Tonight at sundown begins a National Day of Unplugging, where technology users are encouraged to unwind and unplug. With a winter of polar vortices slowing down, people are encouraged to get outside or get anywhere mentally that doesn’t involve your iPad or your phone screen.
There are plenty of articles floating across the internet today encouraging you how to embark on a digital detox. But before you start panicking and text your friends to let them know you haven’t died if they can’t reach you for the next 24 hours, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about not how you pull the plug on technology for 24 hours, but how you can pull the plug on the anxiety that accompanies technology.
Going on a technology fast can be a great way to take a step back and reconsider what is important to you, but the success of most of our jobs and relationships is pretty well rooted in our ability to communicate with others via our devices. So if you don’t think a digital detox is helpful for you, consider going on an anxiety-binding detox for 24 hours.
I’ve joked to friends and colleagues over the past week that I’m giving up anxiety for Lent, and while this is in no way possible as a human, I have been thinking about decreasing the use of technology as a binder for anxiety. Our laptops and iPads and smart phones are excellent tools for distraction but they are also bridges in our relationships, for better or worse.
So this weekend if you’re standing on a street corner or sitting at a stoplight, and you feel the creep of worry or sadness in your bones, just try sitting with it for a minute. Don’t reach for the phone to distract yourself. We shouldn’t feel guilty about using technology to create or connect with others, but we can do good thinking about how it prevents us from sitting with our own emotions and learning to examine them and what they communicate to us.
This examination doesn’t require a 24 hour period. It takes the ten seconds you would have spent checking your email for the 347th time when you could reflect on a conversation you just had, and potentially how you could have handled yourself better in relationship to other people. This isn’t permission to beat yourself up, or let the critical voices swing around on the vines in your head. Psychologist Sherry Turkle believes this inner monologue starts by reaching out to others face to face rather than screen to screen. “We use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves,” she explains.
I commend your efforts this weekend if you tuck the computer on a shelf or turn your phone off. But don’t forget that the work happens not when you unplug a cord, but when you check out what your body and your mind tell you about who you are and how you’re doing. There’s no off switch for your reactions to life, so you might as well see what you can learn from them.
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Last reviewed: 7 Mar 2014