Technology is great, but there can be too much of a good thing. E-mail results in faster communication, but it also leaves overflowing inboxes, spam attacks and the need for lengthy messages. RSS, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and instant messaging programs can also be great, if the 24/7 uninterrupted stream of information doesn’t drive you crazy first.
My suggestion is that for one day each month, have a communications blackout. Unplug your internet and let e-mails pile up for one day. The cost of being unconnected for twenty-four hours is small compared to the quiet it can bring to an already noisy life. One day a week would be even better, but the Firefox withdrawal symptoms might kill you first.
You probably like being connected. You feel the Amish and Luddites don’t know what they’re missing. If you enjoy feeling plugged in, why go to all the effort to cut the cords for just one day?
I think there are a number of benefits for going offline, but the biggest one is to get perspective. If your Crackberry is sewn to your hip, you might not regularly experience what it’s like to be without interruptions for an entire day. Unless you experience the benefits of an occasional unplug, you won’t know the costs that continuous contact has.
Here are some benefits I’ve found to doing a regular communications blackout:
- Freed Mental Processing Power – If you’re one of those people that answer e-mails and phone calls as soon as you get them (no matter what you’re doing) the first big boost you’ll probably notice is increased room to think. Tim Ferriss in the 4-Hour Workweek points to a study that showed participants mental ability was slowed more from a Blackberry than marijuana use.
- Extra Time in the Day – If you’re constantly connected, you probably don’t notice the slow drip, drip, drip of time wasted each day. When I started batching my routine web usage to once per day I saved over an hour of time even though I answered the exact same volume of e-mails.
- Peaceful Solitude - Can you read a book when dozens of people around you are deep in a conversation? Why do you think you can focus on your physical surroundings when dozens of messages are pouncing at you throughout the day. Unplugging can give a dose of mental relaxation that’s easy to miss in a digital life.
How to Set up a Communications Blackout Day
Going offline for one day isn’t difficult, but if you’re worried the lack of contact could hurt you, here are some of my suggestions for setting up and following through with your day in the real world:
- Unplug Your Cables. Disconnect your television cable and internet modem so you won’t feel the temptation to fill a few minutes of boredom with random noise. Keeping your computer unplugged is the next step, but staying disconnected is still a good start.
- Stop Carrying the Cell Phone. Being completely disconnected and turning off the phone services too might be the next level. But if you can’t take such a drastic step, at least place your cell phone in one location. By effectively converting your cell to a landline, you remove the need to constantly answer texts and calls if you’re busy.
- Plan a Hike. Do something outside or with nature for the day. If you’re planning on taking a temporary step backwards in technology, you might as well go for the full experience. Find some outside adventure you’ve always wanted to take on but haven’t had the time to try yet.
- Talk to Real People. Meet face-to-face. Have actual conversations instead of broken messages of text without proper punctuation.
- Empty Your Inbox First. Before you go offline, empty all your inboxes. This way the longest a message has to stew is only twenty-four hours.
- Read Books. You know, the ones made out of paper? I love getting my daily dose of bloggage from the world wide web, but there’s benefits to using more basic technology. Go to your public library to save the costs of a bookstore.
- Spend Time Thinking. Do you not have enough time to think? Carve out a bit of your day to write down your thoughts and go through those deeper issues that get missed when multitasking.
- Turn Off the Television. While television doesn’t give you instant access to your friends and coworkers, it belongs in the same category of other networking tools. Television takes the constant networking idea one step further, except instead of communicating to your friends, television connects you with celebrities, strangers and imaginary people who can’t even respond back to you.
- Do Real Work. Spend a few hours making headway on those big projects that get tossed aside normally. I unplugged for over a week last month and doing so helped me finish writing my book.
- Entertain Yourself. The constant stream of information can weaken your ability to entertain yourself. I’m sure you can remember building forts and playing make-believe as a kid. While I don’t suggest you start stacking up the couch cushions into a castle, being unconnected can help you recapture the art of entertaining yourself.
Tech is Good
I’d like to finish by saying that technology and interconnectedness is a good thing. There are side-effects that you should recognize and occasional unplugging is smart. But as a whole technology can enrich life, provided you maintain the sanity to use it.