With the holidays almost here, Cindi Leive, Mika Brzezinski and I have decided that there is no better time to unplug, recharge and renew ourselves in time for the new year. And what better way to do that than by unplugging and disconnecting from all our devices?
The siren call (or siren ringtone?) of constant connectivity isn't just afflicting those of us working in the 24/7 world of media. Big Data, unfettered information, the ability to be in constant contact and our growing reliance on technology are all conspiring to create a noisy traffic jam between us and our place of insight and peace. Call it an iParadox: our smartphones are actually blocking our path to wisdom.
That traffic jam is so noisy, and our need for well-being and wisdom so great, that Cindi, Mika and I agreed we needed to go beyond our usual, day-to-day vows to take time away from our devices. We wanted to do something bigger.
Nearly four years ago, Cindi and I took a one-month Sleep Challenge, urging women to join us in our quest for more sleep -- and blogging about our experiences along the way.
Our addiction to screens is affecting our well-being, productivity and creativity in similar ways. So next week, Cindi, Mika and I will be taking the same approach to a different problem, and we hope you'll join us on our Unplugging Challenge, from Monday, Dec. 23, through Sunday, Dec. 29. For me, that means no TV, no social media, and limiting myself to two email check-ins a day with our HuffPost editors on the three days of that week that our office will be open. Instead of being constantly connected, I'll be spending Christmas in Hawaii with my daughters, my sister and my ex-husband, not photographing beautiful sunsets, not tweeting pictures of my dinner, and skipping Throwback Thursday on Instagram in favor of, you know, just talking about things that happened in the past, and being immersed in things happening right now. Cindi will be abstaining from TV and social media and staying off email with the exception of allowing herself twice-daily check-ins on days that Glamour's office is open, since the magazine will be up and running through the holidays. She told me she is "already breaking out in hives thinking about all of this" -- Cindi, you can do it! Mika is completely unplugging -- for the first time in 20 years -- by going away with her family to a faraway island.
With our Unplugging Challenge, we want to put the spotlight on a part of our lives that is taking us further from our own well-being, creativity and wisdom. The Internet has put a wealth of information at our fingertips. But our hyper-connectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden. As someone who carries four BlackBerrys, I know.
"[P]eople have a pathological relationship with their devices," says Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who studies the science of self-control at Stanford's School of Medicine. "People feel not just addicted, but trapped."
Professor Mark Williams sums up the damage we're doing to ourselves:
[W]hat we know from the neuroscience -- from looking at the brain scans of people that are always rushing around, who never taste their food, who are always going from one task to another without actually realizing what they're doing -- is that the emotional part of the brain that drives people is on sort of high alert all the time. So when people think, "I'm rushing around to get things done," it's almost like, biologically, they're rushing around just as if they were escaping from a predator. That's the part of the brain that's active. But nobody can run fast enough to escape their own worries.
In her opening post titled "Mom's Digital Diet," Lori Leibovich, HuffPost's Executive Lifestyle Editor, wrote about the family vacation she recently took that included a vacation from her phone. She told her kids, "If you see me doing anything on my iPhone besides taking pictures, take it away from me." Like all diets, it wasn't always easy to stay on it. But there were rewards. "Yes," she writes, "there were moments when I felt existentially lost without the iPhone's Pavlovian ping alerting me to a new message or tweet. But it also felt exhilarating to use my hands for digging tunnels in the sand and turning the pages of a novel instead of just for tapping away on a screen. For the first time in I don't know how long, I was really seeing my kids. And they were relishing being seen."
And this disconnection is a two-way street. Caroline Knorr from Common Sense Media wrote about a study, conducted by her non-profit, which found that 72 percent of children under the age of 8, and 38 percent of children under the age of 2, have already started using mobile devices.
Louis C.K. has put a brilliant comedic mirror in front of us and our screen addictions. In one of his routines, he captures the absurdity of children's events where none of the parents is actually able to watch the soccer game or school play or kindergarten graduation because they're straining to record it on video with their devices, blocking "their vision of their actual child." So hell-bent are we on recording our children's milestones that we miss them altogether. "The resolution on the kid is unbelievable if you just look," C.K. jokes. "It's totally HD."
Mika, Cindi and I believe the holidays -- and 2014, and the rest of our lives -- can be HD too. But only if we occasionally tear our eyes away from our screens, put down our devices and pause to wonder at the world around us. In January, after we've completed our week away from our devices, each of us will be blogging about how it went, what we learned and whether we really missed out on anything by taking some time away from our inboxes and smartphones. And we are going to be talking about our Challenge on Morning Joe on Thursday, Jan. 9. So if you take part in the Unplugging Challenge -- and we hope you will -- please be sure to let us know how it's going, what was hard, what was easy and what you've learned. And since we are fully embracing the paradox, we'll be using the hashtag #holidaysunplugged before and after the Challenge to keep the conversation going. Happy holidays, and happy unplugging!