On Disconnecting (or Rodney Unplugged)

The Idea

I’m funny about holidays and observances. While I do observe the traditional holidays (Yom Kippur, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Arbor Day, etc.), I’d hardly say I do so with excitement. They’re just days on the calendar.  Were I forced to choose, I’d have to say that my favorite holidays are Thanksgiving and Groundhog Day.  (Hmm… it would appear as if I have a special fondness for holidays that celebrate animals. Should probably talk to my therapist about that, huh?)  But this year, I decided to celebrate a holiday of a different kind, and so I did.

So what sort of holiday would an eternally connected geek like myself choose to celebrate???  Alan Turing’s birthday?  The anniversary of the launch of ARPANET?  Actually, to the contrary, it’s The National Day of Unplugging.

For quite some time, I’ve been secretly wondering what effect the state of perpetual connectivity is having on my life.  Can I go for an hour without looking down at my cellphone?  Can I survive an entire evening without logging into Facebook or Twitter?  But what if something happens in the world?  How will I know about it if I’m not getting constant alerts?  I might miss something!! A ha!! We’re on to something… as a matter of fact, it would appear that we have arrived at the crux of the proverbial biscuit… FOMO or the “Fear of Missing Out”.

Recognizing the effects of FOMO and the overwhelming power the Internet has over me, I decided to take the plunge and join countless others in a 21st century Shabbat of sorts, stepping back from all electronic communications, and focusing on other things.

The Experiment

My Facebook status update from Friday 3/1/2013.

Friday, March 1, 2013

5:55pm – I posted the above status update to Facebook, and the experiment was off and running.

6:00pm – I was already showing signs of withdrawal.  I didn’t have Delerium Tremens or anything, but I could already sense a hole in my life.

7:15pm – My wife and I leave the house to attend a weekly meeting of an organization to which we belong.  We have the keys to the building and always get there early to set up for the meeting.  As we get in the car, I realize that I can’t plug my smartphone in to the car stereo to listen to my “The Good Stuff” playlist on Spotify.  ARGH!  The Agony!!  So I turn on the radio (sigh).

7:50pm – We’ve set up the chairs in the meeting room and are awaiting the arrival of other meeting attendees.  I instinctively reach for the smart phone to read a little bit of the Bill James Historical Abstract (an incredible book about my other obsession, baseball) while we wait, only to remember that I can’t read anything I’ve downloaded to my Kindle app… Argh.

10:02pm – We’re back home and are getting ready for the second half of our Friday night television extravaganza.  The festivities began with Spartacus at 9, and continued with Banshee at 10.  I’m okay during Spartacus.  I don’t even think about the Internet.  But when Banshee starts, it takes all the willpower I can muster to keep from Tweeting about the show’s twists and turns (and about the awesome performance by Ivana Miličević).  Throughout the action-packed show, I find myself hanging on the edge of my seat, imagining what wonderful insights must be flowing through my Twitter stream.

Saturday – March 2, 2013

12:30am – On most nights, as I’m lying in bed, anxiously awaiting the moment when Morpheus comes to whisk me away into the realm of sleep, I often spend a little time playing word games.  But not this night… This time, I was waiting for sleep to come and my wife was on Facebook… and all I could do was look the other way, trying not to get caught up in the drama/comedy/reality show that is Facebook.  Somehow I managed to roll over and fall asleep without succumbing to the temptation to sneak a peak at her smartphone’s screen to see what all the hubbub was about.  How could I bear another 17.5 hours of this?

9:00am – My morning routine consists of breakfast and a cold caffeinated beverage followed by a cup of coffee.  This routine also includes a check of Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, and e-mail.  Breakfast without the Internet is a strange thing.  Instead of working or reading while eating, this morning I found myself alone with my thoughts.  For a few fleeting moments, I find a measure of peace in the relative silence in a mind that is typically filled with data and ideas.  I won’t lie.  It was neat… but weird.  I’d forgotten what this was like.

2:15pm – My day was busy and I didn’t have a chance to think about the Internet.  But once all the busy stuff was done, I sat down to watch my beloved New York Yankees play a Spring Training game.  Instinctively, I reached for the tablet to join the conversation on Twitter or to read some more of the Bill James book or to (insert digital activity here) while the game was going on.  And I stopped and reminded myself that the tablet and all other digital gadgetry were off limits for another 3.75 hours.

I desperately scanned the room in search of another form of input.  Could it be that I would have to simply watch a baseball game without any other input? But what would I do during the commercial breaks?  How did my ancestors do it?  How did I do it in those days before constant connection?

Then it struck me like a bolt from the blue…  Across the room stood a large wooden structure with a series of shelves which were populated by hundreds of foreign yet oddly familiar objects. I adjusted my spectacles and arose to review this discovery.  Alas, there they stood.  My dear old friends… books. OH! The adventures we’d enjoyed, these books and I. I stared stunned for a moment, dreadfully ashamed that I’d neglected my old companions for so long. Finally, I timidly reached for the shelf and selected one of their number to accompany me in my journey to the other side of the room.  I crossed the room and took my seat, with the New York Yankees still in the background, and opened the book.  Within moments, I was spellbound by the text and images recounting the adventures of baseball gods of yore.

What a splendid afternoon it was…

5:15pm – We got the call that my wife’s car was ready to be picked up from the shop.  The spell was broken and I forced myself to walk away from the book which had seized my attention three hours before, and went with her to retrieve her automobile.

5:25pm – I leave the mechanic’s shop and head back home. On my drive home, I tune in to a college radio station to hear an outrageous brass band blowing like crazy.  The track ends and the announcer informs the world that we’d just had our minds blown by The Jambalaya Brass Band.  While stopped at a traffic light, without thinking, I reach down for my smartphone and look up this band on Spotify, plug my smartphone into the aux cable and crank up this wild brass band.

Then it hits me…
I’ve broken Shabbat…
But it’s just Spotify, I thought.  It doesn’t really count.
And besides, I’ve only got a few minutes left anyway.
So it’s not a big deal.
(This practice, by the way, is what we call rationalizing.)

5:30pm – I return home and head back into the house to try and figure out how to spend thirty whole minutes away from the Internet.
I took a shower.
I washed my hair.
I ate a snack.
I watched the clock.

As soon as the big hand pointed straight up and the little hand pointed straight down, I reached for the tablet and posted to Facebook:


Yeah.  I really do gotta do that more often.  I learned a lot about myself over the weekend, and all joking aside, some of it wasn’t very pretty.  I’m a slave to technology, and I really need to cut the cord and spend a little more time in the “real” world…. so I can blog about what the “real” world is like.