I survived National Day of Unplugging (and I can’t wait to do it again)

I kept my word. I successfully took part in Sabbath Manifesto’s National Day of Unplugging by going device and internet free on March 24th.

Cell phone sleeping Bag
Cellphone sleeping bag

Since I worked Friday night, I couldn’t quite start at sundown, but once I got home around midnight, I powered down my computer and devices. When I got to my iPhone, I added an extra ritual to the moment to make it seem more deliberate. I’d bought a cellphone sleeping bag (a little burlap bag with a drawstring on the top) from the folks behind sabbath manifesto. Once I slipped the phone in there I placed it high on a bookshelf. The bag added reminded me of those plexiglass signs you see enclosing fire extinguishers: “in case of emergency, break glass.” I knew where my phone was if I needed it, but otherwise it was out of sight and out of reach.

The next morning, I was very conscious of a nagging feeling. There was a part of my brain that wanted to go online. It felt curious. It wanted to know what emails had come in over night, or what other messages might be waiting for me. It is a feeling I’m able to suppress, but usually only for short periods of time (such as not checking my phone during dinner, or when I’m having a conversation with someone and want to give them my undivided attention).

This feeling felt different. I knew my phone was in a bag, on top of a bookshelf, out of reach. Checking it casually, as I might do any other day, just wasn’t an option. I had to let go. I had to trust that if someone really wanted to reach me, they could call me on my land-line (yes we still have one). If I wanted to know the latest news headlines, I could tune into CBC radio at the top of the hour. If I wanted a recipe for dinner, I could look one up in our cookbook.

The day began to feel quite retro. I remembered how I used to do things before the internet was all-encompassing. I would have put on an 80’s or 90’s music playlist, but those were all on my iPod, and that was off-limits.

The nicest part of my day was the time I spent with my wife and daughter. On a normal weekend, my wife and I are careful to limit the amount of TV she watches, and engage her with other activities. This weekend, I felt as though I’d lost a safety net. I had no fall back options: there’d be no TV shows to watch, no Netflix to stream, or iPad apps to play with.

We did puzzles. We played games. We did crafts. We cooked in the kitchen. We let our imaginations run wild. After coming home from visiting a family member in the hospital, I parked the car, took out the key, and let her pretend to drive. Suddenly our car became a spaceship, and we were blasting off for adventures on alien planets.

She collected sticks at the park, created a family of pet rocks, and drew on the sidewalk with chalk. I wanted capture the moment, but then remembered I didn’t have my iPhone camera handy. I then realized I was freed from yet another distraction. Instead, I was present and enjoyed the moment with her, letting that imprint itself on my old-fashioned memory (the one that google can’t cross-reference for me)

That night, I went to bed at a decent time. There was no staying up late watching a movie or Saturday Night Live. There was a different rhythm to the date: when we were tired, we slept. When we were refreshed, we woke up.

Sunday morning, when my self-imposed technology exile was officially over, I could feel the urges returning as I lay waking up in bed. The iPhone beckoned. I wondered about the email I had missed, the updates waiting for me from the digital life I’d left behind just for the day. I got up and released the phone from its shackles. Over the course of ten minutes, I proceeded to check every message, status update and posting that I had missed.

There were no crises I needed to solve, no upset people who had been awaiting my immediate response, wondering where I’d been for the past 36 hours. My urges met, my scratches itched, I put the phone down. My mind began racing, thinking about other ideas to research, sites to look up, or even ideas I could put into this blog post. I stopped, took a deep breath, and realized all that could wait. I went downstairs to make pancakes for my family before we went to church.

The only other time I glanced at my iPhone that morning was to look at another possible date to hold my own personal day to unplug.

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