By Caitlin Krause
I recently went tech-free for five days, which doesn’t sound like a huge number, but it had me wondering: could I do it? Could I actually get away from apps, emails and texts for that amount of time? What would the experience be like, and could I, as a mindfulness consultant, use it as some sort of experiment, in order to inform me of my own habits and knee-jerk expectations?
I was both excited and intimidated.
I prepped for the “great unplugged” event, setting up my email auto-response; warning friends and family that I would be out of contact for the five weekdays. It might sound as if I was heading off on some adventure in the wilderness — a trip to Italy for a week was a different sort of exploration. I would have hardly any online time, so the “tech sabbatical” was a necessity. It turned out to be more profound than I could have predicted.
The following are my 10 top observations of effects of living tech-free:
1) Starting Local: There was no checking in the morning and at night; instead, I woke up and stretched in the morning, choosing to meditate or take a walk/run outside. I focused on weather; I listened to my own body. When I check email in the morning, my first thoughts are often connected to the idea of tasks or job; instead, my thoughts while unplugged were about the quality of my natural environment. It seemed to form a good base for the day, to start local.
2) Observe the World: I am usually observant by nature; did this tech-free week heighten my awareness? Not sure — but I can guarantee that my lack of connectivity didn’t dampen my observations. After about a day, I stopped habitually reaching for my phone to check it. Breaking that habit was oddly liberating, and didn’t take very long.
3) Navigate using surroundings: I like that my phone can help me find my way around when I’m in a bind, yet I prefer the feeling of navigating by sight/curiosity, or taking advantage of the directions of the local experts. Of course, there’s time to consider, but operating off-the-grid made me more aware of my own independent skills, resilience, and appreciation of my surroundings. Even with yelp, foursquare, and all other travel apps in consideration, staying tech-free seemed to simplify life, heightening joy.
4) Joy Factor: As mentioned, there is a simple joy in being a part of each moment as it happens. There is no rush be elsewhere… I’m aware that each present moment is all that really exists.
5) Humanity: Albert Einstein famously said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” This is a concern. Even selfies appear… self-absorbed, by nature. Without my tech dividing me from others, I found my own empathy increasing… I was fully present to engage in smaller exchanges; to be part of the pulse of life. It felt richer, somehow, this experience.
6) Interior Landscape: Without the constant sense of urgency to touch in with social media, I was free to explore the landscape of my thoughts. Some of my own ideas surprised and amused me; it was refreshing, to rediscover the voice inside, away from online chatter. I even went for runs without headphones, and found that my constant use of an iPod while exercising had made me unaccustomed to the sound of my own breath. This elemental re-connection was profound.
7) Offline Presence: A lot is emphasized about establishing an online presence, but what about my offline presence? I became even more aware of my connections and interactions with others in my local community, and I was able to focus more on what was actually happening, without my mind wandering to a list of online connections and plans. My offline presence was enriching, sustaining and fulfilling, and I would venture to guess that I had a better time during this adventure because I was fully present.
8) Time: I estimate that I saved about four to five hours a day, for five days, from cutting out my tech interactions. Incredible. Now, what I do with technology is highly enjoyable and enriching, yet I might justify it as a necessity, which is certainly not the case. I understand there’s a balance to strike, and, while I love certain advantages that technology provides, I greatly value the benefits of this ability to unplug.
9) Love Endures: It occurred to me that friends might wonder or think I didn’t care if I wasn’t posting or texting right back. Not the case; in fact, love is uplifting and supportive by nature, and I don’t need to be in constant contact to remind others of the strength of human bonds.
10) FOMO overshadows reality: Yes, I’m confident that I’m always going to be missing out on something when I’m offline, but I can pick right back up, and the benefits I’m experiencing offline are just as important. The tech world is fast-paced, and you can feel as if you’re outdated if you’re offline for longer than an hour. Still, the benefits of a tech sabbatical speak for themselves, and all of that action-packed online forum will still be in full effect when I want to jump back in. It’s always a choice.
In sum, my tech-free week was not without its high points and hitches, strides and slides (I posted several snaps on Instagram one night, which felt illicitly fun), yet the time offline produced a few overall observations that I find both useful and surprisingly powerful. I’ll certainly opt for it in the future— though, I’m sure I’ll need to refer back to this list again to remind myself of why I’m breaking the habit. It’s well worth it: disconnect to reconnect.