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The Unplugged Experiment

My five-day experiment in unplugging was a flop.

No, I didn’t cave and mainline Facebook during my Mexico-beach vacation. I didn’t crumble and tweet my every mojito, check my email, text, or even google anything. My computer stayed home and I kept my phone turned off and locked in the room safe.

Despite all my prior misgivings, no trauma was involved.  Not the slightest twinge. My husband had his computer with him and I wasn’t even tempted to peek. I never felt cut off, suffered no DTs, needed no substitutes. As anxious as I felt about not having a computer to write on for a week, I wasn’t even tempted to scribble a few lines with pen and paper.

I read, sketched, ate, drank, swam, snorkeled and lounged. It was easy

Some experiments don’t go as anticipated.

Back home, returning to my computer provoked as much anxiety as leaving it did. A couple of hours passed before I turned it on to look for important email (there was little, nothing dire). I didn’t look at Facebook until the next day, and didn’t turn my phone on until the second night.

Ultimately, plugging back in was neither exciting nor overwhelming. It just was a fact of returning home, along with getting the dog from the kennel, unpacking, and restocking the refrigerator.

I also expected to feel different by the end of my online exile, like a fresh breeze had blown through my brain. I anticipated, to be honest, some sort of transformation. But alas, not so much.

I suppose I’m not feeling as emaily as usual. And Facebook seems like an awful lot of shrill chatter.

I adore Facebook. It is the cubicle farm for home office workers. But after several days away, I realize that all that information, all those photos, links, comments, and videos drifting past my eyes all day makes me a little jittery.

I hope to manage it all better as soon as I figure out the new Facebook system. I don’t need to hear everything all the time right now, and everyone doesn’t need to be at the same volume. It’s time to sort through it all.

I didn’t suffer without Facebook and don’t plan to denounce it. Just adjust a little.

I am enjoying what a friend calls it “the view from the top of the mountain”–that long view of your life you get on vacation, which lets you see the snarls and bottlenecks, and the best road ahead. But that, I think, is a function of vacation in general, not unplugging.

Unplugging seemed like it would be a bigger deal than it was. In statistical terms, the results aren’t significant. It’s a file-drawer experiment.

But I’m reminded of a recent interview I did with a pharmacy grad student. For her dissertation, Yolanda Williams conducted research related to medication for ADHD (the specifics of which are way over my head*). She was so disappointed that none of her hypotheses were supported that she didn’t even notice, until her advisor pointed it out, that her experiment made a new contribution to neuropharmacology in another way. Naturally, that’s what Yolanda based her dissertation on. And the experience opened her eyes to a broader view of research results: It’s not just about what didn’t happen, it’s also about what happened. Or vice versa.

So, with that in mind, is there anything to be learned from my five-day hiatus? Implications for future research perhaps? What happened here? 

I went on vacation and unplugged. It wasn’t difficult.

How much did the change of scenery contribute to my ease in unplugging? Could I do it as easily if I’d stayed home? Doubt it. Why? Further research required.

Did I do other things more because I was on the Internet less? I read a lot more than usual, but I was on a beach and that’s what I do on a beach. And not working helped that. By the end of an average day toiling in the writing mines, reading is unappealing. Further research would be required to ascertain if the Internet or my job has a greater effect on my book-reading habits. (Actually, smart money is on TV, though I almost always do something else while I’m watching TV.)

Now that I’m back online, a portion of my brain still feels somewhat disengaged from online chatter. I doubt that will last and will try to notice how long it does.  Is there any way to retain a little disconnect from the virtual world? Is there benefit in doing so?

My  primary conclusion from this research is that being plugged in is no big deal as long as unplugging is no big deal. The Internet is not the end of civilization; we can control it.  Knowing this, I’ll continue exercising my unplugging muscle by curtailing my computer time on weekends, which I’ve been doing for several months. I love my computer and the Internet. But it doesn’t own me.

Of course, the hallmark of science is replicable results. And in the name of science, I will gladly return to Mexico to run the experiment again.

*Here it is in Yolanda’s own words: My research involves examining the use of lobeline for Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as lobeline may treat both nicotine addiction and the symptoms of this disease simultaneously. The thesis research focuses on whether lobeline inhibits the dopamine transporter (DAT) and the vesicular monoamine transporter (VMAT2) following acute and chronic in vivo administration of lobeline. This effect will be compared to that of methylphenidate and amphetamine (gold standards of treatment for ADHD). Both drugs interact with these same neurotransmitter transporters, and thus, have a common site of action in the brain. This preclinical research using animal models provides further evidence for clinical trials investigating the utility of lobeline in the treatment of ADHD.

The Unplugged Experiment

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APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2011). The Unplugged Experiment. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Sep 2011
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