Monday, March 28, 2016

What Unplugging Taught Me

This post is a bit overdue, and I blame that on the very thing I’m going to write about: the National Day of Unplugging.

I shared in a previous post what the event was about and that I was planning to partake, but in case you missed it, I shall summarize by copying and pasting from said post: “the National Day of Unplugging is a project of Reboot, a non-profit that ‘affirms the value of Jewish traditions and creates new ways for people to make them their own,’ according to nationaldayofunplugging.com. The purpose of the day is to do exactly what it implies: unplug. For a 24-hour period, from sundown March 4 through sundown March 5, participants avoid their cell phones and connect with loved ones and the world around them… a connection that doesn’t rely on Wi-Fi.”

And so, that’s exactly what I did. I thought I was just going to shut my phone off for a day, go about my life without sending any texts or perusing Pinterest -- piece of cake -- and then the 24 hours would be up and things would go on as usual.

I was, in fact, mistaken. I learned things. And things changed.

The first thing that changed actually occurred before I shut off my phone. As sundown approached, I realized a lack of phone meant I was going to have to make plans *now* for what I wanted to do tomorrow... you know, like we used to have to do all the time. True, some advanced planning still takes place, and in some cases is necessary, but that's tempered with plans made via some variation of the following:

"Hey... you around?"
"Yeah, what's up?"
"About to be in town. Wanna hang out?"

or

"I'm going for coffee in five. Wanna join?

Plans are also no longer as finite as they used to be. Thanks to being accessible basically 100 percent of the time, there's always the possibility you can decide you don't feel like going out with the girls despite the plans you made, and shoot them all a text saying you're out; or, if you wake up in the morning and decide you'd rather sleep in than go for yoga with your mom, it's easy enough to tell her to go on ahead and Surya Namaskar without you (yes, I'm guilty of both, and I'm admitting it because I know I'm not the only one, and if you tell me you've never done it I'll call you a liar).

Anyway, the above isn't quite so easy (or as much of a temptation) if you don't have a phone or some other simple way to back out without just standing people up and looking like a complete jerk.

And so, I scrambled as the sun was setting to plan in advance the things I wanted to do on Saturday; I picked a time for yoga in the morning, and for my mom to grab me so we could go to the store together. And I taught the 12-year-old daughter of a friend of mine who regularly texts asking if she can come over to see our pets "in an hour," "later today," or "in five minutes" about planning.

When said 12-year-old learned I'd be shutting my phone off she freaked out. 

"Are u serious... but what if I want to come over"

"Well we have to plan ahead," I responded. "So would you like to visit tomorrow?"

"Yes I would love 2"

And so we picked a time and arranged how she'd get there etc. (the visit didn't actually end up happening... but I'll get to that.)

Then the sun set. And my phone went off. And. I. Lived.

All of a sudden, I was more present in every day moments. I noticed more. When I was in the car with my husband Jason and we were driving somewhere, I actually saw the scenery that passed by. I was looking up.

As I had conversation after conversation I'm embarrassed to admit I realized just how much I wasn't truly listening to people before. Even if I wasn't on my phone when they were talking, I must have been thinking about doing something ON said phone while they were talking, because without it, I realized I listened more. I focused more on them and their words.

I also learned without a phone on hand you appear more approachable. Jason and I went out to eat that night. We sat at the bar and an elderly couple to our left struck up conversation with us. Then, later on, another person did too. I didn't have a phone in my hand or nearby on the counter. I didn't pick it up when Jason went to the bathroom like some kind of security blanket; I looked around. I smiled at people. I observed.

And through that observation I realized a few things: I realized just how silly it looks when you're sitting at a bar and the entire row of people sitting on the opposite side are staring down at illuminated screens instead of interacting with those around them. 

I also noticed how few establishments have clocks these days. Without my phone, I had no idea what time it was... apparently it's time to invest in a watch. 

Along those same lines, I realized I need an alarm clock/alarm radio, because I use my phone for that, too.

And finally, I realized just what phone use has become for some people: an addiction. It was easy for me to shut off my phone. I quickly got over the habit of looking for it to pick it up and check for notifications. Life went on. But it's not so easy for others, especially teenagers, and that's a serious problem.

The 12-year-old who was scheduled to come over, if you recall, didn't. And that's because we wouldn't let her. And that's because upon arrival she refused to turn off her phone. In fact, more than refused, she went into hysterics over it.

"I can't! I can't! I can't!" she cried when her mother told her to shut it off and that it was just for two hours.

At one point her mom asked us to just let her keep it on... she wasn't budging. But that wasn't part of the deal. We were unplugging. Jason and I believe in following through. Too often it seems, parents cave in the face of a child who throws a tantrum, thus reinforcing their behavior and making things worse in the long run. We refuse to do that, and so, that day, that's exactly what we did, and she had to leave with her mother. 

After the ordeal, Jason and I were literally shocked and appalled at her reaction: she had responded as though we'd said we were about to cut off her arm. Her pleas sounded as hysterical as mine used to when my separation anxiety was at its peak in elementary school and my mom was about to leave me. 

"Never," we said. "Never will we let that happen to our children."

And so, in sum, a day of unplugging did wonders, and I urge everyone to set up some time to do the same. In fact, set up regular times to do the same. Pay attention to how you and your loved ones handle it; and if you find you can't handle it, know that while people joke about being addicted to their electronic devices, Smartphone Addiction is a real issue, and there's help. For more information, visit helpguide.org

Unplug, unwind and live. 

That's all.

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