Just about every week, for one day, typically Saturday, I put away my phone, my iPad, and don’t sit in front of my computer. Sometimes I check my phone in bed when I first wake up, but then that’s it.
This simple act is remarkably freeing. If I’m alone, I can truly let my mind wander about how to spend my day. Do I want to cook a big breakfast? Read magazines all day? (I’m a bit of a print-magazine hoarder. I even listen to Monocle’s The Stack, a radio show all about print magazines.) Binge-watch a TV show season? Go for a three- or four-hour walk without checking my watch? On any given analog day, I’ll do any one of these things and more. I’m not so fanatical that I won’t turn on a TV or use my iPod, but I don’t do anything that involves digital communication, barring something pressing like texting someone about already-scheduled plans, or calling my mother back.
Unplugging also allows me to recharge my batteries from the previous week. Typically, weeks are full of meetings, emails, and responsibilities. It’s really hard for me to relax within that environment. I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s hard for me to switch back and forth between work and play. At any given time, I’m pretty much in one of those modes until I get so tired that I collapse. As a bit of a quiet introvert I really need significant downtime between the last time you saw me and the next time you see me “up” at an event or a meeting. Lots of people think I’m extroverted, but I’m really just an extroverted introvert, and when you don’t see me I’m probably walking alone in Rock Creek Park with my headphones and sunglasses and ball cap on, ignoring everyone.
Finally, these analog sessions are when I typically get my good ideas. It might be an idea for a blog post, or something that “pops” in a magazine article I’m reading, or an insight that helps me with a project in the upcoming week. But despite the fact that I was working on all of those things the workweek previous, I get many of the insights precisely when I’m not working on them, or thinking about them, when my mind is relaxed. I carry around a small notebook and pen where ever I go (typically a Field Notes these days; I also have an all-weather “Rite in the Rain” red pen I bring with me when I’m outdoors).
The hyper-connected Baratunde Thurston famously wrote about how he unplugged for 25 days following his book tour. If you can get past the feature-article length writing, the narcissism of describing every detail of his detox, and the ridiculousness of some of his advice (”schedule a vacation” or “alert your colleagues” is not exactly cutting-edge advice specific to a digital detox), it’s a valuable article because if you’re like many people and you feel trapped by all your devices and push notifications and social channels, Thurston tells you that it’s actually “okay” to leave that for a while.
For me, I’ve never been too hung up on explaining why it took me an extra day or so to get back to people. Especially on the weekend. You know what? I just simply didn’t see your text to me at 9pm on Saturday night or your email request from late-Friday afternoon. I didn’t care to. Now it’s Sunday and I’ll take a look and get back to you. Perhaps not everyone can get away with going analog exactly the way I do it, but I’m sure that if you want to you can come up with your own variation.