Life, Unplugged: On The Virtues Of Disconnecting

Life, Unplugged: On The Virtues Of Disconnecting
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What do the writer Ariel Meadow Stallings, Shutdown Day 2008 and the term "Internet Sabbath" have in common? They all want you to turn off your computer...for one day.

Great, right? You turn off your computer and, as many a mommyblogger who lose their Internet connection for a day can attest, you get out and live life. Do laundry! Make dinner! Go on a picnic! Reconnect with your family, friends and neighbors! Then, when that day is done, we go back online, where we Twitter and blog about it and post pictures on Flickr of all the fun things we did.

That is, we do that until the next "unplugged" night, Shutdown Day or Sabbath happens, then we do it all over again.

How dysfunctional are we?

I originally started to think about Internet overuse when I realized hours of my day would get sucked into blogs, email, news, gossip and reading sites such as "Awful Plastic Surgery." If my two small children would whine, I'd show them videos of a dog riding a skateboard on YouTube or pictures of kittens on Flickr.

As I began to research the concept of drastically cutting back Internet usage as a lifestyle choice, I found an odd theme repeating: We're willing to cut back, but only for a day (or night).

"We believe that just spreading awareness is a good way to get things going," said Ashutosh Rajekar, cofounder of Shutdown Day 2008, via email. "Many people out there have never heard of Frisbees or tree plantation or such - indulging in such activities for only one day will prove to people that they won't die if Facebook or Myspace is out of reach for one day! And it also instills a sense of personal discipline."

If we've gotten to the point where we're going to "die" if Facebook is out of reach for a day, it might be time for an intervention. I know the feeling of immediacy. You're so used to updating every hour or day that it becomes habit. What will happen if you don't reply to that email, update that blog or add a friend on MySpace?

Well, most likely, nothing. It is just that when we're so used to updating, checking and reading all the time, it feels like we're missing out. It becomes habit for us to pull out the iPhone or check email in the morning.

Ariel Meadow Stallings, author of Offbeat Bride, realized in January her tendency to not live in the present while at a workshop about balancing technology and soul. She then made the decision to disconnect from anything with a screen for one night a week for a year. She called the experiment "Unplugged," and it has generated a lot of media attention.

"I still struggle," she wrote about "Unplugged Night #14. "...I got twitchy about halfway through the night, desperate for two things I really wanted and didn't have: Internet and sugar."

I look at this concept as I would look at losing weight: I could diet for a week or two, or I could make permanent lifestyle changes. Basically, do I want to do Slim Fast or do I want to eat healthy and walk more?

Where is the person to guide us Internet addicts on staying offline more than just one day or one hour? Where is the person telling us to eat more vegetables and lay off the weight-loss shakes?

Writer, blogger and father Steve Almond is doing just that. Almond recently quit a blogging position at the parenting site Babble, citing several reasons, including the need to get off the Internet and out into the real world.

"I am suggesting that certain modern conveniences - the fast-paced, super-abundant ones - should come to an end," Almond, the author of Not That You Asked, said in his final post for the blog Baby Daddy. "And that we're going to need to slow down and connect more, not through screens, but in real life."

"People are lonely and they want to feel connected," Almond said in an email about this subject. "[Connected] to other people, to the world at large, and to their own internal narratives of grievance and desire."

Maybe our need for feeling connected through the Internet is actually disconnecting us more in real life.

For many of us, myself included, going offline permanently isn't possible. I need email to do my work, to send pictures of the kids to grandma and, yes, have a little fun. But I don't need it to the point where it takes over my life and becomes a priority.

I've often joked that if I can't find a movement for staying offline, then I'd start my own quasi Luddite one. I'll just have to resist the temptation to register a domain name or start a Flickr group.

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