|The anti-modern switch - I am downgrading. |
Earlier this week, I shared my story about missing work for several months after being in a ski accident and the unfortunate recipient of a concussion. My fifth mild traumatic brain injury, I suffered from fairly serious Post Concussion Syndrome and still have some lingering symptoms.
When I was able to return to the office, my doctor would only allow me to work part-time for five weeks to ease my brain back into activity. As part of this arrangement, he asked me to not use screens or the internet in my spare time. The logic being that I would already be using a screen for most of my time at work and that resting after work should include a break from this kind of activity.
This was almost unfathomable for someone who loves to be connected. My job position is in Marketing and Communications, which is a dream for me as I love technology, social media, and digital life. I have always believed that technology is an extension of ourselves, and that how we use technology is more a reflection of ourself than a problem with technology. I've never blamed the phone for the person who won’t stop texting at the dinner table - it’s the person who is being a jerk. So whenever someone has asked me if I’d ever consider unplugging, my answer has usually been to scoff at the mere suggestion.
However, I was curious as to what I would learn from an internet hiatus, and also hopeful that it may help with my healing process and return to work. So here it is.. An epic journey
from hyper-connectivity to the doldrums, mundanity and refreshment of an
unplugged life. I will try to convey my expectations, lessons learned,
disappointments, and ultimately, what the future holds.
I don’t think there is a way to convey this all succinctly, so it is
going to be a long read, but maybe that is fitting considering the 140
character lifestyle I was eschewing. At the very least it will serve as a
good reminder to myself in the future.
A quick note about of how I was connected during this time: Since I was half time at work, we had a volunteer come on to
take over our social media activities, meaning my time at work
generally consisted of email, meetings and strategic planning. I also stopped using text and instant
messaging (Gtalk) as this is no different than using a mobile device
for internet use.
I didn’t have any expectations going into this as it wasn’t really my
idea, or my choice. This isn’t like giving up booze or junk food where I
could expect to lose weight or sharpen my mind and wits by laying off
the sauce. However, after one day of not using the internet, I decided
to write down some possibilities and expected outcomes from my hiatus. I
think addressing these expectations one by one is the best way to talk
about what I learned through this process, so here we go, in no
1. I expect to feel better.
Rest is the most important thing for concussion recovery. That being
said, sitting at home all day and not being able to read, exercise or
engage in long conversations is not easy. Picking up a tablet or phone
and surfing mindlessly was an easy way to pass the time prior to my
internet hiatus. I was skeptical that giving up internet time would help
me feel better, but I think it did. Maybe it was just more time that
helped, but I feel much, much better today than I did five weeks ago.
2. I expect to be a maniac.
You want to talk about withdrawal symptoms? Try turning the mobile
data and text messaging off on your phone. I still carried my phone - as
I wanted voice calls - but the first few days of no data or sms were
characterized by what I would call “notification frenzy”. Notification
frenzy is the constant desire or urge to check your phone for a missed
alert. Similarly, it took a few days before I would stop feeling the
urge to click my Facebook bookmark on my computer at work. Thankfully it
eventually passed, but it was quite an eye opener to how crazily
connected I was.
3. I expect to be bored.
No doubt. Man, did I get bored. The unfortunate thing about this
entire process is that I am still dealing with some serious mental and
physical limitations due to my injury. So I couldn’t spend the five
weeks reading twenty novels or working out like a fiend. Most of my days
were still characterized by fatigue and the need to rest as I ramped up
my work schedule. At the same time, I found that when I can’t kill
boredom with mindless Facebook/Twitter/Web surfing, it opens up a fair
amount of time for other things.
4. I expect to become more aware of my surroundings.
This definitely occurred, but not to the extent I had hoped because I
am still very much a mush-head. Not having my face buried in a device
all the time definitely opened up my eyes to what was going on around
me. Ironically, when this first started happening my first inclination
was to tweet, instagram, or text what I was seeing to others. Eventually
I learned to just enjoy these simple moments for myself, which was one
of my favourite learnings of the whole hiatus.
5. I expect to become more aware of the people around me.
Uh yeah. I really began to start relishing time spent talking to
people, whether in-person or on the phone. And I will say this - I would
have never typified my group of friends as being unengaged or consumed
by their phones in the past, but trying to spend time with people when
they are constantly on their phones can be maddening. There were many
times when I wanted to grab a friend’s phone and chuck it into a brick
wall. Obviously, this was largely me projecting my current state on to
my friends, but this led to probably my biggest lesson from going
No more text messaging.
A quick caveat - I have long been known to be a horrendous person
to speak to on the phone. Many a girlfriend has lashed out at this
shortcoming (among many other shortcomings), so it was a rather
ambitious step to force people to call me.
Not texting for five weeks was an epiphany. Actually talking to
people when they call is not only refreshing, it prevents having to
spend ten times the amount of time trying to convey the same message via
text. Yes, there were times when it was inconvenient to call - like
when I had to reschedule a meeting with three different dudes and had to
call each of them - but these times were the exception.
When I watched people get lost in their phones when I was hanging out
with them, it was almost always because they were texting others. Prior
to my hiatus I would have defended this kind of activity, after all
they are probably just staying connected with a friend or maybe even
inviting them out to join us. The thing is, a simple phone call could
sort all of it out in less than 30 seconds and wouldn’t require
interrupting a real life conversation every two fucking minutes.
*In the last month I spent 588 minutes talking on the phone, and
sent 3 text messages - all in response to my boss. Compare that to 63
minutes and 912 texts the month before.*
There were a lot people I didn’t get talk to this month because we
didn’t text, but the people I did get to talk with more than made up for
it. You can learn a lot more about a friend, and what is actually going
on in their life, through two minutes on a phone than through 50 texts.
So sayonara SMS!
7. I expect to become more focused.
Yes and no. At work, not having to do social media meant I could
really focus on a mile long to-do list. There is a line of thinking out
there that multi-tasking is actually inefficient and makes us less
productive and more stressed. I was amazed at how much I could
accomplish at work by tackling tasks one at a time. In my home life, I
didn’t notice much of a difference.
8. I expect to become more critically engaged.
Not Googling everything is hard. Really hard. Recipes, inane facts,
directions, how-to videos are all just a click away. Not searching
online forced me to either learn on my own, or enlist the help of others
to do certain things. For example, I used some of the spare time I had
to refinish the furniture in our house. Ordinarily, I would have googled
the hell out of it to figure out what to do and avoided asking or
engaging others for help. Instead, I had to rely on the advice of
others, Home Depot people, and brainstorming between Kate and myself. I
think this made us more prone to mistakes, but it also made it more of a
learning process and ultimately more rewarding.
9. I expect to lose weight.
Negative. I may have stopped the onslaught of pounds from two months couch time though, so maybe that is a small win.
10. I expect to experience new places.
A little. I managed to spend some time at the public library - I
needed a woodworking book after all, but aside from that I was generally
limited to staying close to home. I may have also gotten a small taste
of Italy by learning how to make sausage from some crazy old Italians.
11. I expect to learn new ways of doing things.
Definitely. As mentioned above with the furniture and sausage making,
relying on other peoples expertise is something I could definitely
learn to do more.
12. I expect to have some of the basic assumptions of how I live my life challenged.
Oh boy. I am still sorting this one out.
There are lots of things I missed. I do miss the people who would
only contact me via text. I miss Twitter. I miss THE NEWS - I am a news junkie and love reading all different perspectives on happenings around the world. Being limited to local newspapers is a huge change from being able to access all the various news sites, blogs and alternative media available online.
However, I can’t overstate how thoroughly I enjoyed being unplugged.
As I have slowly gone back online over the past few days I feel like I
am giving something up more than I am getting something back. My phone
has been whistling at me non-stop since I started writing this post,
which is a total aggravation.
So yes, my basic assumptions are gone. Deciding on how to move forward is still up in the air.
13. I expect my closest relationships to improve.
Getting to talk, via voice, to my closest friends and family on the
phone every day was a huge treat. Strange thing, I remember an old
friend who used to call me every Monday morning for just two minutes to
check in and catch up. I used to really enjoy it, and genuinely
appreciated the thought that went into doing it every week. A sincere
thank you to all those that called me over the past five weeks, you
literally made my day with each call.
14. I expect my relationship with my girlfriend to improve.
My girlfriend doesn’t want me to go back online. She called the last five
weeks the “best five weeks of our relationship”. At times she called me a
different person, and in a good way! So maybe this should be reason
enough to not plug back in.
Strangely enough, I found myself resenting her every time she used
her phone or computer during this time. Basically, I didn’t appreciate
the interruptions! This may be a level of attentiveness that maybe she
isn’t comfortable with, imagine that!
15. I expect to be disappointed.
I have learned over and over in my life that there is no panacea to
personal development. Which is saying something for someone who used to
be a “born again” religious person. There is no magic switch that gets
flicked and I become the man I want to be. There is only striving, then
apathy, then disappointment, and then trying again…
Hopefully, coming out a little bit better than I was before.
I didn’t write every day, I didn’t exercise every day, I didn’t enter
a level of spiritual consciousness that I was heretofore unaware of.
But I do feel I learned a little bit more about myself, about what
really matters to me, and maybe just a touch more of what I really want
out of life.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Labels: brain injury, concussion, disability, internet, post concussion syndrome