The Importance of Being Unplugged: Why it’s Good to Occasionally Disconnect
Information, Information Everywhere
We love technology. We love gear, gadgets, devices, things that light up, things that beep, things made of shiny metal and crisp screens and plastic so sleek it looks like it was just poured and is still drying. We love wireless BlueTooth connectivity and fast wifi and batteries that last for days. And we love the information access, while being unplugged seems impossible.
Texting, email, Google, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat — the amount of content available to us is staggering. What’s more, we can access all of this information pretty much anywhere. However, given all of this info and all of this access, perhaps its time to ask the question that’s probably forming in the backs of many minds: what is all of this doing to our brains?
Fight, Flight, Tweet
We’re always on, we’re always reachable, and we’re always telling everyone what we’re doing. The screen acts as a constant stimulus, exciting our eyes and our minds. We check and re-check our feeds and our inboxes, and the little buzzes and updates are our rewards. It’s a far cry from what our brains are designed for — namely, to focus on one thing at a time, then either react with strength or run away (the famous fight or flight instinct).
What our plugged-in-ness is doing, then, is causing problems — lots of problems. We’re losing sleep because we can’t put our phones down at night; some individuals report more insomnia, possibly due to the bright screens overstimulating their brains. We’re more prone to narcissism. And, according to Dr. Iain McGilchrist, a respected psychiatrist in the UK, kids who are heavy social media and technology users are less able to decipher emotions from a person’s facial expressions.
Being unplugged: Put the Screen Down
You don’t have to go far to find articles touting the importance of unplugging. Whether its from a lifestyle blog (Scott, you will be missed), a business news website, or the New York Times, publications and news outlets everywhere are advocating for regular tech cleanses, so to speak: a day or two, on a regular basis, when you just don’t use your smartphone or check social media at all.
Disconnecting from technology offers several benefits, like helping us reconnect with family and friends in person rather than in a virtual space. We make eye contact and physical contact, and we foster positive emotions rather than the negative ones we often feel when we spend time online: jealousy, loneliness, and the pervasive fear of missing out (also known as FOMO). Most importantly, however, unplugging helps us be our best, most creative selves and participate in life as it’s actually happening, not as it’s scrolling by.
Thoughts From Around the Web
The push to put down the tech and look up is being advocated by all sorts of writers, publications, and media outlets. Here’s a rundown of what others have to say on the matter.
1. From The New York Times: “Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain”
This 2014 op-ed was written by Daniel J. Levitin, the author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload and the director of McGill University’s Laboratory for Music, Cognition, and Expertise. In it, Levitin reminds us that our brains can handle only so much information before they become overwhelmed, and he discusses the importance of allowing our minds to wander so that we can solve problems and improve our creativity. By having a continual stream of information flowing by us, we try too hard to pay attention and have difficulty focusing, plus we stifle the brain’s need to be task-negative.
He suggests that our current habit of always having our smartphones in our hands like an appendage extension is cognitively harmful. Instead, Levitin recommends, we should designate times for email, social media, and other tech-based interactivity, just as we schedule times for the other important things in life. Additionally, to press our brain’s reset button (as the title compels us to do), we need to really allow our minds to daydream and wander. He advocates for taking walks outside, listening to music, and (if we can spare the time) taking naps. By stepping back from constant tech access, Levitin writes, we’re happier and better equipped to solve life’s big (and not so big) problems.
2. From Forbes: “Feeling Overconnected? 5 Reasons to Unplug From Technology After Work”
Forbes contributor Alice G. Walton offers up what at first looks like a typical listicle, but is ultimately a well-researched piece on disconnecting and its impacts on our behaviour. Walton acknowledges the necessity of using technology at work, when it’s sort of in most job descriptions to sit at a computer and use software, stay on top of email, and write up TPS reports (don’t forget the cover). However, when you punch out for the day, it’s wise to put down the gadgets.
Why? Well, for starters, being constantly available doesn’t allow you to properly de-stress from your workday. In fact, it just extends your workday to a work night and a work overnight. Too much time spent staring at screens can also interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep and make you, shall we say, more anti-social. Walton backs up her claims with studies and facts, making for a good read before you power down for a little while.
3. From Yahoo!: “Smartphone Addictions: Why We Need to Unplug”
In this video hosted by Andrea Tantaros, unplugging is presented as the obvious antidote to that nagging feeling of always wanting to check our smartphones. The six-minute clip is mostly an interview with Scott Brown, the president and chief creative officer of award winning marketing and advertising firm The Company of Others. Brown understands why we love our smartphones, but says that we allow them to hold us back. Specifically, always checking a smartphone prevents us from being present and in the moment, and that is a huge detriment to creativity and progress.
Brown pushes Realism — capital R — and encourages people to find a good balance between technology use and real life. We need to put down our phones, enjoy our vacations, and not feel like we have to have a “digital barrier” between ourselves and our surroundings. He’s especially interested in this balance in the business world, saying that corporate culture has become so dependent on technology that it’s affecting productivity. There’s a lot of good information packed in here, and if you’d rather watch than read, you’d do well to spend six minutes watching this.
4. From Greatist: “Why Everyone Should Unplug More Often”
This article is about what you’d expect from this (or any) fun internet blog-type site that promotes happiness and healthy living: written in first person, a good breakdown of the issue, and a do-able call to action at the end. That call, of course, is to unplug for a bit and to encourage others to do the same.
What makes this piece worthwhile, then, is that it’s fun to read and easy to relate to. You read Sophia Breene’s prose and you think, yes. This is me. I check my phone all the time, and it’s probably not good for me to do that. Breene backs up her claims with facts and findings, explaining that constantly looking at the little screen in your pocket only adds to the stress in our lives and taking breaks from technology is highly beneficial to all aspects of our lives.
Break the Technology Addiction or Just Take a Break From It
Listen, we realise that it’s a bit strange to read an article encouraging you to put your devices down for a little while on a website that regularly touts the awesomeness of technology. But I understand — I know firsthand how great these devices can be, and I know what it’s like to abuse the always-on access. Perhaps I struggle with technology addiction too, but really, we can quit any time we want to.
My suggestion? Once you finish reading this article, put your phone away, flip down your laptop, and go outside. Look at the world. Go for a walk. Talk to people. Sit in a chair in a picturesque place, drink a cup of coffee, and take in your surroundings. Try not to think about what you’re missing in the virtual sphere. It will all be there waiting for you when you return. It always is — unless everyone else in the world decides to temporarily unplug at the same time. If that happens, you’re really not missing anything at all.