11 Jul WHAT UNPLUGGING FROM THE INTERNET FOR 30 DAYS TAUGHT ME
Before embarking on our journey, we created our Wanderlist. It’s our list of wishes and needs, and the reasons why we quit our jobs in the first place. It’s a list we worked on together, and decided to use as a guide for our sabbatical. Most recently, we decided to tick off number 37: “go unplugged for a month”.
After nearly 15 years of daily digital interactions, we saw it as therapy (and an experiment) to go one solid month without social media, blogging, fancy applications, or the Internet. We allowed ourselves to stay 100% in each moment, and use tech only for creation i.e. cameras for photo taking, iPad for eBook reading and note taking, and our laptop for illustration, photo editing and design. Nothing else*.
We realize this is nothing new, but having “been there, done that,” below are some of the lessons we gained from this (we’d argue, compulsory-for-everyone) experiment:
Lesson #1: Everyday convenience disappears, but it brings you back down to earth.
As you are no longer connected to the entire world at the swipe of a finger, you need to go back to the way you did things pre-phones. To check the weather, you actually have to look outside; if you want to translate something, you have to ask one of the locals; learning to fish with a spinner isn’t something you can watch a tutorial of on YouTube; and looking for a reference of something to draw, means going outside to take a photo of it, or paging through one of the many books in the library. Although some of these things took more time, we were able to experience life at face value and not through a screen, meaning we could see the view, chat to people and discover other things along the way.
I must admit, I missed having Google available, but like we’re learning with the rest of our trip, you learn to adapt, and quite quickly. There is always another way to do something, and it normally requires some creative thought. Which leads me onto the next lesson.
Lesson # 2: The serendipity of stumbling is priceless.
With Google by your side 24-7, you lose the essence of exploring new things. You no longer browse and look for things, like you would do in libraries or at magazine stands. You would type something and (despite a few misses) get exactly what you asked for. Stumbling upon things serendipitously, even if they weren’t what you were looking for in the first place, shapes and influences you in a way you never thought possible.
If anything, our unplugged month has been a form of digital rehab, letting us enjoy the physical world, and allowing us the freedom to explore and discover things again, with and without intent.
Lesson # 3: You have more time in your day than you think you do.
Looking at our phone was something we would do with what we have now called “in between time” (IBT). IBT is the time you have between tasks or projects, that isn’t long enough to start on something else, but is short enough to make you feel awkward if you simply stand still doing nothing. Normally 2-15 minute intervals spread throughout the day. Some IBTs could include:
– waiting for your kettle to boil
– waiting for your significant other to do their hair
– waiting for the adverts to finish before or during your favourite show/movie
– the time you have when you’ve completed a project early
– the time between being told dinner is ready, and actually having food on the plate in front of you
In a world where we have “no time” and we’re “always busy”, it’s incredible how many time gaps we actually have that aren’t being utilized; time gaps that could be used productively or for something greater than ourselves. I, for one, used these time gaps to get back to my hobbies, doing what I love most: cooking and photography. Although the first week was a little uncomfortable as I did not know what to do with myself, I soon rediscovered my love for exploration and experimentation, something you never really have time for when you’re checking seven applications every hour.
Lesson # 4: Those back and neck pains you’ve been experiencing? Yeah, they’re probably from looking at your phone.
Besides turning up our outdoor activity a few notches, going unplugged has been extremely beneficial to our health. After only 5 days of non-smartphone usage, our necks were no longer stiff, and stretching in the morning has been a less painful experience. It’s not something you really think about when browsing through photos on Instagram, or catching up with the news on Twitter, but the many times your head dips below the normal resting position, has serious impact on your neck, back and shoulders.
So if you find yourself booking way too many Chiro visits, or suffer from tension headaches, you may want to re-look at your tech addiction.
Lesson # 5: Being selfish (sometimes) is ok.
Having changed our routine from wake-up-pick-up-phone-see-who-did-what-while-we-were-sleeping, to wake-up-think-about-what-we-want-to-do-today, we noticed a massive change in our personal reflections, and found our thinking to be a lot more meaningful. We were no longer worrying about the latest meme, or whose birthday it was, but rather focused on our own goals, and what we wanted to do with our days. The important birthdays we still remembered*, and loved ones never left our thoughts, but the break allowed us to channel our energy into more productive and meaningful projects that really needed our time and attention.
Lesson # 6: Your phone is as much involved in your relationship as you are.
Leaving our phones for a month resulted in the happiest transformation for our relationship. There were none of those noiseless moments, with only the sound of gentle touchscreen-swipes resonating through the room. With tech nowhere to be seen, we talked more, told more stories, brainstormed about everything, and grew closer. Our IBTs (see lesson 2 above) were spent coming up with jokes (you must ask Steve what a Swedish hunter eats for dessert), and discussing solutions, not Googling them. We learned more about each other and were able to really enjoy each others’ company, like when we first started dating. If you’re looking for a simple way to pour fresh oil into the ol’ tank, start by getting rid of your phones.
Lesson # 7: There will always be another viral video.
After completing our month, and finally taking the social apps out of the hidden ‘unplug’ folder on swipe three of the iPhone, we logged on to find that we hadn’t actually missed very much. Besides the monumental news that Stevo won another Cannes in this year’s Cannes Lion Creativity Festival, the worlds of social media and the Internet still seemed the same as when we left them. Videos, photos and other media were still being shared through the same channels, and we picked them up right where we left off.
What has been quite a refreshing revelation too, has been our genuine appreciation of photography on our devices. It hasn’t felt like a battle for our attention – instead we’re more attentive, taking it all in, and really stopping to view the vibrancy of each image. Hopefully this lasts.
Conclusion: Going unplugged should be placed on the same shelf as food detoxes and meditation – a necessary exercise in the 21st Century.
As we sit now, we don’t think we’ll ever give tech up for good – there are just way too many benefits, and we love how the world is evolving. Our usage and relationship with our phones, however, certainly won’t go back to the way it was pre-unplug. As Tim Ferris recommends in 4-Hour Workweek, it’s healthy and necessary to allocate time slots for emailing, and we feel exactly the same about all tech interactions now. We will no longer be slaves to the notifications, and instead make time to notice more. We’ll be sure to focus on ourselves before giving the tech world all of our attention, and switching off to go unplugged will become a regular occurrence, no doubt.
*Confession: we cheated 3 times, sending two important birthday text messages, and using Skype on Sundays to speak to Stevo’s folks.