Opening my car door, my phone – in the same hand – escaped its cover to land face down on tarmac. Not just cracked, but in spasm. Luckily, it was the day we ‘broke up’ for Christmas.
Repair and re-repair took 17 days. By laptop, Facebook Messenger organised my family life, a borrowed phone liaised with non-Facebookers, with emails and occasional landline calls as a last resort.
Detached from the constant distractions of instant phone contact, I enjoyed three books. Plus, I had one less thing to carry. It made me think.
What do we gain from unplugging?
Like many people on returning to work from a break, afterwards I saw email ‘unnecessaries’ clearly. I saw the duplicates, and the stuff of no value. I noticed how hard it can be to unsubscribe!
I’m not giving up my phone, it has too many merits. But being unplugged slows down time. Other, bigger stuff gets done and our priorities aren’t diluted.
Not being ‘found’ until we’re ready is a bonus. In the middle of something else, why should we allow someone’s urgent pestering, or our polite sense of obligation, to interfere? Surely it’s better to feel that we’re in charge, deciding when to contribute?
In the ‘real’ world, we build rapport and trust with people through frequency (or sometimes intensity,) and as we get to know each other better we become more inclined to be attentive, to help and do favours.
Isn’t it the same with a phone? The more frequently we pick it up, the more we breed a ‘relationship’ of necessity. We ‘just check’ a text or missed call and, before we know it, we’re diving into social media, a news app or emails.
Now we’ve taken a 10-15 minute diversion from something that probably matters more. And typing by touchscreen seems so much slower than on a keyboard.
Some people describe their heads as ‘noisy’, with almost non-stop self-evaluation/criticism. And then add this tech invasion, allowing others to get a piece of them!
What if we put conversation, our thoughts, and the quiet that we experience by ourselves, first?
What can we do to benefit from some unplugging?
These can help liberate us, offering more time and reducing the stress of being at the beck and call of interruptions:
1. Turning phones off when in conversation with someone who matters. That’s probably most people.
2. Keeping mealtimes phone-free. (Try ‘Stacking’ for a fun way of fining phone-using culprits at sociable dinners – stack phones face down. The first to reach for theirs pays the whole bill!)
3. Reducing email intake as much as possible – unsubscribing, reducing the frequency we check-in/respond, and ‘retraining’ people’s expectations of our new habits.
4. Dealing withone gadget at a time or at least avoiding duplication: Having the same emails simultaneously bleeping from phone and computer is pointless. Focusing on one thing gets more done.
5. Practicing leaving the phone behind – e.g. going to a meeting, leaving it at the desk/in a drawer/a bag but out of sight and mind. At home, leaving it in another room or turn it off after 9pm.
6. Closing Smartphone windows– if they’re catching our attention every time, how many ‘windows’ are open in our heads as we leap between them? What might we be doing, reflecting on, or day-dreaming about instead? Likewise, turning off notifications and deleting unused apps.
7. Having a ‘list’ of priorities away from the phone just to feel less of a slave to it.
8. Making a conscious decision – to pick up or to put it down. And when it bleeps or rings, whether to accept/deal with it there and then. Ask “Is this good for me right now?”
9. In a post office queue or dentist’s waiting room, avoiding reaching for the phone. Instead, doing something more rewarding, like planning the weekend or the next tricky work conversation. If your phone is the best place to record your thoughts, so be it – but make it a conscious choice.