“I believe in balance, rejuvenation, and the importance of play and having fun. Recovery is non-negotiable. […] You can either make time to rest and rejuvenate now or make time to be sick and injured later.” – James Clear
“Digitally disconnect so that we can connect with the people, things, and ideas that are right in front of us in the real world.” – Scott Dinsmore
Being unreachable is one of my favorite parts about taking trips. Whether that time is spent reading on a beach, meditating in nature, or plugging into life on safari in Africa, I love the sense of calm alertness that comes when the wifi isn’t great and cell service is non-existent.
I knew I could create that same feeling at home in Chicago by taking a digital vacation, but I didn’t make it a priority until the wise Jacob Sokol challenged me to go 24 hours without electronics and “take back control over the content of your consciousness.” So I did. And it was awesome.
The Need To Unplug
Modern day technology is pretty amazing. We can communicate instantly with people around the world, learn from the best teachers and instructors in any subject, hire personal transportation for less than the cost of a bus pass, and check in on the lives of old friends or famous celebrities. But because our technology is so awesome, we’re spending more and more time immersed in it, at the cost of genuine interactions and enjoyment of the now.
We’ve all been at a meal or in a conversation where the other person’s eyes are glued to their phone. Most of us are guilty of it ourselves, even though we know how it feels to seem less important than whatever’s on the other side of the screen. It turns out that we don’t even have to be using the phone – just its mere presence can decrease the quality of an interaction. A set of studies by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex demonstrated that simply having a device within sight can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality.1
When we’re alone it can be even worse. We face a constant barrage of requests for our attention through phone calls, text messages, emails, calendar invites, and social media requests. It feels good to know that we’re “connected,” but at what cost? “That gap between stimulus and response is where the real world takes place,” wrote Scott Dinsmore, “but the ease of access to email and social media have made the gap all but disappear. […] Reclaiming that gap, the priceless pause, the space that allows great ideas to take life, is an important practice.”
What Taking A Digital Vacation Feels Like
My first digital vacation lasted approximately 36 hours, from Saturday night through Monday morning.
I was looking forward to spending time outside, maybe taking a paperback book to a bench near the pond or heading to the driving range, but the cold and wet Chicago weather had different ideas. Instead, my day included: a loosely scheduled swim workout, a lazy brunch and coffee stroll, cleaning out and organising my closet, spending some quality time with my journal (revisiting my perfect day and week, getting clarity on high-level goals, outlining a few blog posts, drawing this) and getting to bed early.
I typically use Sundays to review the previous week, plan for the week ahead, and make progress on projects. Most weeks, as the hours pass into the early afternoon and evening, I start to get stressed out about the things that I haven’t accomplished yet. Interestingly, even though none of my normal activities were getting done, I found myself feeling much less anxious and stressed.
There was (as there always is ) a ton of stuff that I wanted to be making progress on, but knowing that I wasn’t allowed to do any of it made me much calmer about the fact that nothing was getting done. I’d already made the choice, and so I was free to explore the day and time as I saw fit.
Without having a phone, computer, TV, or various other attention consuming devices, I found myself more engaged with the present moment. I also felt more creative – ideas and insights seemed to arise more easily once given the space.
I’d been afraid of missing out on something and the impending disaster that it might cause, but when Monday morning came I was happy to discover that the world was still turning. I hadn’t destroyed any relationships, and all of the messages and social media updates were waiting for me in my various inboxes.
A caveat: we’d made an appointment to take Gus to the groomer before planning the digital vacation, and they did have to call Kristen to let us know he was done. Kristen also coordinated various travel plans and scheduled a few of our workouts for the following week, which wouldn’t have gotten done had she also been electronic free. In the future, I’ll have to be better about taking care of those types of things ahead of time.
Tips For Taking A Digital Vacation
- If you aren’t going to go full-disconnect, decide ahead of time what types of devices and activities are “allowed.” I personally made one exception: I meditated with my Muse headband, but I had my phone on airplane mode and opened the app the night before so I wouldn’t be distracted. I also turned off the volume from the app so that the actual meditation would be in silence.
- If using a device, put it in airplane mode and turn off all push notifications. If you’re going to use it as an e-reader or camera, consider moving all other app icons to a different folder or screen.
- To meet someone, you might allow the use of GPS for navigation and a text app for coordinating arrival, but be careful with the texts as it can be a slippery slope. The alternative is to go old school, agree to meet at a certain time and place, and then honor your commitment.
- If listening to music, avoid commercials. Silence can also be fun too – I turned off the radio in the car and rolled down the windows to hear the world outside.
- Consider taking mini-vacations throughout the week by eliminating electronics for the first hour after you wake up. Maybe create a morning routine to set yourself up for success throughout the day.
Whatever method you choose, make sure the people around you are on board. Let them know in advance, or invite them to join, and set yourself up for success by taking care of any obligations ahead of time and brainstorming fun technology-free activities. I didn’t do this particularly well for round one and as a result, the experience was less enjoyable for Kristen than it was for me, something that I hope to fix going forward.
Making Digital Vacations A Practice
After experiencing the power of unplugging, I’m hoping to do it on a consistent basis, although I haven’t yet decided if that means weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.
I’m thinking it would be great to go full-disconnect for one day a month and do a less strict version every week, during which I can use my phone to read, take pictures, and in certain cases coordinate an activity, but not touch the computer or any non-critical apps.
What are your thoughts? Are you going to take your own digital-vacation? I’d love to hear about it.
For some visual inspiration, check out this awesome (and incredibly popular) video called “Look Up.”
- http://spr.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/07/17/0265407512453827.abstract [↩]