Three hours and twenty minutes ago a poplar tree smashed against electrical wires on our road, ousting electricity for everyone.
The mothers, fathers and teenagers could no longer utilize their computers. The kids lost access to iPads. Toilets no longer flushed. Water no longer ran freely and joyfully out the faucet. The gas stove no longer lit without a match. Most of the telephones refused to ring, unless they remained hooked up to an old-fashioned rotary line. The refrigerator ceased humming. The dehumidifier? Kaput. The lights? What lights? (Who needs ’em anyway, on this first day of summer, the longest day of the year?)
I sat cheerfully for the first hour or so, reading a book. Then dusted and cleaned a shelf. Called my mom on the rotary phone to see what’s happenin’ down in Yale. Lit the stove with a match and drank a cup of tea. Went outside and watched the grass grow and the wind blow.
And then I felt that familiar nervousness…oh no…what the heck do I do NOW?
Oh my, oh my, that experience of becoming unplugged! It showed me, once again, how dependent and sometimes addicted we can get to our modern technology. We love our running water, our cold food, our flushing toilets, our blogs, our email, our Facebook, our telephones, our connection to the world, don’t we?
It’s easy to become so quickly bored, restless, nervous. What do we do with ourselves without our machines, our lifelines?
You see young people texting, texting, texting into their phones 24/7. You see older folks scrolling through Facebook over and over again, whether they contribute or not. You see people almost unable to take a deep breath and go outside and wander slowly through the woods, the parking lots, the dusty country roads.
I know the allure of this instant-connection media, the way it fascinates and consumes and beckons you in. During my year-long commitment to “Opening the door, walking outside” in 2008-2009, I wrote a blog every day about what the world revealed outside the house. Yet the act and allure of writing the blog, reading the comments, checking the stats, consumed me. I would spend an hour or two outside, followed by four hours staring into the computer.
These days it feels so much more peaceful and relaxing to simply turn off the computer and Kindle for long periods of time. To recognize that there is a part of me–and the larger culture–that wants to be connected. But also to see that connection is not healthy all the time. It’s too focused. It can be too painful to our nervous systems to be staring at a screen or phone for so many hours.
It seems like there is a part of us that wants to stay instantaneously and immediately connected with the world–to be available and present to whoever and whatever needs attending. However, this seems to create a state of hyper-vigilance and almost over-attention.
It’s been a continuing journey, and not one yet mastered, but I’m learning to gracefully unplug when necessary. Without fanfare. Just simply “Closing the technological door, turning off the computer.”
To learn to trust an inner knowing that informs us when to turn on the computer, and when to keep it off.
It feels so much more healthy to give ourselves that break, that dalliance where attention is free to wander wherever it wants to go. To not always need to be focused, staring, attentive.
What is your relationship with unplugging, with taking computer breaks? Have you ever felt overwhelmed by technology’s presence and the need to stay present to everyone and everything?