I returned home from the mountains yesterday. We spent the majority of the weekend in a cabin with my brother’s family, my mom, and our dog Luna. There was sunshine. A bike. Lots of little boys. And loud wind in the trees. The best kind of noise…
The owners of the cabin had advertised WiFi in the cabin, so I made no preparations for my time away. I was gone Saturday noon until mid-day Monday. Not a long trip by normal human standards. Yet it felt like a huge voyage.
As fortune had it, the WiFi didn’t work. I got a signal on my phone for only a few minutes, twice, during the 48 hour respite. Not surprisingly, I was transformed. And rapidly. By Sunday morning, I’d tossed the iPhone in the corner, hid the computer, and stepped away from my responsibilities with work. This isn’t the norm for me since I started this blog back in November; I’ve been plugged in nearly every waking hour of every day. I haven’t taken a full day away from technology since last fall. Not requisite per se, but the way I’ve lived through the evolution of this blog and my time in social media. Part necessity to feel thorough, part insanity, and possibly part-addiction; social media can squeeze into any space. Maybe, a little like a bedbug.
I was different upon my arrival home. More present with the boys, making different decisions, and moving at a new pace. I was letting time unfold instead of folding pieces of life into time. No racing around, checking my pocket, drafting e-mails in my head, writing and re-writing blogs.
Just two days unplugged and the racetrack seemed to fade. On the way back into Seattle, I pulled off the highway and had an impromptu picnic overlooking Lake Washington with the boys. I just couldn’t let go of my time with them. Life felt so real, so good.
No way would I have done that (unplanned picnic with work to do at home) had there been WiFi in the cabin. Which is, of course, ultimately crazy. This is the stuff we’re all living for. This unplanned, unexpected, isolated time with the people we love. The center of all that matters in most of our lives. It’s just that work and the concept of “urgent” gets in the way.
I was thinking today (while back at clinic and re-attached to the iPhone, laptop, pager, & desktop) about brain drain and how I’m in line to be the next poster child.
The New York Times writer, Matt Richtel has been writing about the effect of our digital world on our lives, our brains and our functionality in a series called, Your Brain on Computers. Although my iPhone, laptop and other devices allow me to constantly contribute to and learn from the (non)medical world around me, Matt Richtel points out that, “When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.”
Just think of what I’d know if I didn’t spend so much time here.
Joking aside, Matt Richtel followed a group of neuroscientists on a 3 day remote excursion without digital technology as they evaluated their changed attention and processing speeds. What they describe (a clutter free slow down) is exactly how I felt. And I didn’t read the article until I returned home! Relaxation is a powerful thing. Yet many of us have none of it, particularly while raising young children.
Mr Richtel has written about the increasingly large debate surrounding attention, distraction, and the speed at which we live and process information in the 21st century. Read his work detailing the price of technology on your life. This urgent-get-right-back-to-you-status-update lifestyle comes at great costs. Even though occasionally it reaps great reward, too.
Certainly starved for some more down time, this unexpected, un-wired weekend was illustrative. I know I’m out of balance. No finger-wagging, please. But I will think about learning to compartmentalize my streams of information better.
Learn from my bad example. Turn off your phone, hide it under the couch for a week(end), and respond to your e-mail or Facebook account 3 days from now. A small price to pay for such a lovely reward: time.