whatever the reason, we have noticed old habits finding their way into our life again. We are grateful to technology for the freedom it has given us but with that freedom comes a responsibility to use it wisely and that is a slippery slope.
Recently we haven’t felt very free.
We have slowly become less deliberate in our use of technology and therefore more distracted from the precious moments that make our life meaningful. We knew we were out of alignment when phrases like, I don’t have time for a walk, came from behind closed doors, and restless nights replaced peaceful slumber.
We needed to make a renewed commitment to looking up at the world around us. Somehow we forgot the importance of that since we were “home” for a while and things felt so familiar. Did you know March 1-2 (sundown to sundown) was the National Day of Unplugging? We had a family meeting and agreed to unplug all our devices for one week. We scheduled our communication with our customers and subscribers in advance, and thanks to modern technology, there was no interruption of service.
What We Learned
The following are unabridged excerpts from my journal for the week…
We agreed to lock everything that would fit into our safe tonight at midnight. It seems a bit extreme, but the kids are excited by the dramatic entrance into this experiment, so that’s the plan.
I am tired. I stayed online until the stroke of midnight. I felt like Cinderella running through the darkness to beat the deadline, as the clock struck twelve and everything changed. I was banking, editing, posting, and re-posting up to the very last second.
I spent all night thinking about everything I forgot to do before we unplugged. I couldn’t sleep. This feels like a waste of time. If I was online I could just get it done and move on. The little voice in my head that keeps saying, “you forgot to do one more thing, just one more thing” tells me there is something that matters in this experiment and I have to stick to the plan until it becomes clear.
Everyone is a little fidgety. I don’t really understand this behavior as I believed we were conservative in our use of technology leading up to this point. Yet, when we cut it out, there is this background noise we are bumping into, each of us, at different times. Check the weather before we go to the beach—no, google where to get the best pizza—no, check-in with extended family—no, convert kilos to pounds, no.
What can we say yes to? And why do so many of our questions require devices for answers?
I feel so relaxed this morning. The quiet is getting more peaceful and less cavernous. Last night was one of the best nights we ever had as a family. We walked for hours on the beach, with no destination or plan. The kids made up games as we sauntered, laughed, and watched the sun dip. What would I usually be doing after dinner? Whatever it was, it can’t be better this. Nothing is better than this.
As a feeling of peace truly washes over me, I can feel the “should’s” today. The voice in my head is saying, “the game is over, time to get back to reality, like the rest of the world. Who do you think you are disconnecting when many other people don’t feel like they have that freedom? Maybe you were wrong. Maybe the world is coming to an end right now and you will be the last to know because you are not connected. Maybe that one opportunity you have been working toward has come and gone while you were digging your toes in the sand.”
Then it all came together in one brief moment. I looked up, wide-eyed, hoping to see a sign that I was on the right path. The kids have scaled a rock wall and are sitting side by side beaming from their accomplishment. They are as relaxed as I have ever seen them, laughing, dreaming, and relishing the momentum they gained together.
I am leaving the “should’s for good” in honor of their grace at this moment.
I feel a bit scared. I have heard people talk about digital detox. I never liked the term as it sounds so negative. Yet when I read over my journal entries from this past week, I see signs of addictive behavior, just one more, just another day, anxious, foggy, cranky, distracted. The fact that I felt the need to go cold turkey is an indicator I am not feeling completely in control of the device but rather the device is in control of me. I keep thinking of Mary Oliver’s words, “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
I don’t want to open the safe.
Plugging Back In
We reluctantly opened the safe and resumed using technology, but we are forever changed (until we forget this knowing and need to be reminded again). We are no longer willing to compromise.
We are in charge of the off buttons and now we have an abundance of time to do what we love every day, with people we love, in places we love, both foreign and familiar.
We still feel a little fearful when we log on. Perhaps we don’t completely trust our ability to walk away. Each time we turn off the power switch, we get stronger and feel excited anticipation about what is waiting for us when we walk out into the world, heads held high. Simple pleasures that are too precious to miss are waiting around every corner when we are unplugged and magically find ourselves with time and energy to spare. My great aunt would be proud of.
There’s an old Irish saying:
If you don’t use your power, it will leave you for someone who will. -Frank Delaney
How will you wield this power you are given?