Note: This post is a way overdue follow up to the National Unplugging Day article on my experience unplugging.
According to a study by the World Economic Forum, digital media users spend more hours online than they sleep, yet only half believe it improves their quality of life.
Not only is increased screen-time found to not improve our quality of life significantly, but it actually tightly correlates with stress, vulnerability to addictive behaviors, and a decline in physical activity.
You can read more research findings on digital use and mental wellness from the Happiness Hack book (highly recommended).
These stats, however, are no longer shocking.
It is evident our addiction to our screens and technology is costing us our physiological and psychological wellbeing.
As a response to the invasive and costly nature of digital addiction, various movements have sprung across the globe to motivate us to build a positive relationship with our digital lives.
The National Day of Unplugging is a movement dedicated to a 24-hour long digital sabbatical to unplug, unwind, relax and do things other than using today’s technology, electronics, and social media.
On Friday, March 1st at 7:00pm, I unplugged for the first time in a very very long time by putting all my electronic devices away for a 24-hour period.
The experience was refreshing and inspiring.
Unplugging Friday night went smoothly since I have been in the habit of practicing a relatively tech-free bedtime routine for some time now.
I put all my devices away, ate dinner, and showered before heading to bed around 8:00pm with a book and a notepad. I wrote down ideas, made lists, and read until I fell asleep about three hours later.
However, waking up the next morning without an alarm, which is literally the best freaking feeling ever, and without my phone or laptop to scroll through messages, email, and online forums was significantly different.
It felt strange to not be connected and scrolling as soon as my brain regained consciousness. Without exaggeration, I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up and did not check my phone within the next hour or so.
Since the first time I got a smartphone back in 2010, my phone and I have been inseparable, an extension of my life barely leaving my sight, touch, or feel. If I did not have my phone for whatever reason, I would have my laptop to plug myself into.
I’m almost always connected to a digital device.
The first thing I noticed was the ticks, or the feeling that something was missing. I felt that there was something I should be doing, but couldn’t figure out what it was.
Yet, it still felt empowering to not succumb to the the antsy feeling and boredom I felt. To fight off the boredom, I read a lot.
The best part of unplugging was the nostalgia disconnecting brought.
Around noon, I decided to cheat and dug out my old iPod shuffle, a very old yet cherished device, I haven’t used in a really long time. I hooked it to a portable speaker and songs I downloaded back in high school, back when I first got my shuffle, started playing, taking me back in time.
I re-discovered songs I completely forgot about, songs that were illegally downloaded from LimeWire, an ancient method of getting music on your device.
While jamming out to songs that brought high school nostalgia, I decided to clear out the paper files I have been meaning to declutter for a long while now.
I was that bored.
In the mass of paper clutter, I found a copy of the Art of Living by Epictetus I printed out a while back to read. I put it away intending to return to it shortly and I have completely forgotten about it.
I began reading, highlighting, and jotting down notes until I finished the whole thing. It was full of gems, and I promised myself that if I’m ever stranded in a deserted island and I can only bring one book to keep me alive, let it be Epictetus’s the Art of Living.
First, say to yourself what you would be;— EPICTETUS
then do what you have to do.
Afterwards, I was still bored and looking for something to do.
I dug out my souvenir box from my closet and start going through all the notes, cards, pictures, and other miscellaneous items I have been hoarding for the past eight years or so.
There was a lot of tears, laughter, and shrieking with delight (or embarrassment) reliving moments long forgotten, and relishing in the changes and growth that have taken place in that time period.
Once I was done the nostalgic time travels, I decided to leave the house to buy groceries and other stuff. I did not bring my phone with me.
It was only 4:00pm when I got back.
I had three more hours to go entirely unplugged from the world.
I decided to dig out another gem to keep me company.
In the early stages of our relationship, my boyfriend had given me a copy of our text messages starting from our very first text exchange, a total of 300 pages. I read about 172 pages, getting lost in the many wonderful moments and memories of our honeymoon phase.
When I looked up at the time, it was 6:30pm. With half an hour to go, I was beginning to feel antsy.
Keeping up with the theme of the day, I decided to pass the remaining half an hour of the unplugged challenge reading a book.
At exactly 6:55 PM, I took out my laptop and phone to plug back into the world.
I did ZERO productive work that day.
There is this inherent association with digital minimalism and productivity, and that is indeed a big part of managing our relationship with the digital world.
However, this challenge reminded of something just as important that we have been increasingly becoming disconnected with as we remain plugged to our devices: the ability to simply recall moments of the past.
The more I stay away from mindless digital consumption, the more I find myself recalling tiny moments from my life that don’t necessarily have any special or specific significance. Like, this one time I was taking the train in Toronto and feeling completely in awe of just being alive, a random day with no other context for the feeling I experienced.
Remembering these tiny moments, despite their insignificance, is nature’s anti-depressant, a little dose of joy from the past.
When we constantly overwhelm our brain with information overload, we don’t give it the time and space needed to just wander and sift through our memory bank. Our brain is so busy processing new memories, it has no time to be slow down and be bored.
In other words, continuously bombarding ourselves with information is preventing us from indulging in the already available repertoire of great moments from our past.
Another lesson that came from a day of unplugging is that when you go offline, you will find things to do that are almost always more rewarding than the usual go-to mindless scrolling.
Who are you without all the noise?
As concerns the art of living, the material is your own life.— EPICTETUS
No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time.
Give your best and always be kind.