In my last blog post I shared that Friday 7th March 2014 was National Day of Unplugging and that I was going to undertake my experiment in unplugging for a day (go ahead and read that blog post now, I’ll wait here for you!).
I’m now back on-line after 24+ hours of not using my Smartphone, turning off my Tablet and disconnecting from the Internet.
So how did I fare?
First World Problems
Firstly, I’m fully aware that millions of people live without the Internet and as many others aren’t connected as well as I am.
But the Internet is “my job”. I work in the IT industry where everyone is connected. I work with clients in multiple time zones across the world. I’m a Knowledge worker. I’m also a self-confessed Geek who enjoys being connected for both work and play.
And I’m definitely not alone in matching this description, at least judging by some of the feedback I had on-line when I shared that I was going to undertake an experiment in unplugging for a day. Comments such as “What? Voluntarily?”, “Rather you than me!” and “I’ll call you at mid-day to see how you’re getting on” were shared with me tongue-in-cheek, but hinted at the fact that for most of us – being disconnected from the Internet is something we would casually shrug off as “not a problem” until we actually experience it.
The night before
The night before I disconnected, I set my email out-of-office message and I also installed the Android App Auto SMS (Autoresponder) to send automatic responses to anyone who contacted me to let them know I was disconnected.
I also used Buffer to schedule some Tweets and maintain a presence on Twitter, specifically sharing links to articles about disconnecting from the Internet.
Then I shut-down my laptop, turned off my iPad and packed them away along with my Smartphone and iPod, safely out of reach so I wouldn’t be tempted by them during the day.
I actually had a really rough nights sleep. It’s bizarre (and slightly sad, I admit) but I woke up a number of times during the night with bizarre concerns about what I’d forgotten to do. Of course, there was absolutely nothing that couldn’t wait 24 hours – but this again hints at a (perhaps unhealthy) reliance on being “connected” that I didn’t anticipate.
Waking up and being disconnected felt somewhat liberating. I had made the decision to spend the day out and about, away from the temptations of my electronic devices and so headed out for breakfast and to do something I’d not done in quite some time – read a newspaper. While sitting in the Cafe and reading The Independent cover to cover, it occurred to me that while in such situations I’d normally be browsing the BBC News web-site, reading a newspaper page-by-page took me to read about stories I’d normally overlook. For most of us with Smartphones, I’d say we now choose the news we want to read – often picking the unimportant and the salacious ahead of what is truly newsworthy.
I also experienced my first “gotcha” of not having a Smartphone – reading a newspaper article about some Green Technology that took my interest, I felt compelled to go online and share a link to the product. Except I couldn’t, because I was disconnected. This happened quite a lot during the day where I saw things that I instinctively went to share with my “audience” but couldn’t.
Are we uncomfortable being alone in public?
Taking a leisurely stroll to the Train Station to head into Birmingham City Centre, I sat on the platform and instinctively went to whip out my Smartphone to pass the time. D’oh!
So I sat and people watched for a while. Almost everyone of the people on the platform were heads down tapping away on their Smartphone. I initially felt a little uncomfortable being sat doing “nothing” but soon enjoyed it. I watched as one couple stood together, immersed in their Smartphones, while their young Son tried (and failed) to get their attention until the train came along.
So what do you do when you’re sat alone, killing time, without even a Kindle to read a book on? Well, I struck up a conversation with the folks sat next to me – one of whom was an elderly lady from Germany who was exasperated at the state of the British transport system compared to that in her homeland (“Here, I have to set out 30 minutes early to accommodate delays. In Germany, I set out 2 minutes before my train is due, knowing it’ll arrive on time”.) and the other a middle-aged man from Redditch who was resigned to being late for his meeting but said that the people he was meeting would understand as he’d contacted them to let them know.
Oh yes – the train I wanted to catch was late. 30 minutes delayed. Which lead me to my next Smartphone-less quandary…
Panicking when we’re late for a meeting
Fellow blogger and organiser of Birmingham Social Media Cafe, Karen Strunks, had (probably against her better judgement) decided to join me in unplugging and we’d agreed to meet in Birmingham City Centre at 1030 that day.
Despite leaving an hour to make the 12 minute trip into the City, Central Trains had let me down and I was now going to be late to meet Karen. I’d normally drop her an SMS to say “Running late” but of course, I couldn’t as I didn’t have a mobile phone.
I felt like I was 17 years old again when I recalled that if you were let down by the British transport system (which was frequently) you’d have no way to convey this message to the friends you’d agree to meet a specific spot at a specific time.
Sharing my predicament with the people I was chatting to, the middle-aged chap empathised and shared that had become irritated over the lack of forward planning from people nowadays. Venues and times for meetings with friends we often decided at the last minute and conveyed by SMS or Facebook rather than in advance. The man shared with me how he’d recently made a trip from Redditch to Manchester for a party, only to find when he had arrived that the venue had been changed at the last minute and as he’d forgotten his mobile ‘phone, he had no way to find out where and so drove home in less than party spirit.
As it was, I arrived in Birmingham at 1040 where Karen shared with me she’d have waited until 11am (or interestingly, 1045 if I was a boyfriend) for me to arrive before leaving. Phew.
I enjoyed a fabulous tour of the new Library of Birmingham. It’s an amazing building – more like a Community hub than a traditional library – and at every turn I felt the pull to take a photograph of my wonderful surroundings and share it with the world. Alas, my camera is built into my Smartphone and so I had to remind myself that we used to store images of wonderful experiences well before Facebook and Instagram – by using our memories.
But the persistent urge to share where I was, what I was doing and with whom was one of the most noticeable points of my experiment. It’s not enough to live in the moment anymore, it seems. We feel compelled to share what we’re doing with others. With the advent of technology such as Google Glasses — eliminating even the barrier of getting your Smartphone out of your pocket to take a snap to instead tapping your glasses to take a photo of what you are seeing — I see this phenomenon increasing exponentially.
Feeling naked with a Smartphone
The rest of the day was really relaxing and enjoyable, despite the fact that every so often I’d feel for where my Smartphone would normally be (in my trouser pocket) and panic that I’d dropped it before I got a hold of myself and reminded myself that expensive chunk of technology was safely tucked away at home.
Other instances of my reliance on my Smartphone were:-
- When deciding on a lunch venue, I went to use location app Yelp! for a crowd sourced suggestion but remembered Yelp needed a Smartphone to work.
- When coming to pay the lunch bill, realising there was probably a money off voucher I could use online but sadly, it would stay there this lunchtime.
- When deciding on a movie to see at the cinema, having to walk to the cinema and see what was on rather than checking it out online first.
- Remembering to turn my Smartphone to silent during the movie, only to remember my Smartphone was silent at home already.
- When deciding whether to meet friends in town for a drink after work, realising that unless I wanted to trawl the pubs of Birmingham to randomly find them (not necessarily a bad idea) that I couldn’t phone or SMS them to see if they were out.
- Going to listen to a Podcast while out for a walk, which is difficult without Podcasts or anything to play Podcasts with.
On the evening, I enjoyed being sat at home and watching a movie without being distracted by my Smartphone beeping but still feeling pangs on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and wondering if my friends had perhaps text me to ask me to meet them at the greatest party there ever was that night (they didn’t) or that if any incredibly important emails had arrived (they hadn’t).
Despite feeling a little bit anxious when I disconnected yesterday, I knew the world would continue turning. I knew that it was highly likely that I’d not missed any important messages. I knew that anything important I received when disconnected could and would wait until the next day.
But it did feel good to reconnect this morning and confirm that I’d not missed out on anything important and that sadly, I’d not been missed <sniff>.
In short, as anyone who has been without Broadband Internet at home or has experienced a broken Smartphone will know, being disconnected from the wider world in this way leaves you at a disadvantage. People can’t contact you (which is good and bad). You can’t do on the spot research (which is mostly bad, but easily overcome). You’re disconnected from the worlds biggest information store – the Internet.
But positively, being off-line means you’re also forced to be in the moment and enjoy your surroundings instead of trying to capture thoughts and images of them to share with the network of people you’re connected with.
As human beings, we typically multi-task very badly.
- Trying to be out with friends while also Tweeting is difficult.
- Being at a family meal while sneaking a glance at Facebook is daft.
- And trying to enjoy a concert while filming it on your Smartphone is just stupid.
Being disconnected means you’re focused on the people you’re with, the things you’re doing and the places you’re at, instead of trying to maintain a presence in the real-world as well as be connected with people, places and things elsewhere at the same time.
My takeaway from this experiment is to be conscious of living in the moment. It’s a balance. I’m definitely not about to give up on the modern world, go and live in a hut on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere and enjoy only nature for company. But I am going to try to focus on where I am and who I’m with more. To reduce un-important distractions. To stop being concerned about what is happening elsewhere.
What about you? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
photo credits: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc, ell brown via photopin cc, rosipaw via photopin cc, fotologic via photopin cc, Noodles and Beef via photopin cc, Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via photopin cc