Chapter 9: Let’s Get Real About Unplugging

By no means am I in the camp that says humanity absolutely must live off the grid without the advances of technology. Hopefully that much is clear at this point! But I also hope it’s clear that we should be using technology to benefit our lives. We should be using technology - technology shouldn’t be using us.

The funny thing is that technology actually wants us to find the right balance. Our devices want us to unplug from time to time. Probably because they know the all or nothing approach won’t work in the end.

These machines are so smart. Or maybe the intelligence is in the humans who created these machines?

Either way...

1. Check Your Settings

It ain’t rocket science, but my life was forever changed the night I decided to use the airplane setting on my phone while I was in bed. Get to know the functionality of your device. Keep your eyes peeled for things like:

Like we talked about earlier with digital sunsets and time limits, experiment with different offline situations, such as prohibiting bluetooth-fuelled conversations while you’re driving. Enjoy your favourite tunes and the cool sound of your thoughts instead. How about social media notifications? Are they really that important? Could you not get by without Twitter and Facebook vibrating in your pocket non-stop? Yes you could. Each notification is a hindrance if it interrupts what you’re doing to pull you back into the feed. You may start discovering more and more pockets of time that you can unplug.

Try this:

Go into your phone settings.

Look at what apps employ your cellular data and what apps utilize push notifications.

Choose at least one app that regularly steals your attention and turn off cellular data and notifications.

Now calm your jets. If you can’t cope you can always revert back. But I think you’ll be fine.  

Your device is still by your side, but these methods create a little extra distance between us and the apps that constantly pull us in. If you’re anything like me, the temptation to just reach over and turn the wifi back on will get you. Requiring my phone at my bedside always turns into a slippery slope of checking one small fact, except all of a sudden time has jumped, it’s one in the morning and I’m wide awake. So remember, if adjusting your phone’s settings isn’t a sufficient deterrent, you have a pocket full of other options we explored before.

2. So What Are Our Devices Good For Anyways?

Amazingly, our tiny devices can accomplish so much. I guess it’s called smart technology for a reason! By using just one handy dandy little device I can get rid of so many other gadgets. I no longer need to carry a watch, iPod, address book, camera, maps, newspaper, games, activities, or a notebook and pen. It’s now all in one place and I must admit, the advantages of that are ridiculously tempting.

Life is more convenient, simpler, with everything available in one place. Our devices are good for (nearly) everything! But while your phone is great for that one small task, it comes with a cost: enough distraction to last a lifetime. I might pull out my phone to check the time before unconsciously checking my email, looking at some photos I took, and checking who ‘liked’ my latest tweet. If only I knew then what I know now, if I knew how to consider device appropriateness, I might have actually been able to leave my phone in my bag.

But then I probably wouldn’t have written this book!

I know it can sound like a nuisance to take extra things along with you when you’re out and about. I get it, some days the last thing I want to do is add another thing to my load. But it may be worth considering that all this technology is a type of outsourcing. While the convenience of technology feels nice, it strips us of skills that can be quite helpful. For example, do you know how to read a map? Can your kids tell time on an analog clock? Can you?

You don’t have to do it all in one shot. Try choosing one thing. Dust off your SLR camera that's been sitting in a corner. Experiment with letting your phone just be a phone and not a mini computer for a day. Have fun - you can always plug into these conveniences again!

3. Apps

There’s an app for everything. There are even apps to help you avoid your apps. To give you a sense of how technology can be used to unplug, start with this list of 10 smartphone applications to help you take charge.

  • Moment - tracks usage and sets daily limits. Also sends notifications (I know, ironic) when you break those limits. Also has an extension app to monitor other devices in your household.

  • Chekie - find out how many times a day you check your phone.

  • Antisocial - target and block distracting websites.

  • Freedom - internet, social media, and app blocker.

  • Leechblock - block up to six sets of sites with different times and days for each set.

  • Time Out - it’s time to take a break!

  • Rescue Time - analyze your daily habits to improve focus and productivity.

  • Cold Turkey - block anything from a specific page, a few pages, or the entire gosh darn internet. Can also lock you out of your computer entirely.

  • SelfControl - blocks access to incoming and outgoing servers and websites for a predetermined time.

  • Flowstate - a tool to keep you on task and remove distractions. If you stop writing, things disappear. This one is neat!

Of course, instead of adding more apps, you could also just start deleting a few…

Try this:

Look at your device configuration. What do you have on the home page?

Take a moment and move all your social media apps all the way back to the last page or section of your phone.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, consider deleting social media apps all together (don’t worry, you can always get them again if you can’t survive).

Does your experience change when you don’t have social apps front and centre? Check back in a couple weeks or send me an email and let me know if you feel even just the slightest bit more connected to the waking world. It worked for me!

Let’s Get Real

The demands of your career, your responsibilities at home, and your own personal expectations are your own. We might feel trapped from time to time, but for the most part, these elements of your life are yours by choice.

As we dial back our dependence on social media and technology, we start to really appreciate when it truly enhances our life. The short bursts of knowledge or glimpses into the entertaining world of the Internet are that much more special when they’re finite. No matter what though, you have to do what works best for you.

So let’s be real and make changes that you actually want to try on for size. Don’t do what you think you should, or worse yet, what others think you should. “Should-ing” is a less-than technical, yet still completely relevant (& fun) term that comes up often in my workshops and discussions with clients. We joke that should-ing on ourselves never seems to get us very far! Instead of should-ing let’s give ourselves permission to experiment with options and focus on making choices that feel good.