On March 7 and 8, people across the world will participate in a day of unplugging. But I'm not going to join them. Sorry, rebooters.
Image: Suri via Flickr
It's a fine idea in theory. For 24 hours, get off your devices. Shut down the computer and go outside. Hang out with friends and family instead of looking at a screen. Read a book, join up with other people who are unplugging, pick up that guitar you've neglected for the last few months that has been collecting dust in the corner.
But here's the thing: if a person truly has difficulty self-regulating their screen usage, a single day of unplugging isn't going to erase months or years of bad habits. If a person has stopped interacting with the people around them in favour for catching up with their friends' lives via Facebook, they need a lot more than 24 hours to reboot. Likewise if they rudely stare at a screen while people try to speak with them, or reject the face-to-face world altogether in favour of experiencing life via YouTube.
For the rest of us -- those of us who maintain a fairly healthy balance with screen time, perhaps giving screens more time than we did in the past because the Internet brings us happiness but still meeting up with friends sans smartphones, playing with our kids, and cooking meals -- the idea of unplugging because someone else has told us to unplug is to give in to someone else's judgment on the way we spend our time.
Because that's what this is at its heart: a judgment of what is "better" -- online or offline. It places a value on how you spend your time, and the underlying message is that the worth of online time is less than offline time.
And beyond that, it creates a heirarchy to how people derive their happiness or health.
Not everyone feels fulfilled by stepping out into nature. There are plenty of us who better enjoy sitting inside with a good book. But we don't have a National Day of Going Indoors. Perhaps it is because organizers of events believe that everyone spends enough time indoors, and they need to get us outdoors to fulfill an ulterior motive such as saving the forests. ("If we could just get them to see the beauty of this site, surely they would contribute to saving the land!")
But really, I think it comes down to the fact that people like to judge other people. Telling us to unplug (not on an individual basis because you think your friend has a problem, but as a blanket statement for all people) is just one more time when a group of people are judging the behaviour of another group of people in order to feel superior.
In the judgment of your life, being outdoors trumps being indoors. Being active trumps relaxing. Doing something that furthers intelligence trumps something that merely fills you with happiness. Be productive, but don't be too productive. Connect with friends, but not at the detriment to your work; and don't work too much to the detriment of your relationships!
You can't win, so you might as well not try.
I think the most grating words expelled by humans is "you'll love this." What the speaker usually means is that they love it, and they can't fathom how someone else would not find what they love beyond fabulous. This is especially true when people tell me that I'll love something, but they don't know me at all. The reality is that if I wanted to live someone else's life, I would. If I wanted to spend more time unplugged, I would. If I wanted to travel more, I would, or spend time in nature or hang out with my friends. If I'm not doing these things, chances are -- especially at my age knowing full well the plethora of options that exist -- I don't want to do these things. They wouldn't bring me happiness, even if they bring other people happiness.
So I think it's great that other people take digital sabbaticals. I'm glad they learn a lot of stuff about themselves when they do that. I'm even glad that they feel that they've changed their lives. I wish them a lot of happiness on their endeavours. But I feel no need to partake myself.
So on March 7 and 8, I will be looking at a screen as much as I need or want to look at a screen. I'll also hang out with my kids, read Michael Moss's Salt Sugar Fat, and do a little yoga. After the kids go to bed, I'll spend some meaningful time with my husband... cough. What I won't do is feel a moment of guilt. Nor will I long to be surrounded by trees or looking at a mountain or smelling flowers. If I wanted those things, I wouldn't wait until an assigned day to do them. I would get outside... now. But I'm not, and I'm okay with that.
And since no one else has to live my life, they should be okay with that too.
Are you unplugging this weekend?
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