I'm trying to begin a meditation practice, and I thought starting the New Year with some "e-down time" would be a good way to kick that off. That was the originating impulse, getting focused. On New Year's Eve, I started a week of "digital detox"--no Facebook, Twitter, news, web-surfing, and only very limited email. I thought that at the end of the week, I'd be leaping for the iPhone. But my experience was so enjoyable that I'm now rethinking how I want to be connected through social media, and to what ends. I liked it so much, that I've barely been online for another week.
Why did I like it so much? Because I calmed down.
Maybe that's a no-brainer, and you're saying, "Duh." But I'm telling you, it's one thing to imagine ahead of time that going digi-free would be relaxing, and it's another thing altogether to experience it, deep down in my cells.
After an initial adjustment period, I found that my itch to know "What's happening now??" And now??? And what about now?????" subsided. And that itch seems kind of silly, with a little perspective.
To understand fully what I'm talking about here, you need to have a little context. And for those of you who haven't spent a lot of face-time with me in the last few years, you should know: I have been a compulsive email- and news-checker. I've got my news feed reader so I can follow each and every move on about 40 blogs and websites, and I read the news feed throughout the day. I check my email throughout the day, and keep my "inbox" under 50 items always; anything in the inbox is like a "to do" item--something I need to respond to or do something about. In the last few years, my consumption of e-media has been on the order of at least a couple hours a day. During the year of the 2008 campaign, I added a few hours of cable news on top of this computer time. And when I got the iPhone a year and a half ago, I could (and did) constantly check my email, feed reader, Twitter and Facebook applications; when I finished checking all four, I would often start back at the beginning. Hours of this. Every day.
(Sound familiar to anyone?)
When I moved to the farm, a good deal of this changed. No TV, so no cable. Less time on subways and busses to check the news, so I began reading blogs through the feed reader only once or twice a day. I found that I always skipped over some blogs, so I excised them from my reader. Twitter still took a lot of my attention, and I still checked email at least five times a day. I was still reading my iPhone in bed at night, and sometimes cursing myself for it, when sleeplessness followed. But still, probably at least an hour, sometimes two, per day, reading news, emails, Facebook and Twitter.
That's a lot of time to be plugged in. And really, I wasn't ever truly unplugged in the moments when I wasn't reading email or news, because I had that media-world way up in the front of my consciousness, and my iPhone always in my pocket.
In the first two days of my digital detox, I found that I missed knowing what was going on, and that I missed having my iPhone on me. I had to consciously leave it behind or in the other room, so I wouldn't think about checking it. In those first few days, I noticed a couple things that were revealing: I missed the iPhone especially when there was a lot of hubbub around me, when I felt a pull to "retreat" into the iPhone and block out some of the commotion. I also missed the iPhone strongly when I was in a state of "deferral"--when I was waiting for someone, or wanting something that I couldn't have at that moment. I was surprised to find these more psychological gratifications for being plugged in, when I had always and more easily characterized myself as simply a news-junkie. Yet it was undeniable: I use the iPhone to buffer me and to distract me, especially when I'm not fully comfortable.
But just as surprising was how easily I just began to forget about the iPhone, leaving it in my room without even thinking about it. And how quickly the incessant question "What's happening now?" subsided. Turns out that I actually don't need to know. Life goes on around me, whether or not I know every detail of every news story or what so-and-so wrote on Facebook.
And without all that digital electricity flowing through me, all that social adrenaline keeping me buzzing, I was able to "come down" a bit. I fell asleep earlier, read a few books, and started keeping a journal. I made sourdough bread with my own home-made starter, cooked venison stock, and learned a few new fermentation recipes (more on that, later!). Nothing was dramatically new, except my internal sense of restfulness. I think that my e-connectivity is based on a near-constant expenditure of "scanning" energy, and living for a week without spending out that energy, I see what a drain it is.
There is a great deal of value in being connected and in being informed. But there is also a cost to it, and that's what I now have to consider.
When my detox ended, I was actually a bit sad. Although I wanted to be in touch with friends, I found I didn't have much to say on Facebook and Twitter. I had a hard time reading through the news feeder, because so much of it is speculation, snark, and repetition. Turns out, I don't actually need to know every detail or slant of commentary. And taking more time to learn about spiritual practices, farming and seeds, or cooking just feels more compelling right now.
So that's my reflection post-detox. Less electricity, more natural light.