Sometimes while staring into my computer screen during the sixth or seventh hour of my work day—the glare of the bright monitor reflecting off of my glasses—I fantasize about going unplugged. No cell phone, no computer, no music players, no television, or anything else that entails a plug and isn’t a refrigerator. This fantasy of mine becomes one step closer to reality when I do things like hand write letters (a lost art!), curl up to a good book, go camping or otherwise spend time in nature. While traveling I have even been known to go without a watch or clock for days on end. It’s such a good feeling to time your day by needs, impulses, and what “feels” right for you instead of by the ticking away of unbending numbers.
Pulling the plug on electronic communication and the digital information age every so often seems like it could have a wonderful impact besides saving money on electric bills. After half an hour or so of staring at family and friends perhaps we would be more inclined to engage in delicious conversation without the use of a cell phone. We could cultivate focus and presence, living in uncomfortable silence until it becomes comforting to us. Time to reflect, contemplate on, and absorb the world around us could lead to new ideas, thoughts, or explanations of things that have seemed off to us before. Perhaps we could make sense of our lives, more clearly see our next step, grieve for the things we have pushed aside, revel in being, and celebrate our love for those around us. It would also slow down the seemingly accelerated pace of time (just spend one afternoon in a rocking chair on your porch or patio people or nature-watching and you will see what I mean). These are tall orders, and no doubt must come from a desire within us to live more consciously and not just a desire to turn the television off. But it seems to me that having so many things rapidly buzzing and instantaneously responding at us dulls our senses and numbs our minds a bit.
My personal motivation for unplugging comes from one of my fondest childhood memories during a night of thunderstorms that caused a blackout in our old farmhouse. In the untiring current of bending branches, interloping telephone wires and windows pecking against their wooden frames, our home radiated warmth and a glow from all of the candlelight and togetherness. After a shared dinner and a board game, we decided to climb into our parents’ bed for a pass-along story where one person started things off and then gave another person’s imagination the chance to speak. The story passed from person to person through multiple rounds, and ended up being absolutely silly and wonderful: monkeys spreading the word among their monkey friends about a little farm in Lancaster PA where there was abundant milk and hardly any bugs compared with the amount they found in their current jungle home. I think we giggled our way through most of the talking!
In an effort to unplug our lives a bit more and ensure that we create our own wonderful memories, Paul and I have instituted digital-free Wednesday evenings in our household. It may not sound like much, but for a blogger and an IT Network Administrator this is a small reprieve that we can consciously fit into our lives. And it has been lovely so far. As soon as we come home we turn almost nothing on. We don’t check emails, return texts, play Words with Friends, or use anything with a button besides the oven. Instead, there is cooking, reading, eating by candlelight, real conversation, playing with the cats, sitting outside, etc.
I remember that night at the farm better than any storyline from a television show in my childhood. The feeling of security against a brutal storm, using our imaginations to create a crazy monkey story whose fate danced from family member to family member, and eating dinner together by candlelight; none of this experience would have existed in the glow of a computer screen or in the spaces between channel surfing. It was the kind of experience and night I hope to recreate in our own household and lives, and I know that our digital-free Wednesdays puts us one step closer to getting there.