Do you remember a time before checking email was part of your morning, afternoon and evening routine? Do you recall what it was like to experience something amazing without immediately wanting to post a notice on a public bulletin board for everyone to see? Do you remember living life without a smart phone tether, without being expected to reply immediately to messages, without always knowing exactly where you are 100 percent of the time?
If you’re over the age of 30, chances are – you do.
Sharing experiences with friends, knowing where you are going and sending immediate messages – these aren’t bad things. Connection to our fellow human beings and to information is usually a positive element in our lives. But like anything taken to extremes, being hyper-connected all the time can make you miss out on the present. How often have you seen a table of people at dinner staring into their smart phones instead of talking to each other? Have you seen fans at a concert watching the show through tiny screens, preferring to capture a copy of the moment instead of experiencing the real thing? Have you seen parents ignoring their children to post pictures of them online? Have you done these things yourself?
Is it possible to be too connected? Has the value of disconnection been forgotten? Like a dog without a leash, a disconnected human experiences certain benefits – things like freedom, spontaneous adventures, new discoveries and the thrill of the unknown.
Dare yourself to unplug for one day and discover the value of disconnection. Here’s how:
1. Make it easy on yourself. Humans are much more likely to succeed at their goals if they don’t take much effort or energy. Don’t plan your day of disconnect on an important work day or a day you’ll be driving all over town to new places. Choose an easygoing day off so you can plan around the unplug. Take care of any crucial business the day before, so you won’t be tempted to sneak online and check your email. You can also make a note of any driving directions you will need.
2. Give advance notice to people who might freak out – those friends and family members who get anxious or upset when you don’t respond immediately to their texts or don’t answer the phone. Since we now have the ability to connect immediately, people have come to expect it. Advance notice will ward off any damage to these types of relationships, and is also a great time to start renegotiating technology’s place in your life. Not answering the phone when you don’t feel like it, and not responding immediately to texts and emails is a perfectly fine way to live.
3. Plan activities or adventures so that you can leave the phone and computer off. These screens may well be part of your daily routine at this point, and if you’re just sitting around the house all day it will be a difficult endeavor to avoid them. Make plans to experience something you’ve wanted to that’s lingering in the back of your mind: a local museum, park, trail, theater, garden, historical site or other attraction.
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4. Figure out how to get there on your own. How did people manage to arrive anywhere without GPS or Mapquest? Take the scenic route. Get lost. See things you didn’t expect to encounter. Use a map. Stop and ask for directions. When you take away your constant connection to information, you put a little mystery back in your life. Don’t hold too tightly to your plans. If you see a strange café, stop and have some coffee. Odd-looking boutique? Shop around and chitchat with the workers. See where the day can take you when you don’t have your route mapped out.
5. Instead of taking pictures at your destination, soak in the scene and emblazon the experience into your mind. What do you see? What do you hear and smell? What kind of energy is around you? You won’t have a picture of this experience; you’ll have to remember it. Notice the details of the day.
6. Back at home in the evening, life slows down and you’ll really be tempted to flip on the TV or hop online. What’s the news? What are my friends doing? Did anyone miss me? What if World War III began and I am just sitting here petting the dog? Instead of indulging your cravings for outward connection, connect with your own thoughts and feelings. Sit and think about the day and what you experienced. How did it feel to be unplugged? Plan to do something creative: write down some of your impressions, draw a picture of the day with colored markers, cook a fantastic dinner or put on some great music and dance. Tomorrow you can plug back in, but today you have experienced freedom and adventure.
Note: If you have kids, other dependents or issues with anxiety, you may not feel that you can separate yourself from your phone for a day. Don’t let that fear stop you from this experiment; just bring along your phone but don’t go past the greeting screen. Give your kids/dependents the low-down on what you’re doing, along with a special code word to use if it is a serious emergency. Even if you can only make it half a day without a text or call, give yourself credit for those hours – and try again another time!
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