During my spring break, I vowed to stay offline for two whole days. 48 hours. No Twitter, blogging, emails, or even web access. My goal was to be in the dark and yet see the light. I had felt lately that my online connections were not as purposeful as they had been in the past. It seemed like I was checking my feeds more often than I was checking in with myself.
My wife and I scheduled a vacation during the break. This was the perfect opportunity to pull the plug. It helped that the vacation site we picked did not allow cell phones in any of the public areas. If I wanted to take full advantage of the amenities, I had no choice but to focus on the face-to-face interactions that maybe I was neglecting beforehand.
When we dropped the kids off at my parents, we left without leaving the car seats. Talk about not being present! Fortunately, we were only 30 minutes away from each other. While I waited for my parents, I sneaked a few peeks at my Twitter feed on my smart phone because I wasn’t technically “on vacation”, but quickly caught myself and shut it off. Instead, I listened to an interesting interview on the radio about the paper industry in Wisconsin. It is being directly affected by the digital influx we have all experienced. (“Paper Cuts” is an ongoing investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; I highly recommend you check it out here). Had my eyes been glued to a screen, I probably would have missed this relevant and important conversation with this reporter.
I almost felt a sense of freedom. There was more time than I knew what to do with. I had no purpose, other than to have no purpose. The most in-depth conversation my wife and I had was whether an animal we spotted out our window was or was not a muskrat.
The only way we knew how to find the answer was to Google “muskrat” for an image.
Muskrat it was!
Although I wasn’t necessarily missing being connected, I was curious about what kind of interactions may be waiting for me online. We checked out and headed for a Starbucks. Once offsite, I felt good about becoming connected again. I discovered several conversations and was tempted to jump in right away. However, I chose to let them sit and not feel rushed to respond immediately. Whatever it was, it could wait.
Besides the brief disconnection, I have made other modifications to be more purposeful in my actions. No longer is an iPhone or iPad also serving as an alarm clock. I went out and bought a real alarm clock. If someone needs to get a hold of me, they can call me on my landline. I am also making a concerted effort to use paper and pencil when taking notes, instead of feeling obligated to tap-tap-tap them into a productivity app. The Moleskine/Evernote Smart Notebook has helped me bridge the print and digital divide.
After the connection hiatus, I have felt more present for my family and for myself. It helped me remember that my purpose for connecting online was to learn and to share, directed by me and not by a notification (I have shut those off, thank you). If you are feeling the same way, I highly recommend taking a break from all things connected and see what you may have been missing.