The Luxury of Just Being Right Here, Right Now

| June 14, 2015 | 7 Comments

Last night, my amazing niece called me (after I’d gone to bed) to let me know that she’s become engaged to a guy we all like a lot. I was smiling all over, listening to her voicemail. Almost in tears, really. Not just about the news, but about the fact that she took the time, from 500 miles away, to tell me voice-to-voice about something so awesome. Not an email, a tweet or a text message. Her happy, nervous voice, on my phone.

One of my professions, I profess, is working in online media: building websites, social media campaigns, etc. I do it for some really amazing people, all of whom are trying to make some kind of positive shift in their little corner of the world (authors, coaches, consultants, speakers, nonprofits, social entrepreneurs). It’s a good job and I am grateful for it.

Photo by Phil Campbell

Photo by Phil Campbell

But it requires that I spend a lot of time “out there” on the Web, social media sites, even mass media sometimes. Most of you know what that world is like. It can be useful, sure, but can also be noisy, negative, self-centered, superficial, opinionated, and very unkind, as the perceived anonymity of a login name seems to have the power to make perfectly good people into snotty, closed-minded jerks.

I try not to be drawn into the fray, but it is getting harder and harder to stay positive. Even if I’m just posting an item on Facebook for a client, the paid advertising is right in your face. Trolls invade even the most innocent of discussion groups, little flecks of electronic saliva flying with their loud opinions. The right sidebar screeches at me: “Teen Girl Attacked by Shark in North Carolina” or something similarly lurid, sad, or enraging that I can’t do anything about. Someone, somewhere, is making a lot of money every time we click and read these stories, and click them we do, millions of times every day. And WHEN we do, that choice is logged surreptitiously in our web browsers, so we’re shown more of exactly that type of ‘news.’ We have voted: more animal attack stories, please. And suddenly we think there’s a rash of emu attacks…when really, it’s just you being targeted for these stories.

Even when there are no aggravating news headlines or trolls, there’s the constant, subtle pressure to keep up. To shape my online persona through the things I share, and don’t share. To stay tuned for that important something-or-other. I heard, after the fact, of a friend’s visit to my town — and when I expressed my sorrow that I missed her, she admonished me that her plans were posted very clearly on her Wall. I’ve missed the chance to support certain community events because they were only posted to Facebook. And so on.

What does this have to do with a green life, or a luxurious life? Well, to demonstrate something that is neither:

  • The ding of my email program, if not silenced, would ring out 200 times per day.
  • Each week I have to block at least a dozen scammers or telemarketers from my phone.
  • People in my community — both right and left politically — fall under the spell of mass media talking heads, who tell them who to hate and why.
  • It’s very rare for me to have lunch or coffee with someone without them constantly checking their phone, even if it hasn’t made a sound.
  • If I had an Apple Watch telling me when I had new posts on Facebook, Twitter, or anything else, the damned Taptic Engine would be vibrating my hand right off my body.

I realized in May, after a wild and woolly springtime of working a lot in online spaces, that I was weary beyond recognition. I could barely thread two intelligent thoughts together, let alone a blog post, article or letter to a friend. The “screens” (phone, laptop, tablets) had ceased to be a tool, and had instead become a compulsion, draining me of any peace of mind this loud, fast world leaves us.

Answering the call of my insomnia and my blood pressure monitor, I started looking for ways to reduce the constant low-level stress of being perpetually connected to technology.

Last week, I remained disconnected from phones, email, texts, websites, and social media for nearly five days. We traveled to a place in Colorado where wireless signals were scarce or nonexistent. On the trip, one of my companions was Christina Crook’s brilliant little book “The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World.” (I also took my journal, which filled up rapidly after not having seen a single entry since January of this year.)

Absent the itchy, compulsive checking of texts, posts, and emails, something else had to occupy that time.

The first day was jumpy, as I felt the compulsion to “connect” yammering inside me. It was as if, without all the electronic clamor, I didn’t feel like I mattered, or even that I existed. I wondered what I was missing. I wondered if I was needed. In the hot springs pools, there was a man sitting alone talking on his iPhone. In all the bubbling water and steam, he was talking to someone about how lonely he was. It was telling that “I wonder who he’s talking to” entered my head before “Why the hell can’t you just enjoy this beautiful place without being somewhere else too?”

The second day was a little quieter in my head. My first instinct was to take photos on my mobile phone to share, but settled for taking photos with a camera to remember my journey instead. I resisted the habit of checking Yelp reviews for the restaurants where we ate, and instead just found out for myself. I found out where the grocery store was the old fashioned way: by asking.

By the third day, I was sitting in a comfy chair in a coffee shop, rain lightly falling, 14,000 foot peaks all around, and hand-writing some of my most lucid, thoughtful journal entries in many months.  As I walked around the woods, I noticed things that just wouldn’t have registered in my hamster wheel brain just a couple of days before.  The tiny half-shell of a robin’s egg on the edge of the trail.  The blackness of ancient rock carved into a deep canyon by the Gunnison River.  The sounds birds made, and how they changed as I passed through their neighborhoods.

My husband and I played Yahtzee for the first time in many years. We sat and talked, not quick relationship-maintenance chats but open ended conversations about things that we’d not had time to talk about in roughly forever. Things that mattered. And I remembered how much I like him as a person, and how lucky I feel about the whole marriage adventure.

I looked at myself in the mirror, and didn’t feel the same. I was here, now, able to hear my inner dialogue again, and it said things like, “What would make me happiest to do right now?” and “What would I like to do over the next couple of years?”   And I could wait patiently for answers and clues, rather than listen for the whining, buzzing, beeping and chirping to draw my attention down the internet rabbit hole to the Next Interesting Thing, and the Next.

I slept deeply, something that rarely happens. I reconnected to what makes me Me. I figured out what I wanted to change about my life, and made a plan to do it. I found out that I still liked myself just exactly the way I am.

Compared to the other luxuries that I explore on this blog (food, drink, travel, etc.) this felt the most luxurious by far. Real life, with all its tiny, gorgeous little moments.

Now I’m back (obviously) but I have no intention of going back to my old habits. I’ve made a few commitments to try to keep this peaceful, productive spot.

–Technology curfew is 6:00pm.  An occasional film is allowed, or if I’m inspired to write and it feels necessary, I will use my laptop, with my internet signal and my email turned off….returning the computer to what it was originally supposed to be: a tool to help us get good things done. My mobile phone is tucked away.

–I will endeavor to have an internet Sabbath every weekend, from sundown Friday to sunrise Sunday. And if it’s feeling good, it will all stay off until Monday morning.

–Since returning home, I’ve unsubscribed to a metric ass-ton of email subscriptions (almost 50 as of this writing, and still going)

Just so you know:  At this moment I’m composing this from the couch, with my phone turned off, no internet signal to tempt me away, no TV or radio blaring. I am not trying to squeeze talking to you all in between checkboxes 17 to 19 on my To Do list. I am not trying to hurry up and finish so I can catch the start of a reality TV show or post my Throwback Thursday.

I can’t be out there in all of your living rooms one-on-one, but I can be right here, right now, at peace. Smiling at the thought of you kind people who take the time to read. And it’s as delicious a feeling as I’ve ever stumbled across.

Does the thought of being without your devices make you a little queasy? Good – then this is for you. Try it. Just a few hours, or a day, or a weekend, without your Äppärät in your hand. Shake off the compulsion and be where you are, listen and watch and taste the little moments that make up your day, right where you are. Move your human body, make someone else smile, look at an actual book, explore somewhere new (without posting it on Instagram), sit with someone and just….talk to them.

Think about the possibility of returning your relationship with the internet to that of a tool, not a lifestyle. Enter it with a clear purpose, get done what you want to get done, and go back to Real Life.

There are lots of resources out there to learn more about unplugging, and how to do it in a style that’s right for you. Google “digital detox” for a sampling.

Life is huge and brilliant, and can’t be smushed into an electronic device.

And by the way: My niece’s fiancé came to the house and asked her father if he could propose to her. In person. Old school. Points!

Peace, everybody.

 

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Category: Leisure, Mental Health, Travel, Useful Stuff

Comments (7)

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  1. Anne Peek says:

    Mmmm…sounds delicious! The bounty of real life.

    Wonderful post.

  2. Rachel says:

    This post ROCKS! Thank you so much for this poignant reminder of what matters most…

  3. Kay in K-town... says:

    Thanks, GH….I feel calmer already. I’m going to share this with E.

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