“You can’t just turn off the phone. You’re paying $800, or actually more, for it,” this logical friend said. “You can ‘unplug’ without being so extreme.” I knew the air quotation marks were used, or the insinuation of them was there.
“You think it’s extreme either way?” I ask.
Pause. “A little,” Pausing. He continued, “This is the way of social interaction to some extent. You need it to communicate with people.”
Questions tumble through my head, pushing one another forward and out. Does anyone truly unplug anymore, or do most people just say that when they don’t want to answer a text? What does it mean to unplug to most people anyway? Are there levels of disengagement? And if so, how forgiving are those who function with the plug in at all times? I often have many questions about the simple act of choosing not to use technology in various ways for a period of time.
Unplugging is something I fully enjoy. I roll around in all of that space that’s created by turning off my social media. I listen deeply to myself and turn everything way down when the time arises in my life. Often, I don’t have a set time for how long I’ll remain unplugged. That time has grown longer and longer over the years.
“Shhhh, I’m watching this,” is not a phrase that my children often hear from me. I don’t shush them so that I can stare at a screen or communicate via a virtual world. I want to be present for them, especially since I first made the decision to unplug at random times in my life because I was a person who woke up and grabbed my phone, checked my social media, told my family to wait while I…, but that look of hurt bothered me, and it especially felt bad when I directed them to a screen to buy myself more screen time. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to work at times, and often that involves technology for me and many others, but we have become readily available with little timers that even tell everyone else how quickly we are likely to respond. Response times?! What about the ones in the present, in our immediate physical surroundings? I watch as people sit in their cars on their phones and stall traffic. They are delayed in response times in the actual moment.
I stopped watching television in grad school and have rarely watched anything in twelve years. At first, I still watched some children’s shows and a cooking show or two with my daughters, but now, I have no frame of reference when people discuss popular t.v. programs or current events that are media-related. I really don’t know. Many people have claimed to me that they don’t watch t.v. either, but actually they do. They have favorite programs that they record and watch. They “catch” the news, etc. When I say that I don’t watch it, I mean that I don’t watch it. The radio is even disconnected in my car (which was a malfunction at first, but I don’t want it fixed) so unless I play music through a portable speaker using my phone’s Bluetooth, my drives are silent or filled with conversation if someone is with me.
My unplug conditions might be considered extreme by many people. Sometimes, unplugging includes changing the settings of my social media profiles before I unplug. I change the public accounts to private, restrict the notifications completely, and switch the privacy settings to “Only Me” on everything possible. This allows me to remain focused and autonomous.
“What do you do?” People have asked me.
Everything except plug up when I am unplugged. I play, listen, dance, write, read, talk, trail run, hike, draw, write letters, cook, yoga, meditate, and so much more. All of this doesn’t mean that I don’t use my phone, my computer, the radio, etc. I do, just not all of the time. I still enjoy the “old ways” of being surprised about where I’m going and not looking up everything about the place on the internet, of choosing places to go spontaneously without reading online reviews, and of being in the moment with only my experiences as the influence.
One of the greatest benefits of this style of unplugging for me is the distance from celebrity culture that I have gained. I’m so far distanced from celebrity world that I don’t even know who they are most of the time when someone mentions a celebrity from the past decade. I might recognize a name because people talk about celebrities more than the politics that shape our lives, and often more than their own personal lives, but I don’t know celebrity faces and stories.
Another great benefit from unplugging is that I am not agitated by styles, having it all, being a “baller” or pretending that I am, ignoring accumulated debt by the focus on social status, media hype, and more. I am actually free to develop my own conclusions. One of those is what I have witnessed from others. In all of the plugging in, I actually witness a disconnect from the reality of truth with many people. I notice that people get anxiety when they don’t have their phones, if they can’t log in to something, and if they aren’t in close proximity to a screen. Most people have screens in every room of their home, even the bathrooms sometimes. I have two screens in my home–the computer and the living room t.v. I don’t even have cable t.v. or a version of it (satellite, etc).
My reasoning behind the unplugging and the limitations of technology and media influence are because I was once too influenced and controlled by it—-I have been the person who stalls traffic because I was on the phone, the person who sent simple text answers while driving, attached to t.v. programs and ballgames while forsaking activities with people in my life, constantly refreshing the status online, posting to social media and noticing the patterns of other people on social media, etc etc.
My analysis truly began after a social media bullying incident by a former friend to me. It grew to involve more than the two of us, and it devastated me. People who didn’t even know me beyond acquaintances messaged me to ask why this friend no longer “liked” my posts on social media. It takes some effort to notice who likes what on someone else’s feed, but people actually use their time to find out.
I was also one of these people who took the time to notice who liked someone else’s posts (but not because I ever used what I noticed). When it happened to me and people I don’t really even know began to smack-talk about it, I could see (as I was already feeling) the possibilities of toxicity from social media in our psyches and emotional life. It has taken me years to process what happened to me regarding online bullying and cruelty.
So, the best gain of all for me has been freedom. I don’t have the attachment to all of that confining me into a specific way of life. I find much more time to be and do…
(I have so much more to say about this, and I will continue…)