The short answer is: yes.
Last month, I unplugged our home Internet cable for a break.
For three weeks.
Three weeks of no virtual connectivity. No news updates. No blogging, no Facebook or Twitter updates, no Netflix or YouTube videos, and no cable television.
I’ve been without Internet in the past as well, but during those long “breaks” I’ve been away on some sort of a project that kept me busy from getting off in the morning to switching off the lights at night.
This is the first time I did it, at home, during summer break, with two kids under seven, and no project. Except that this became the project. Let me say this again, this wasn’t a detox-diet of sorts, for I don’t consider the Internet toxic. It was a break.
I kept an old-school paper diary and jotted every time I unconsciously reached for my iPhone or iPad to check something or when I consciously wished the web browser on my iMac would come back to life. Here are the notes from my diary:
- Walnuts: I know for a fact they are healthy and I use them a lot. But the morning of first day without the virtual connectivity, hubby wanted to know exactly why? “Let me just check,” I said, as I reached for my iPhone. And pause. And the first entry.
- Weather: After all, I am a Canadian, and reach out for the weather app, every time I want to step out, or not. The easy answer came from my six-year old when I mentioned I couldn’t check the weather: “Mom, all you need to do is look outside the window or just step out to know what it feels like”. Ahem!
- Banking: I thought I had automatic banking transactions under control but something totally out of the blue came my way and I had to call my bank. I had never done telephone banking before (yes!) and the exercise seemed to “waste” my precious time. At the end of the call, total time wasted: a little less than 10 minutes!
- Kids’ TV time: At the end of day one, when my three-year old son didn’t get his cartoon time, he picked up the TV remote, walked up to me and asked for his favourite: Kipper the dog. I distracted him for a while but it didn’t last for long, especially when older sister joined hands and the duo demanded to know why they couldn’t watch cartoons. Creative thinking saved me. Phew!
- Airplay: I didn’t realize how wireless streaming from phones to TV was such a norm in Sandhu Bhamra household. I had to physically dock my phone to listen to music. Ouch!
- Maps: Just once, I had to take a trip on a new route. If it weren’t for the forgotten roadmap book sitting in our car, I would’ve had to call my friend for directions!
My notes end here. And it is only day three of the break. It took me just three days to notice the silliness of my Internet usage. I wouldn’t say I was ever addicted to the virtual world, but yes, I was connected, all the time.
As I deepen my Yoga practice, it teaches me to connect more and more within, to realize my Self, the divinity within. But as a blogger, it is my karmic role to connect with fellow bloggers, my followers and my virtual friends. I enjoy blogging, reading other blogs, and having a virtual conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
To me, connectivity in itself is not bad, but losing ourselves to the virtual vortex is.
This is why you should unplug:
- To realize how disconnected you are from the present moment: How many times I’ve had coffee/lunch with other professionals and friends who are constantly checking their smartphones. I take no personal offence, but I am always amused, for they are live-tweeting photos to virtual friends but removing themselves from the company of a living person. As a rule, I always turn off or put my phone on silent.
- To enjoy your kids in real-time: Every time my kids say something cute, or ask a profound question, I reach for my phone to share it with my virtual friends. It isn’t bad for it is the norm of the connected world, but after three weeks of not sharing cutesy talks in real-time, I realized how I stayed longer with the positive energy of that moment. I thought, I could always blog, post or tweet about it later, when I am actually sitting at a computer.
- To give your kids a chance to experience real, natural world: At the end of day three, my kids had forgotten about TV. I mean it. They weren’t addicted to gadgets in the first place but they did watch cartoons on a daily basis. After a difficult explaining to my six-year old that we had unplugged the cable, to a lie to my three-year old that the TV had stopped working, it was a whole new world. We spent a lot of time outdoors and let the children connect with nature. Chalk drawings on the driveway, neighbourhood walks, biking, swimming, a day trip to Capilano Suspension Bridge, kept us busy. But I didn’t want the kids to get the message that no TV means outdoor excursions. I wanted them to stay indoors, including sunny days and just be. We live in an over-stimulated world where we have the constant desire to seek and provide entertainment and I wanted to break this cycle. In the first week, my daughter complained that she was getting bored; I didn’t offer anything. I asked her to think of something and went back to reading my book. She brooded for a while and then voila, magic happened. Soon, backpacks were packed with toys and stations set up as countries and my two little children left for a world tour. I couldn’t go back to my reading as I watched a live show. At the end of week one, I noticed both had gotten used to this new lifestyle and explored the inside and outside world at their own pace. One morning, the two spent an hour playing with a paper napkin, which went from being a magic crown, to a boat, to being finally shredded as confetti.
My conclusion: take a break and make rules:
I missed the Internet. Not to tweet and say so, but to do banking, do some research for my writing work, watch news, read opinions and get a daily dose of virtual entertainment. 🙂 I still did what I usually do, including, keeping my writing work appointments, which I fixed over the phone. But the break did help me catch up with some reading and go back to my Yoga dhyana practice (meditation) in the evenings. Earlier, the exhausted parent-in-me went straight to virtual entertainment.
No doubt, the whole exercise was exhausting with the kids. There were days I wished for the cartoon characters to come save me. But it was still easier for me to pull this, as I am a stay-at-home parent and my husband supported me in every way. But even if you are a working, or a single, overworked parent, with no support, I ask you to unplug your Internet cable for at least a day. Don’t plan an excursion that day, but just be. Stay in the moment, let your kids get bored and let them devise a way to come out of this boredom. You will love the end results.
In today’s world where half our lives our lived through the virtual world – paying bills, correspondence, school work, Internet has made our lives efficient and yes, we do need the connectivity. But, take a break. From constant connectivity, from the need to check on facts and from falling prey to information overload, like, why are walnuts healthy?
Aside from the break, also make some rules around virtual connectivity. As a former journalist, I understand the need to live tweet events and as a blogger, the need for fellow bloggers to stay connected with their followers. But draw a line. Somewhere. Decide for yourself and make rules. This is one rule I made for myself post the Internet-break: limit the time on social media: two-hour time frame in the morning and two in the evening. No checking, peeking, or replying in between. Also, mandatory, gadget-free, unstructured time for kids in the evenings – boredom or no boredom.
Stay connected! Now, post your break, or during your allotted time.
As someone whose teen years predate the cell phone, let alone the internet, I can relate to the idea of living without that type of connectivity, Anu. The creativity you mention with your children must have been a real blessing for you all.
That said, It’s great to read your writing again!
Thanks Tim. Yes, it was a pleasure to watch them and see them do “nothing” at times. Now experts agree that kids need some time not doing anything, so they can process the info they have absorbed during other hours. I also noticed that there were fewer fights – less stimulation, less arguments!
Great post Sandhu, In principle, I agree with you. In practicality, I cannot, at least for that length of time. I’ll speak to the latter first. I teach at a community college, and as a result, I have to be on the internet every day, down-loading articles for my students to read, answering emails, marking assignments (on line), researching for lesson plans, etc. Now the principle part. Balance is necessary, and it is very easy to form a relationship with your computer over other more meaningful relationships, like a spouse/partner, children, and friends. It can become very unhealthy, not just psychologically, but also physically as you sit there hour after hour getting out of shape. It no doubt leads to long term health issues as we get older. The balance for me is that I am physically active, I love to cycle, get out on my bike for 2-3 hrs. per ride several times a week. I also love to play the guitar (without internet aids!!), and that is spiritually and psychologically fulfilling and works other parts of my brain (and other muscles in my hands). I usually do that every day, for at least half an hour, but usually for longer. The internet has replaced the TV for me for my news sources and content, which means I spend more time at the computer as a result, but practically no time at the TV. Once again, great post, and balance is the key to life!
Yes, balance is the key Jared. You’ve put it so well. But you already recognize the pitfall of sitting hours at a stretch at a screen and are doing something about it. Some don’t recognize, some do, but won’t do anything about it.
The practical side of it is: we need the connectivity, for everyday things as well. My daughter’s school notices are all virtual, so even for something like that, I need to be plugged in. Again, it isn’t bad, but as you said balancing it with other aspects is the key. As I stay and freelance from home, it is easier for me to get sucked into constant connection, so I set the rules. Thank you so much for engaging.
So well said Anu! Agree fully. I just deleted a bunch of apps from the phone and I am going to consciously reduce my time spent staying so connected! Living in the moment and experiencing it fully, is very very important. Thank you for writing this.
Awesome! I forgot to mention in the piece that I did that as well. No news apps on my phone and no email/social media apps. I am using it as a phone and to update my blog. It’s a bit extreme but that’s the only way I can discipline myself to limit the time on social media. I have to physically sit at my computer to do so. Since, one doesn’t usually make so many trips to a stationary comp working around the house, it helps with the discipline.