I’ve been thinking lately about how saturated my life is with technology and have started planning a dedicated time to unplug. I had to start by recognizing that I can’t do my job without a computer (I’m a software engineer) so I’d either have to give in to that caveat or find a way to work around it. I know I’m the type that struggles with temptation, so having use of my computer while trying to enforce a set of limitations would be very difficult. And if I had 8 hours a day with full access to everything, how would that really be affecting a change or limitation?
So I decided to take the week of Thanksgiving off. (In reality, its 3 days + 2 holidays.) I’m still new enough at my job that I won’t be on call or tapped to help fix something. My manager actually told me as much. With that, I can take my laptop off the table as I have no obligation to it.
Next I started considering my phone usage. I have apps for everything from navigation to fitness to social media to tracking health data. None of it life threatening if I take a hiatus. Slack would be my biggest concern, since work would reach out to me there if they needed to get in contact. Everything else I can silence. If there is an emergency, those closest to me are in my Favorites and would be routed past the ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting. If they aren’t in that list, it’s unlikely to be an emergency. Similarly, a true emergency would call and not text. I might miss out on some event or social gossip, or read it on delay, but no harm there.
Email I’ve been waffling on, partially because I don’t want to return to a huge pile. But I realized most that pile is self-inflicted. Newsletters I don’t read or only skim. Brand advertisements that occasionally contain a discount I would use. I’ve started reassessing my morning inbox and unsubscribing to a bulk of things. In reality, I get very few personal emails and rarely time sensitive. My friends won’t mind a few days wait before I get back to them. Work never uses email for important things either. As such, I think I can cross email off my list, too.
I have an Apple Watch I use to check the time and the weather, and also to track my activity and sleep. None of those are pivotal. It can stay locked away.
I have an iPad I use mostly to watch media or read digital comics. I also use it for digital note taking. This can stay put away.
The device I was most conflicted about was my eReader. Its Kobo brand, so it’s not synced to GoodReads (a weakness of mine.) I’ve been reading a lot lately, both physical and digital books. It may be that I have physical books in progress and lined up during that week, in which case I can put it away. If not, I’ve made the concession that this device will be allowed. The caveats being: It must be preloaded with whatever books I plan to read (just like I would have a stack from the library.) I cannot use the (limited) shopping interface. I cannot use the dictionary lookup. (Real books can’t do that.)
Finally I had to think about Nanowrimo. I couldn’t stop writing just because I had no devices. At first I argued that I had to be able to update my daily word count – How else would it stay accurate? This is a trap of mine, the compulsion to track and record everything. I do it with reading on GoodReads, my own health data, etc. However, I accidentally stumbled upon something that quelled that argument. You can retroactively update your word count for previous days. Problem solved, visiting Nanowrimo couldn’t be an excuse.
Those that are familiar with Nanowrimo might be asking, “But how will you write?!” With good old fashioned pencil and paper. This musing started on paper before it ever reached a screen. I’ve been writing for Nanowrimo the same way. I mark where I start & stop for the day, manually count my words, and if I have time or motivation, I type it up. I have no need of a computer or any other device in this scenario.
I’ve thought through most situations and, as such, have collected a set of guidelines I’ll be following for the week of Nov 18-Nov 25.
- Use of computer is forbidden. Exception: Work emergency.
- Use of phone is to be limited. Do Not Disturb will be on. Outreach of calls and messages will be restricted to the family I will be staying with or coordinating plans with my housemate. Phone will be kept in a bag or purse at all times with DND & Ringer on. It will not be kept in a pocket or place of easy reach.
- Apple Watch and iPad will be entirely turned off.
- Absolutely no use of social media including but not limited to: Email, Facebook, Twitter, Mastodon, Instagram, GoodReads, Nanowrimo. Exception: Work Slack only will be checked once or twice per day for any fires.
- eReader device is allowed with the following caveats:
- no shopping
- no dictionary
- no adding of books
- Any audio – podcast, news, music – is limited to Radio. Specifically as this relates to driving. If another person has audio on, that is ok.
- Television is to be limited. If another person turns it on as background, this is ok. If the family decides to watching something together, this is ok. Turning it on & allowing for personal consumption is prohibited.
- The above are meant to be strict but not impenetrable guidelines. They can be broken for emergency or to prevent harm. (If I’m falling asleep driving, you bet I’m gonna play something or call someone to keep me awake.)
This is an experiment meant to decouple my dependency on technology, devices and social media as much as it is a psychological experiment to gauge how frequently I reach for a device or find myself wondering about Twitter, etc.
If you try to connect with me during this period and I don’t respond, don’t take it personal. Respect my need to unplug for a while and consider if you would benefit from unplugging and what your rules might be.