Once a week I make it a point to turn off everything digital and live in the real world. That means no cell phone, no laptop. No social media, no TV. No tablets, no texting. I can hear a lot of you screaming at the mere thought of such a day. What would you do? How would you stay abreast of all those important things in your life? How would people reach you? And, again, what would you do? Answer #1: You do anything you want as long as it’s away from a screen. Answer #2: You’ll be surprised at how little it matters that you aren’t up on the latest Tweets, IM’s, or Facebook updates. You aren’t as important as you think you are.
I started doing analog days when it became apparent that my love of gadgets was harming my body. My eyes were always dry from staring at screens. I was getting carpal tunnel syndrome and my back and hips were killing me from sitting so much. As a writer, there are times that I don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Books and articles have to get written and promoted and that means hours at the computer. But I also realized that if I was going to avoid crippling myself, something had to change. So, once a week, I started turning everything off and doing things that didn’t require a screen.
At first I was nervous. What if I missed an important email or request from my publisher or a client? What if something happened while I was away from the connected world?How would I fill my time if I turned off the computer and TV? I needn’t have worried. After several years of practicing analog days (and sometimes whole weeks when I go camping), I haven’t missed anything major.
Do people sometimes wish I’d gotten back to them sooner? Yes, but there’s been nothing that was so critical that a day/few days of waiting has completely messed anything up beyond repair. Most of the time no one even knows that I was intentionally away from the computer. I’m not missed because nothing I have to say is so important that it can’t wait. (That’s a humbling lesson because technology makes us think that we’re all indispensable and important when the truth is, we’re just not.)
And as for entertainment, there’s an awful lot to do in the world without TV. (And if I find myself running short of entertainment, there’s no shortage of things that need to get done like yard work, home repair, and other productive projects that TV lets me conveniently put off.) I can go walking/hiking, go camping, play a board game, write in my journal, go to dinner or on a picnic and actually talk to my companions, go outside and play, work on my coloring, read a book, go to a ball game, go to a museum, or do any of a thousand fun things that don’t require a screen. Yes, you have to look for entertainment when you’re no longer defaulting to the easy choice of TV and movies, but there’s plenty out there and it’s not hard to find. And it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Analog days bring me a lot of joy. It’s fun to get away from the desk and do other things with actual people. I enjoy thinking of different things to do and then doing them. It’s even fun to do chores (strange as that may seem) because I get the satisfaction of getting things done and moving them off my to-do list. I sometimes forget how big and interesting the world is. It’s easy to think that you’re experiencing life when you’re keeping up with Facebook or reading tweets, but that stuff isn’t life. Life is lived outside of the screen.
I don’t want to die and think, “Dang, I wish I’d pried myself away from Facebook and gone on that picnic with my friends.” Or, “I missed out on my bucket list item because I thought it was more important to crank out one more article.” That’s not the kind of life I want. Analog days force me to remember what’s important and then get out there and do it.
That’s a humbling lesson because technology makes us think that we’re all indispensable and important when the truth is, we’re just not.
Beyond the joy, analog days keep me healthier. They allow my mind and body to relax and be used in different ways. Instead of responding to the pings of electronic notifications, I can listen to bird calls or the conversations of my friends. Instead of cramping up at my desk, I can unwind in the park or on the tennis court. I exercise even on digital days, but there’s something special about the activities I do on analog days. They’re more like play than workouts. I can use different parts of my brain to work on puzzles or play games, instead of always writing or promoting. I get outside and bask in fresh air and sunshine.
Even on digital days, I make it a point to do as much as I reasonably can offline. I take notes in notebooks instead of on the computer. I keep my calendar in a paper planner rather than in an app on the computer. Unless the show on TV is something I really want to see, I don’t turn it on just for background noise because it’s too easy to get sucked in. I read paper books rather than eBooks when possible.
Doing all of this keeps my body healthy and exercises different parts of my brain. Writing notes by hand uses a different part of your brain than does typing them into a computer. Reading on a page is easier on the eyes than reading on a screen. And doing things manually gives me joy. Maybe it’s not as fast, but there’s something to be said for slowing down and really appreciating whatever task you’re doing.
Living this way does take some getting used to, and even more so if you are seriously addicted to the digital world. It can take a while to get over the need to be connected, or to default to a screen for entertainment rather than looking for something “real” to do. However, I find it to be more than worth it, both physically and psychologically. There is a lot of fun and joy in the world and I’m glad I’m looking away from the screen to see it.