I can remember the moment I realized that smartphones were going to change our relationships. I was at a 40th birthday dinner party for a friend, and as I looked around the table, 27 of the 28 guests had their faces buried in their iPhones for most of the night. Yes, they would look up and chat for a moment, but they would soon get sucked back into their phones with the glow of Facebook showing them what other people were doing. The 28th person? That was my husband. He didn’t yet have a smartphone. That was five years ago and since then he — and it seems nearly everyone down to middle schoolers — has gotten one and has succumbed to the same allure of the always-connected. And that was that.
I’m certainly no holier than thou on these issues. Watch me and you’ll find plenty of “gotcha!” moments — times when I’m shooting off “a last email” when my kids are getting in the car after school, answer a call at the playground or get pulled into a texting conversation when my son wants to play. But because of my job as spokesperson for the National Day of Unplugging (coming up this Friday from sundown Friday, March 7 to sundown, Saturday, March 8), I spend a lot more time thinking about and researching the topic than the average person. And so I’ve become more mindful of my use of technology — especially around others.
When our family members and friends begin to think that they are second in importance to our digital devices, we have a problem. And that’s the norm now. Think about how often you’ve seen couples or friends sitting across the table from each other not talking, each texting someone else or scrolling through Facebook to connect with the lives of others. Think how often you’ve been ignored. Or how often you’ve ignored others. How often do you answer “Uh huh,” or “Just a second,” to your partner or children?
If this all sounds familiar or makes you squirm just a bit, we invite you to try unplugging for the National Day of Unplugging and then to try it again … and again.
In order to give you a little boost, we are offering some tips on unplugging and ideas of things to do once you are unplugged.
- First, get yourself a traditional alarm clock. If you rely on your phone, the first thing you do in the morning is grab that phone. It takes a lot of control not to then check email or shoot off a text. Put the phone in another room while you sleep and have a moment to welcome the day before embracing technology.
- Gather family or friends over a meal and bring up the topic of unplugging. Ask what they think about it. Discuss the merits. Discuss the downfalls.
- Set achievable goals for yourself. First try unplugging for an hour after you get home from work. Sit and share a dinner with your partner or family without digital distractions. Work your way up from there. Go out for a walk or even shopping and leave your phone at home. Sit and read without your phone stashed away in another room.
- Put the phone out of sight. Designate a basket or place or cupboard where devices are stashed during unplugged time.
- Make a plan for what you will do when you do unplug. You will feel anxious and reach for your missing phone. You may even feel a phantom buzzing in your pocket. It helps to have something fun to do. We’ve got some ideas for families and individuals to adapt:
- Eat dinner without disruption. Purchase a Cell Phone Sleeping Bag and use it at dinner, in the park or anytime you want to unplug.
- Have a member of the family hide the other persons’ tech devices until the end of the 24-hour period (or time period decided in advance). Play the hot and cold game to find the hidden digital devices at the end of the unplugging time.
- Have an unplugged scavenger hunt. Hide alternative activities, such as board games, materials for a science project or a series of books, and create clues to find the alternative activities. Spend the afternoon playing together.
CONNECT WITH LOVED ONES
- Create a family tree. Take time with your family to discuss your childhood, family history, stories and memories. Have each member share one memory and fill in their section of the tree. Create a beautiful piece of art that your family could hang for generations.
- Cook favorite family recipes. From Bubbie’s Borscht to Nana’s Noodles with Cottage Cheese, cook the recipes that warm your heart and soul.
- Have a family book club. Pick a book that appeals to everyone in your family. Read it together and discuss over a meal. Have kids create art based on themes from the book.
NURTURE YOUR HEALTH
- Get out Granny’s tea set and have a tea party. Go to your local grocery store and buy an assortment of herbal teas. Take a deep breath and enjoy.
- Om. Have a family yoga party in the morning. Move the furniture and stretch out the yoga mats. Have each member of the family prepare a pose and namaste together.
- Get the beat grooving and have a dance party on Friday night. Invite the neighbors and other families. Whip out your favorite records, cassette tapes or a-tracks and go back to a time before the iPod.
- Go for a long walk in a park near your house or even a national forest. Lead a nature scavenger hunt. Print out a map before hand or bring an old-fashioned guide book. Print out pictures of items for the kids to find. Bring along a bag to collect items for an art project later.
- Do yard work. Mow the lawn. Plant flowers. Get rid of weeds. Start the vegetable garden you’ve had on your “to do” list forever. Get dirty.
- Set up a family obstacle course in your yard. Compete against yourself to improve on your individual times.
- Eat one meal in silence.
- Yell for 10 seconds and then be quiet for 30.
- Meditate. Go to a quiet place and come up with a family chant. Chant together.
- Take turns expressing yourselves in silence by making faces.
- Play charades.
What we are hoping comes out of the National Day of Unplugging isn’t necessarily that everyone unplugs for 24 hours once a week or even for the full 24 hours on that day. What we hope is that by taking the time to pause and reflect on their use of digital devices such as phones and computers, people will be more aware of the impact. We hope that from that new-found awareness, people will try to put their digital devices aside more regularly — for an hour, for the length of a family dinner or a romantic walk, for however long it takes to recharge themselves and to reconnect with those around them.
And we are definitely not anti-technology. We recognize the value and importance of technology in today’s world. The idea, really, is to take a pause from the technology that consumes our lives and reconnect with the people and community who are all around us but are lost in the noise of today’s relentless deluge of information.
Go out and unplug!
Unplug Books for Kids
It’s a Book by Lane Smith
Dot. by Randi Zuckerberg (Author), Joe Berger (Illustrator)
Goodnight iPad: a Parody for the next generation by Ann Droyd
Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino
Unplug Books for adults
The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner-Adair EdD. and Teresa H. Barker
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay A. Johnson
Tanya Schevitz is national communications manager for Reboot, an incubator of Jewish arts and culture. Reboot supports the National Day of Unplugging, from sundown Friday, March 7 to sundown, Saturday, March 8. Share what you do when you are unplugged by snapping an “I UNPLUG TO ____” photo. Upload it to www.NationalDayofUnplugging.com or post it to Facebook or Twitter with #unplug. Schevitz spent 16 years as a newspaper reporter, including 12 years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where she covered higher education.