Unplugging My Life

Have you missed me? For the past week, I've been very hard to reach. If you sent me an email, you got an auto-response message saying I wouldn't be around until Jan. 3. If you texted me, I flat-out ignored you; no offense intended, of course. Ditto for the voice-mail messages you left on my cell.

For the past week, I did not turn on my Blackberry (except to make outgoing calls), my iPad, my iPad2, either of my Macbook Pros or my Mac desktop. I did not compulsively check my three email accounts on any of the multiple devices I constantly carry that allow me to stay connected. I didn't post to Facebook. I didn't read my Twitter feed or send out a single tweet. And I didn't spend a minute on any computer surfing the net for amusement. Whew.

What did I do with my extra time? Well, I read three books (read as in the old-fashioned way, bending back page corners to mark the spot I left off) and I got reacquainted with my family. (I'm not sure when my kids started saying "I'm good" when they mean "no thank you" but I wouldn't mind if they'd stop.)

It was an interesting experiment -- seeing if I could go cold turkey from my e-world. The idea to try it came at Thanksgiving, which we spent in San Francisco in the company of my best friend and her family. Her 80-year-old dad, a UC Berkeley business professor emeritus, gets the print edition of the New York Times delivered to his driveway each day and still thinks cell phones are for emergencies only. Quaint behaviors, both. He was given an iPad for his birthday and while claiming to enjoy it, truth is he hasn't found much use for it beyond doing crosswords. His face did light up however when we had a Skype visit from his two college-age grandsons, still in New York.

"What a marvelous thing this is," he exclaimed after the call. "It was like they were right here!"

And over a turkey leg followed by the most-incredible pie, we discussed why, as an exceptionally bright and learned man, he would intentionally eschew what is arguably the greatest learning tool given to man: the Internet.

His answer was inspirational -- inspirational enough for me to unplug for a week just to see what it would feel like. My friend's Dad simply doesn't like clutter -- brain clutter included. Of course the world has much to teach us, much to offer us. But the key is selection. It has less to do with someone trying to sit out the IT revolution or ignore its contributions to our lives and more about selecting what information is important and what isn't. Let's face it: Much isn't.

And of course there is the stillness factor.

Once I disconnected myself from the constant barrage of emails -- the many "deal" sites I signed up for and have never bought anything from, the "friend" requests from Facebook strangers, the zillions of emails I get related to work and the Google alerts for the likes of Rupert Murdock (I think that one came from a story I worked on last year) -- I felt the quiet immediately. It was the stillness of the place where we all once lived, long ago in the days before our devices demanded that we stay constantly connected.

And who am I really "connected" to anyway? Of course there are my real-world friends and my work colleagues. But what about all the rest of the noise? All those those marketers who have infiltrated my Facebook account and babble on about my brand and how they and only they can enhance my social engagement. I'm never quite sure: Are they offering to build up my Twitter follows or are they selling Viagra?

I have become someone who checks emails with the compulsiveness of an eye tick. It, and I, won't stop. We twitch at red lights, at pauses in conversations, first thing in the morning and last thing before sleep. And now, I need to ask myself: To what end? Why is it so important that I not be late to an email?

Someone wise once counseled that if you have 10 problems on a Friday and put them on the shelf, come Monday, only three will still be there. While certainly not a study of science, the point is clear: What is urgent to someone else isn't necessarily urgent to you. A lot of "emergencies" that seem dire turn out to be issues that resolve themselves and go away on their own before you even get your hands dirty with them.

And then there is all the rest of it, the bulk of it; let's face it, do I really need to know when Rupert Murdoch burps?