I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly difficult to reflect, unplug, and be thoughtful during the school year. There is just so much going on, and there always seems like there is just one more thing to do. That’s why I so value the summer and especially these first couple of weeks in July.
My family and I are fortunate to have a place on a lake in northern Vermont. My grandparents bought it in the 50’s and still remains in the family. It’s in an area where there is little to no cell phone reception and up until this past year, we didn’t have cable or Internet access. The last few years, it has been my habit that as soon as we wrap up our Annual Fund year, I book it for Vermont to spend a week or so unwinding and unplugging.
I have at times relished in and at times been frustrated by the lack of connectivity up there. It’s wonderful to get away to a place where no one can reach you via email, cell phone or text message. It’s nice to go days without checking Facebook and Twitter, and I enjoy getting news and highlights from the newspaper rather than a television set.
Days are still busy and packed with things to do, especially with a soon to be three year old, but there’s something that happens to your head when you unplug from all of this connectivity. It’s almost as if I can feel my vision expanding like going from a old tube T.V. with a square screen to the rectangular wide-screen picture of a flat screen. After being unplugged for a couple of days, I remember old goals, think of new ways to do things, and feel seriously reenergized for the year ahead.
As I mentioned, this year was a bit different as I had access to the Internet and to cable that I hadn’t had in the past. I found the pull of all of these “screens”, as William Powers describes them in Hamlet’s Blackberry (which I read on my Kindle, oh the hypocrisy!), hard to resist. I’ve seen a few studies comparing the pull to stay connected to that of a drug addict’s urge. I don’t doubt it.
I found that I could not help but check my iPhone. I tried to limit myself to once a day and left it on the counter rather than carrying it around in my pocket. I had some success with this, but since I use it as a camera, it was hard to do. I was more or less able to leave the laptop closed and the T.V. off (except to catch the Tour), but I just could not put that damn phone down for an entire day.
What was I checking? Well, I was reading the Globe and checking up on the Sox. I was texting my wife or my friend summering in France. I was taking photos and posting them to Instragram and Facebook. And most egregiously, I was checking work email.
Not a single one of these things was pressing or necessary. There really was no need to check other than to satisfy that urge—that tug.
Really, what’s the point? Were those few minutes of connectivity really worth it? Did I gain anything from them except for a quick buzz from being connected to my network of friends?
I wear a Road I.D. bracelet that has emergency contact information on it in case I get in an accident while on my bike. In addition to a few phone numbers, I also have “Live Deliberately” inscribed on it. It’s taken from Thoreau’s Walden, and I had forgotten these two words were on my wrist until I was reminded of it the other day when I just happened to be looking at it. With all of this pulling and tugging that comes from digital devices and screens, sometimes I forget to do just that.
Now it’s true that technology is incredible and connects us in ways that do bring us together. Just look at my three year old and the way he uses Facetime to talk to his grandparents halfway across the country. It’s also true that I run our school’s social media and thus am fully immersed in these tools.
That being said, I find immense value in unplugging and I often fantasize about wiping out my Facebook and other social media accounts and taking a multi-month hiatus just to see what would happen.
Maybe next time I go up to Vermont, I’ll just leave the damn iPhone at home.