Unplugging, and facing the truth

Thank goodness, I’m back online.  Friday a story about the “National Day of Unplugging” came on my car radio.  You can read about “The Unplug Challenge” here .  Basically, you disconnect from your cell phone, email, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc. for a 24-hour period, to help you “slow down life in an increasingly hectic world.” Ironically, the Sabbath Manifesto folks created an app to help you disconnect.

Anyway, I decided to take the Unplug Challenge.  I spent Friday night sending emails, doing online “work” for my various volunteer jobs, and printing out documents from a class I’m taking online, so I could be productive even though “unplugged.”

I officially shut down my computer and turned off my cell phone and iPad at 8:30 pm.  With a little fear, but also self-satisfaction, I headed out to unwind in the hot tub.  While there I panicked, remembering a couple more messages I needed to send, plus the idea of putting a “vacation response” on my email — so people would know I hadn’t dropped off the face of the earth, merely unplugged from it.  I went in and booted up my computer, did these things and printed out Saturday’s calendar, since I wouldn’t have access to it on my phone or computer.  Much calmer, I officially began my Sabbath from the Internet at 9:30 pm. 

Saturday, Anne’s Day to be Unplugged: We slept late, nearly ten hours.  I got up feeling better than usual.  I couldn’t read my newspapers at breakfast, though, because they require the use of my iPad.  So I read a syndicated column in the Mercury News about what to do if you discover hit-and-run damage to your car after leaving it in a parking lot.  Informative, but not profound – so far being unplugged hadn’t helped me plumb for deeper meaning in my life.

After breakfast I had a nice long talk with my sister on the phone.  It was good to catch up.  I also was going to call a friend for her birthday, but since her number was in my cell phone, I resolved to do that later.  Then I sorted through the mail that had been piling up on the entry table for the past week or so.

At that point I had to leave for a tennis match, and I returned home at 2:00 pm.  I managed being unplugged pretty well until 3:00 pm, when I had to fight the urge to check my text and email.  But I read a couple of magazine articles and then called my folks.  At 3:45, I remembered I needed to do some online research on a new oven.  Oops, that would have to wait.  I began to appreciate how a smoker must feel when withdrawing from nicotine.

I passed by my dark computer and phone, sitting alone on my desk.  I wondered if they missed me?

At 5:30 pm, Rico and our son, Micah, left for the San Jose Sharks game.  I opened a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer.  After watching the national news on TV, I poured a second glass of wine, reheated some leftovers and watched “Memoirs of a Geisha.”  The movie was profound, a piece of art — but it was on a screen, not a real life experience.

When Rico and Micah came home, they ridiculed my attempt to “keep the Sabbath.”  They were sure I had cheated and gone online while they were out of the house.  Micah predicted I’d spend all day Sunday “geeking out,” making up for missing a day on the ‘Net.

Sunday, Anne’s Plugged in Again: At 8:45 am, I breathlessly turned on my iPad and cell phone.  Look, the New York Times was still there, and so was yesterday’s Wall Street Journal!  But it was kind of a letdown.  Yesterday’s paper felt stale now, even though it looked fresh on my screen.  I checked my phone.  I had received only one text and no voicemails at all.  I thought, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going out and eat worms.” Emails, too, were lackluster: there were a bunch of scheduling items, none of them urgent, and a couple of messages annoyed me.

So ultimately, what was the point of unplugging?  While there are times when being connected matters, face it: my lack of online presence this weekend didn’t exclude me from anything important.  Furthermore, being unplugged helped me avoid the irritation and worry I felt later when checking my email, so it made Saturday more relaxing.  I tackled a few chores around the house that I might not have done, if instead I had “relaxed” with my laptop.  I even watched a good film when, alone in the evening, I normally would have “worked” on my computer.  These were all good outcomes.

And finally, as hard as it is to admit, I understand better now that my “online community” isn’t community at all: no one missed me or even realized I had “checked out.”  No one called me at home when they couldn’t reach me otherwise.  Maybe that’s the real reason we don’t want to unplug – the Internet gives us the sense that something is always happening and we are vital participants, even if we aren’t.  Cutting the cord (or wireless signal) might mean facing the truth — that we aren’t as important as we’d like to think.

So will electronic Sabbaths become a regular habit for me?  Probably not.  At the same time, I am resolving to look for worth in meaningful ways, whether online or “real time.”  Saying no to the allure of the always-on Internet can be tricky, but I need community that’s personal and real — not an ongoing pageant that, although welcoming, doesn’t need or miss me when I’m gone.