Merlin Mann published a post today in reaction to an article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times titled, "I Need a Virtual Break. No, Really." Both are interesting reads and reenforced some things I have been going through myself. I would encourage anyone who spends a lot of time being connected to give these both a read (then work on the disconnect).
For the past couple of months, I have also been practicing an electronic Sabbath from Saturday evening to Sunday evening. My first realization - this was going to be hard. H.A.R.D.
My second realization - I am an addict. Does that sound like an overreaction? Not if you look at the Oxford definition: physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects. For sure, it's a minor addiction, but an addiction all the same. I have long suffered from what my wife calls the 'just checks'. At first it was just checking my email, just checking this or that website. Now it's both of those plus my feeds, Twitter, and Mint stats. It's been clear to me for a while that I have a problem.
And as I first started taking Sunday's off from the computer and the Internet, I immediately felt the adverse effects - irritability, a sense of disconnectedness, and oddly enough, the feeling of, "What am I going to do today?" This really was odd to me. I have plenty of other things in my life that I enjoy doing, other projects I want to work on that do not involve any sort of electronic media. I definitely should not suffer from a feeling of having nothing to do.
But after time it got better. As with all things administered by self discipline, I began to appreciate what at first was hard work. Just like going for a run feels like such a chore when getting started, you feel great by the end. I felt myself again enjoying activities that I enjoy and reviving skills that had begun to atrophy. Without knowing who had emailed me or seeing what the web stars were doing on their Sunday via Twitter.
I have definitely gained a sense of freedom from this enforced disconnect. Don't get me wrong - it's still a struggle every Sunday. But letting go and enjoying the important things in life comes more quickly now. And I can now see benefits in other areas of my life because of this practice. For example, after a couple of weeks, I started turning off email and IM at work for certain periods of time. Not for hours at a time - but just enough to enable me to knock off tasks more quickly and be more efficient.
This need for constant updates, constant input has changed me - I have no doubt that I suffer from N.A.D.D. I struggle to complete larger, longer tasks. To work on one thing at a time. But being aware of that and practicing some discipline is making it better.
And I really connected with something Mark wrote in the Times article I mentioned above. He says:
Once I moved beyond the fear of being unavailable and what it might cost me, I experienced what, if I wasn’t such a skeptic, I would call a lightness of being. I felt connected to myself rather than my computer. I had time to think, and distance from normal demands. I got to stop.
Whether you are spiritual or not, I would think most folks in our times can appreciate this idea. We need some calm, some quiet. Time to focus on our loved ones. The real, genuine attention that they deserve.
And when I get back online, I enjoy the digital activities all the more from the absence. Most importantly I've come to recognize I don't need to be always on.