The Importance of Unplugging

Sunrise

I just got back from a ten-day vacation with my husband sailing and relaxing in Puerto Rico. For those of you who haven’t heard his stories, he spent several years working on boats in his 20s and just loves it. So this year we rented a boat and sailed around the islands with some friends. The sailing was great (though Jon and I both know I don’t share his love for the open sea- I tend toward sea sickness and would rather walk than sail from place to place if I could), but for me there was another aspect of the trip that really made an impact- I completely unplugged. No computer, no phone, nothing. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve unplugged longer than a weekend, and it was a great practice to observe myself “withdraw” from my devices and to give me and my brain a rest from the constant onslaught of information.

Social media appears to increase narcissism and depression among users, smartphones could be causing insomnia, depression and anxiety, and screens seem to be making our kids less empathetic. I have two daughters, aged 12 and 14 who are considered digital natives, and despite my best intentions on limiting screen time, I worry about the long-term impact on them, as well as society as a whole, as we enter this grand experiment with technology.

I can see how it impacts. “I have to be on or I’ll get behind”- says my elder daughter as she tries to keep up with Snapchat and Instagram, not even digesting the posts, but just “liking” everything that comes across her screen. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and the pressures of her online presence are felt acutely. This winter we saw an enormous and amazing ice castle completely made out of ice. I stopped dead in my tracks when my younger daughter, about to go down an ice slide, said to me with deep concern, “Mom, I don’t know what I should do- should I go down the slide taking a video, but then I have to be careful how I slide so the camera doesn’t shake and it won’t be as fun, but I’m also afraid that if I don’t film it, I won’t remember it.” – With much compassion, I invited her to really pay attention to her experience and make a mental photo of it in her mind. Ouch! What pressures. Here is a cool clip of what the impact of technology is on our brain.

I found an interesting research article in Fast Company where a hand-picked group of 35 CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other influencers were invited on a trip to Morocco to study their behavior with and without technology. Five undercover neuroscientists observed the group. Here’s an excerpt of what they found after only three days:

Better Posture, Deeper Friendships
After three days without technology, people’s posture noticeably changed. They began to adapt to primarily looking forward into people’s eyes, rather than downward into their screens. People’s energy opened up and seemed more approachable. Better eye contact appeared to encourage people to connect with one another more deeply.

Improved Memory
Even after a few days without technology, people were more likely to remember random details about one another, such as the names of distant relatives mentioned in passing. The neuroscientists believe that this is because people were more present in conversation, so their brains were able to process and store new information more easily. These details are actually very important in the process of bonding and learning about other people.

More-Efficient Sleep
The guests on the trip said that they did not have to sleep as long, but felt even more rested and rejuvenated. The neuroscientists believe this is because the blue light from screens suppresses melatonin in the body, which makes us more alert as we are going to sleep. Other studies support these findings.

New Perspectives
One of the most powerful findings was that people tended to make significant changes to their lives when they were offline for a while. Some decided to make big changes in their career or relationships, while others decided to recommit to health and fitness. The lack of constant distraction appeared to free people’s minds to contemplate more important issues in their lives.

I noticed all of these things myself, in addition to some much needed quality time with my husband, uninterrupted time to just read, go for a walk or swim, or have a relaxing drink at sunset. Of course, all of these things are possible at home, too, but unplugging was a helpful boundary to take away the pressures of what I could or should be doing. I’m looking at ways I can bring more of that back home, and invite you, as well. See below for next steps.

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