Oh, the irony.
Today I spent about an hour reading online articles about how to unplug from technology for several hours a day. It feels rather like going to a human resources department to find out how to get a job at another company. There are many, many articles and blogs out there on the subject. Books, too. Everyone has their own methods. But you never really know if people are being honest, right? The assumption is that whatever methods they propound actually work for them. Still, I’m skeptical. Change means developing new habits, and that’s not so easy.
It’s funny how bad habits are easy to develop, but good habits are difficult to build.
I’m the queen of bad technology habits: sitting too much, playing games on my iPad while watching television, checking FB, my email, Instagram, Twitter, and headlines every 6-10 minutes. I tell myself I’ll leave my phone and iPad alone, but then pick them up without even thinking. Out of habit.
There are two big issues that keep me plugged in. The first is FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. While I’ve never been much of a joiner of clubs or groups, there’s something about social media that makes me feel like I have to know what’s going on. What people are talking about, or reading or watching. I’m a very curious person, and I find it all so INTERESTING. I find people’s lives so interesting. There’s always something happening online. Some kind of drama, or protest, or cat video, or meme, or adorable baby photo. It works the other way, tool: I’m a little afraid of being forgotten. Isn’t that odd? If I don’t post, how will I know I’m alive?! Just kidding, of course. It only feels a little like that.
The other issue is the constant stream of rewards available at the touch of my finger. There’s a kind of anticipation I can almost taste when I think about seeing a new email in the queue or a new mention or like on Facebook. The anticipation is even stronger when I check for new comments or visits to my site and blog. It’s very similar to the buzz I get just thinking about breaking off a square of Theo’s 72% dark chocolate. Ah, the delicious, rich creaminess of a dozen Instagram hearts!
Both of these elements of online life are daunting when it comes to making and breaking habits. Who doesn’t like instant treats? Who wants to feel left out?
FOMO is about what’s going on with me, and only me. There’s nothing happening online that I can’t easily miss. I unplugged for much of the summer, with the exception of Instagram and a bit of twittering. When I returned, I found I hadn’t missed much. So, rationally, there’s no reason why I can’t just tell myself “no” and stay off social media for short amounts of time.
As to the rewards. Ugh. I like my rewards sweet and frequent. I’ve never been a patient person–some folks just aren’t, but my ADHD makes having patience even more of a challenge. I’ve never been able to handle long-term gratification. I love those quick pops of dopamine, and do my best to keep them coming as frequently as possible. So I wonder if I don’t need a personality change instead of a habit change.
A popular barrier method for staying offline is Freedom for Mac. Every device I own is Apple, so it should work for me. But I know myself better than that. I would totally cheat. While I would never cheat on tests or when playing a game with others or steal anything, I have no problem at all undoing moves on my solitaire game or even restarting. I always eat a few calories over what I’ve recorded on My Fitness Pal. Shocking, isn’t it. There’s a 12 year-old inside of me who LOVES to get away with things.
If I’m going to quit something, I have to go cold turkey. It was that way with smoking, and it worked. It’s that way with dieting and exercising. It mostly works. But I can’t just be offline forever. Well, I could, but that would be crazy in my line of work.
What do you do to power down? Does it work? I’m all ears…
(Here are two articles that have good unplugging suggestions.)
6 thoughts on “The Unplugged Life”
I take walks and go on jogs without my phone. The dog and the rolling hills keep me company. One time I told my husband I was worried that I’d see an accident and need to call 911. He reminded me that 20 other people will hear or see the accident and whip their phones out.
This sounds very brave to me, Priscilla. I feel way too worried to walk out into the country without my phone. Of course, I always expect a tractor to come around a curve and hit me!
Your story about your husband is too cute!
You have made me feel better about myself knowing that you fudge your Fitness Pal App too. Why record a piece of candy after I’ve totaled for the day? After you total…anything else doesn’t count, right?
I’m happy to commiserate with you, Debbie! And I totally agree about about the calories not counting after totaling for the day. Unfortunately my hips disagree, darn it.
Laura; I am unplugged for the most part, out of choice. I don’t have a Smart phone or an I-Phone, but a very small mobile phone for emergencies. I would love to be able to take pictures, but my phone doesn’t do that, and I won’t pay for the other phones. I learned early on when I taught at the university, the dangers of social media, so I don’t have Twitter, Instagram or FB. I am plugged on because I now work online and that’s when I read and answer blogs, only those I want to read and answer, and I am on Good Reads, but only when I want. I have some friends who only communicate via e-mail ( and this bothers me, although I;m not a big phone person, either) but it’s nice to hear a human voice. Electronics are the rage and trend, and there is a very dark side to it. I have Verizon FIOS triple play, but I don’t subscribe to additional channels, and I can call anywhere in the states on my landline phone. I feel as though being plugged in is just a strain on my eyes and back. I have a lap top I never use, and I feel free and happily anonymous, too.
You have been so smart and careful about developing your online habits, Skye. I totally agree about there being a very dark side to tech. There’s so much potential for abuse. I’m VERY impressed with your restraint when it comes to social media. You’re great role model for responsible usage!