"Do you have multiple cell phones? Take your iPad to the beach on vacation? Ever find it hard to get through a conversation without posting an update to Facebook? Is your computer always on?"
That's the accusatory—and frighteningly accurate—blurb that caught my attention on the National Day of Unplugging website. For the past six years, the non-profit group Reboot has promoted this event to encourage us to disconnect from technology while reconnecting with friends, family, nature, and, you know, real life. Last year, thousands of people signed a pledge promising to cut the cords—at least from sundown to sundown.
The idea of unplugging intrigued and terrified me. As a stay-at-home mom to two young daughters and part-time freelance writer, I rely on my computer, iPad and smartphone for work, play, information, organization and distraction, sometimes all at once. Like most moms, I wear a lot of hats, and technology enables my frenetic multitasking.
But as we all know, these gadgets can be a blessing and a curse. There are times when, instead of being focused and present with my human children, my eyes and fingers dart away compulsively to check, check, check my devices.
And what am I checking? My Twitter feed full of insane Trump-isms? The 200 store coupon emails I receive on a daily basis? A birthday reminder for someone I knew briefly in the 90s? How are these things more compelling than the beautiful 10-month-old baby who wants nothing more in life than to see me smile at her?
Yet for me, glancing down at my phone (and staying there til my neck hurts) is an ingrained habit, bordering on addiction. A day of unplugging sounded good. Necessary. And scary.
So here's what happened: I shut down my computer, stowed my iPad in the closet and posted one last Facebook update before abandoning my cell phone: "I'm writing a piece about National Day of Unplugging so I'm trying it out early... starting now-ish. If you're trying to reach me, I'll call you back tomorrow, byyyyeeeee."
I literally spent the next 10 minutes wondering if anyone had "liked" my post, dismayed that I was unable to check. Clearly, I needed this detox.
When I finally booted up my phone, the shocking thing was that I had missed absolutely nothing.
For about an hour, I felt itchy. Withdrawals. Was there a methadone equivalent for unplugging? The most intense impulse that I had to quash was Googling the answer to whatever random question arose. I was going to have to live without knowing whether Kim and Kanye were really on the rocks or the weekend weather or the words to "Bohemian Rhapsody" (it popped into my head and wouldn't leave.) There was something freeing about not having all the answers at my fingertips. I could just live.
When it was time to cook dinner, I wasn't able to click on 12 different recipes for risotto, neurotically comparing the user reviews to figure out the absolute best possible option as if my life depended on it. So I flipped open a cookbook and just worked the steps. It was very Zen. (Confession: I did call my husband on the landline to ask what time he'd be home for dinner. I figured if a 50's housewives could do it, it didn't count as "technology.")
At night, since I couldn't take my iPad into bed with me—a horrible habit that my husband abhors—I simply went to sleep. Early. Which made it a whole lot easier to get up with the baby at 5:30 AM. And the fact that I couldn't check email first thing meant I started the day with baby giggles instead of a headache.
Did I like unplugging? Surprisingly, yes. Did I make it all 24 hours? Nope. With about an hour left on the clock in the morning, the baby fell asleep in the car and I had to wait her out. Mama cannot stare into space when I could be returning texts.
When I finally booted up my phone, the shocking thing was that I had missed absolutely nothing. Feel free to think I'm a loser, but there were no phone messages, no urgent emails, no breaking news. The world did not stop nor care that I'd checked out for a while. And my lack of importance gave me an odd sense of relief.
I'm not going to stop using my devices. But I am going to work on not getting sucked down the Internet rabbit hole so deeply. If it is, in fact, possible to buy Play-Doh on Amazon without also watching a Jimmy Fallon video and ogling coffee tables on Apartment Therapy, I am going to find out how.
The National Day of Unplugging starts March 4th at sundown. Will you #unplug?