What I Learned From National Day of Unplugging

unplugged-cordA month or two ago, I read an article in Sunset Magazine about the concept of unplugging. It sounded dreamy and positively blissful. I mean, who wouldn’t want a long, tranquil day free from the constant chime of the phone and endless internet chatter? Plus it was perfect for me: nonconformity mixed with relaxation (always an issue for us single moms) and a dash of hip.

I immediately wanted to try it. But how exactly would one embark upon the task of unplugging? The couple profiled in the article was so extreme that it was almost laughable. How would any single mom survive without necessities such as a DVD player or a microwave oven? There in the handy chart was my answer: National Day of Unplugging. The timing was good. It occurred from sunset on Friday, March 1st to sunset on Saturday, March 2nd. I wrote it on my calendar. In ink.

About a week or two before National Day of Unplugging, my commitment began to waver. I decided I needed some friends to unplug with me. Despite numerous posts on facebook and twitter, no one agreed to join me. Why weren’t others enamored with the idea of unplugging?

The one friend who commented had this to say: It SOUNDS good.

Yes, I replied. It did. It sounded so very, very good.

Friday came, and I found myself looking for excuses. How would I meet my writing deadline without my laptop? How to contact the sitter without the ability to text? Another friend belatedly mentioned the subject. She didn’t own a smartphone and had planned to hike on Saturday, so she could participate without changing her habits. I, on the other hand, do much of my writing and internet surfing after my daughter has gone to bed. National Day of Unplugging would be a huge shift for me.

The other thing I realized is that the sunset to sunset concept, while appealing, didn’t fit with my actual life. Or at least didn’t fit well with my life that week. So I decided to modify it. I would unplug on Saturday, March 2nd from midnight to midnight.

At least that was the plan.

I wrote a lot the evening of March 1st due to a burst of creativity fostered by the Writer’s March Challenge (that I wrote about here). I wrote into the wee hours and then remembered that I was supposed to unplug at midnight. Oops. Well, I’d unplug when I woke up.

I slept in, and when I got up, I checked my phone, as I do most mornings, to clear the various message notifications. I was halfway through this process when I remembered that I was supposed to be unplugged. I finished, feeling sheepish, but couldn’t bring myself to shut off the phone. I told myself this was because I’d submitted an NEA grant and was waiting for notification that my application had been deemed complete. (It was.) Plus I needed to confirm with the sitter. Plus I was waiting to hear from a guy. (It’s pathetic, I know.) And so it went, all day long.

I managed to shut off the laptop and the television and ignored all social media—which some might consider a success—but could not entirely unplug from the phone. I’d go an hour or two, and then find myself scanning email. I didn’t open any messages, but that seems a small consolation.

The fact that I can’t detach from my electronic life as easily as I had imagined disturbs me. I haven’t had a smartphone for long, and before that I survived just fine without constant access to email. But now I hear the phone chime and I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs, drooling for my email fix.

The smartphone was meant to increase my productivity, and in some ways it has. But in other ways it’s like an addiction: cunning, baffling, and a huge waste of time. Worst of all, I suspect it’s progressive.

That’s scary—not just for me, but for society as a whole.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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