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Why I’m Rejecting National Day of Unplugging

On March 7 and 8, people across the world will participate in a day of unplugging.  But I’m not going to join them.  Sorry, rebooters.

iPhone outside with flowers

Image: Suri via Flickr

It’s a fine idea in theory.  For 24 hours, get off your devices.  Shut down the computer and go outside.  Hang out with friends and family instead of looking at a screen.  Read a book, join up with other people who are unplugging, pick up that guitar you’ve neglected for the last few months that has been collecting dust in the corner.

But here’s the thing: if a person truly has difficulty self-regulating their screen usage, a single day of unplugging isn’t going to erase months or years of bad habits.  If a person has stopped interacting with the people around them in favour for catching up with their friends’ lives via Facebook, they need a lot more than 24 hours to reboot.  Likewise if they rudely stare at a screen while people try to speak with them, or reject the face-to-face world altogether in favour of experiencing life via YouTube.

For the rest of us — those of us who maintain a fairly healthy balance with screen time, perhaps giving screens more time than we did in the past because the Internet brings us happiness but still meeting up with friends sans smartphones, playing with our kids, and cooking meals — the idea of unplugging because someone else has told us to unplug is to give in to someone else’s judgment on the way we spend our time.

Because that’s what this is at its heart: a judgment of what is “better” — online or offline.  It places a value on how you spend your time, and the underlying message is that the worth of online time is less than offline time.

And beyond that, it creates a heirarchy to how people derive their happiness or health.

Not everyone feels fulfilled by stepping out into nature.  There are plenty of us who better enjoy sitting inside with a good book.  But we don’t have a National Day of Going Indoors.  Perhaps it is because organizers of events believe that everyone spends enough time indoors, and they need to get us outdoors to fulfill an ulterior motive such as saving the forests. (“If we could just get them to see the beauty of this site, surely they would contribute to saving the land!”)

But really, I think it comes down to the fact that people like to judge other people.  Telling us to unplug (not on an individual basis because you think your friend has a problem, but as a blanket statement for all people) is just one more time when a group of people are judging the behaviour of another group of people in order to feel superior.

In the judgment of your life, being outdoors trumps being indoors. Being active trumps relaxing. Doing something that furthers intelligence trumps something that merely fills you with happiness.  Be productive, but don’t be too productive.  Connect with friends, but not at the detriment to your work; and don’t work too much to the detriment of your relationships!

You can’t win, so you might as well not try.

I think the most grating words expelled by humans is “you’ll love this.”  What the speaker usually means is that they love it, and they can’t fathom how someone else would not find what they love beyond fabulous.  This is especially true when people tell me that I’ll love something, but they don’t know me at all.  The reality is that if I wanted to live someone else’s life, I would.  If I wanted to spend more time unplugged, I would.  If I wanted to travel more, I would, or spend time in nature or hang out with my friends.  If I’m not doing these things, chances are — especially at my age knowing full well the plethora of options that exist — I don’t want to do these things.  They wouldn’t bring me happiness, even if they bring other people happiness.

So I think it’s great that other people take digital sabbaticals.  I’m glad they learn a lot of stuff about themselves when they do that.  I’m even glad that they feel that they’ve changed their lives.  I wish them a lot of happiness on their endeavours.  But I feel no need to partake myself.

So on March 7 and 8, I will be looking at a screen as much as I need or want to look at a screen.  I’ll also hang out with my kids, read Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat, and do a little yoga.  After the kids go to bed, I’ll spend some meaningful time with my husband… cough.  What I won’t do is feel a moment of guilt.  Nor will I long to be surrounded by trees or looking at a mountain or smelling flowers.  If I wanted those things, I wouldn’t wait until an assigned day to do them.  I would get outside… now.  But I’m not, and I’m okay with that.

And since no one else has to live my life, they should be okay with that too.

Are you unplugging this weekend?

cross-posted with BlogHer


1 Lisa Brown { 03.06.14 at 9:28 am }

I’ll definitely be unplugging. There’s no harm, and it feels good. If anything, the people who are unplugging want to encourage others to do it because it’s a good thing! Don’t you want to share good things with our family and friends?

As far as “You can’t win, so you might as well not try” – that might be the saddest thing I have ever heard. I assure you I try new things all the time. I try. “Winning” has never been the goal… “trying” always has. I encourage my kids to new things. As a parent, would you ever say “You can’t win, so you might as well not try” to your kids? Why does “winning” trump “trying” in your book?

2 MrH { 03.06.14 at 10:22 am }

What I really like about this post is the feeling of freedom to make choices without feeling bad about them. I agree with you, if you don’t feel like you have a problem, then why do something about it? And the guilt about being indoors and doing non physical activities instead of jogging or biking with your kids is really not necessary. Guilt has never lead to inner peace or happiness.

I don’t yet know what I will be doing, but one thing is on my list: awareness. I will try to be aware during those two days, more than before, of the time I spend both on a screen and reading books (which I read on a screen) and see if I feel guilty about it, or if my daughter is trying to get my attention and I am busy with something else.

3 Katie { 03.06.14 at 11:01 am }

On a more superficial note, why on earth would they choose early March as the day to focus on the outside world. It’s bleak, gray, cold, and (for us at least) still snowing! This is the time of year when I would so much rather (purposefully I might add) escape from this reality by planning my next vacation (online) or looking pretty pictures (al la Pinterest). Maybe I’ll unplug when it stays consistently warmer then 30 degrees.

4 Ana { 03.06.14 at 11:41 am }

I think this statement you made “especially at my age knowing full well the plethora of options that exist” is key. Things like this (and I just heard of this from your post and have no plans to do anything about it) might be motivating or enlightening for kids/younger people who DON’T really know yet what they enjoy other than screen time. Especially for kids who do spend too much time looking at screens at the expense of other meaningful activities with their families. If a family really did spend a majority of their weekend watching television and playing video games, then unplugging for 2 days would have a HUGE impact and may open their eyes to new ways of interacting.
As for Katie’s point, I bet anything the people that organized this live in the south—where its generally gorgeous and still not too hot to step outside in early March. Come May, everyone wants to be inside with their central A/C blasting.

5 Catwoman73 { 03.06.14 at 3:21 pm }

I have no intention of unplugging, but then again, I don’t have to work this weekend, which means I will be home spending time with my family… Which automatically means less time spent online. It’s that simple- family first, Internet second. I already have a healthy relationship with my ipad, so i don’t feel the need to set it aside and go for a romp in the snow (ugh). The ironic thing about this weekend is that it probably isn’t the people who really need to unplug- the ones who live their lives with their noses permanently stuck in their iPhones- who are going to do it. So I highly doubt there will be many people whose eyes are going to be opened, and whose lifestyles are going to be drastically altered due to unplugging for a day or two. It all seems a bit silly to me.

6 a { 03.06.14 at 3:43 pm }

I don’t generally turn on my computer while my daughter is awake anyway. I could put down the phone more often, but if I do, she’ll probably take it! Regardless, we have plans this weekend that don’t involve screens, but there will be some screen time too. We try to spend family time together every day, not just on certain ones.

7 Battynurse { 03.06.14 at 4:15 pm }

Not unplugging. Heck I have to work and if I went in and said “sorry I can’t do any charting tonight since I’ve vowed to not use computers for 24 hours” they’d either laugh or fire me. Not going to do it on a day off either as how I spend my time is my decision.

8 Elisha { 03.07.14 at 2:19 am }

Unplug?! Uh…no thank you 🙂

9 Barb { 03.07.14 at 6:41 am }

I’m with batty nurse. I was all annoyed bc I don’t think work would like it if I said, “oh I haven’t read that email. It’s National Unplug day.” geez

As for the nature push, as someone who educates people about nature, I know that there is more and more of a disconnect bn many people and the natural world which causes a lot of issues I won’t expound upon here. There really is no disconnect w people understanding shopping malls or inner spaces (unless it’s to teach someone office etiquette). Whether it brings people joy or not, the natural world is a necessity. And my company’s “get outside” campaign can’t very well target individuals. “Hey inner city kid & high powered executive who works 80 hrs/wk! Get outside!” but it is a very important issue. So it’s a blanket drive to all. I do totally understand where you’re coming from, and I’m glad you’re doing what works for you. But that’s the beauty of it. You can ignore it, and I personally don’t feel it’s too judgmental. We’ll never be all non-judgment, and we shouldn’t be.

10 Justine { 03.07.14 at 9:43 pm }

Like Battynurse, no unplugging here, either. I have to work. Unfortunately, I do turn on my computer in front of my kids. And my phone. I try to pay attention to them, too. Sometimes I’m OK at it, sometimes I suck at it. I’m a work in progress, and a single day of unplugging isn’t going to help me strike a better balance.

11 Elizabeth { 03.08.14 at 5:17 am }

It’s a form of ersatz nostalgia

12 Amel { 03.09.14 at 6:17 pm }

I need to unplug every now and then (I don’t work in a place where they need me to be online). Even though I do love interacting online, as an introvert sometimes it feels that there’s too much cacophony of sounds and voices in my head due to the online world. That’s probably one reason why I haven’t really used my mobile to get online unless there’s free wifi. I’m afraid I’d get burnt out more easily.

I’ve deactivated myself from Facebook once for a few weeks and that felt great and soon I’m going to do it again (a little break every once in a while is good for me). I love interacting with people, but that also tires me up and I need time alone to recharge.

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