It was my first attempt this summer to completely unplug. It happened one Sunday, last Sunday in fact…
Before I recount what went down, all the successes and failures, I should do what I expect my students to do—define how I am using the term “unplugged”. For me, being unplugged means not checking my e-mail, or my Twitter timeline, or reading the newest items in my RSS reader, or visiting any of the sites and blogs I frequent on the Internet. Not just on my computer, but on my smartphone, too. Texting and calling friends and family are approved activities, and reading on my Kindle is also acceptable. Only now am I able to identify what is out of bounds in order to achieve my idea of a blissful, unplugged state. When I was at the starting line for unplugging, I had no idea what was in or out of bounds. As you would expect, this presented some problems.
I didn’t wake up with the intention of unplugging. This, I think, was the first obstacle to be overcome because I didn’t begin in the right frame of mind. The decision to unplug came only after a sense of being bombarded by the Internet and deciding that perhaps it was a good day to take a break. It also came on the heels of bemoaning the fact that it had been some time since I had started and finished a novel (specifically, a novel that I wasn’t in the process of teaching). I didn’t consciously connect these two—being plugged in on a seeming 24/7 basis and not finishing a book—but maybe there is the tiniest link of causality there? With the decision to unplug, the questions were how to stay unplugged (read: how to avoid the temptation of the Internet) and what to do with all of that time which was normally spent using the Internet to accomplish other tasks (shopping, reading, writing, chatting with friends, researching stuff, searching for entertainment to relieve the boredom, etc.)?
I have all sorts of applications on my computer to help me minimize distractions and get things done—Freedom, FocusWriter, Apimac Timer—and, I use Evernote as a way of keeping track of all the errant thoughts running through my mind while doing other things. Once the decision to unplug was made, I fired up Freedom and set it for two hours (Freedom turns off your Internet connection for a specified amount of time, and you can only turn Freedom off by restarting your computer). What did I get done in those two hours? I cleaned my kitchen from top to bottom, made a grocery list and then did some much overdue grocery shopping.
What else did I get done you ask? I added over 3,100 words to my CampNaNoWrimo work-in progress. Also, if you recall, last Sunday was Father’s Day, so I talked to both parents and got caught up with everything going on in their lives. This is especially important to me because my parents are a three-day road trip or a 4+ hour airplane ride away. I don’t get to see them as often as I want, and talking on the phone is how we keep in touch (my parents are not Skypers yet, but I have hope).
I also picked up a book I have wanted to read for some time and got through the first 150 pages. I am not a fast reader, so it took me about four hours to read that much. In hindsight, I wonder if my ability to sustain my concentration on the book is entirely attributable to the book’s appeal (having now finished the book, I don’t think this is the case) or if some of the credit goes to the fact that actively unplugging myself from the Internet helped improve my ability to concentrate and focus on the task at hand?
No, really, let’s think about this for a second. On the average day, I have Twitter open and keep it placed on the left side of my screen so that I can always see the column in Tweetdeck where the latest updates appear (even as I am writing this, I have my word document positioned so that I can see tweets as they enter my timeline). Then I check e-mail, or glance at my RSS reader, or look for updates in my online reading club. I can’t help thinking that the constant movement from one site to another and back again is detrimental to my concentration. Hence the need for all these distraction minimizing applications. I know this is not a new idea; I simply feel it more acutely when actively trying to unplug.
Those are the successes. There were failures, too, and I think some of these are attributable to not being in the right state of mind. I did find my way to the iTunes store and bought some new music. I did read through my RSS reader while eating lunch, which is a long-time habit of mine. I did glance at Twitter when my Freedom sessions expired, and I did update the word count on my CampNaNoWrimo work-in-progress. All told, these activities probably accounted for 60-90 minutes of my Sunday. In the big picture, I realize that this is not a lot of time. What is important about that estimate is that it shows me how difficult it is for me to fully unplug from the Internet. Still, what my Sunday unplugged gave me was time and space to be creative, talk with family, read a (good) book, and though it is near the bottom of my desired things to do, accomplish some household chores. I want more of those first three things in my life, and like it or not, I have to make time for chores. I won’t say that my first Sunday unplugged was a complete success, but it was successful. It was my first attempt to unplug this summer, but it won’t be my last.