Why You Need To Learn To Unplug Right Now (Even If It's Just For a Little While)
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Do you have an analogue moat? ‘Analogue moat’ is my term to represent a divide which most of us create to give us some distance and respite from the omnipresent (and some may say omnipotent) digital world in which we live.
A defence system from the relentless and soul-destroying electronic chatter, news feeds, WhatsApp groups and email slavery which seems to have become the ‘new normal’ for most of us.
Why we can’t be ‘always on’
I am not sure that we realise quite how ridiculous our behaviour becomes, until you take a grip and force yourself to look in the mirror and work out why your eyes, ears and fingers are sore from the repeated reading, listening and tapping of keys that seem to define our waking hours.
I’ve had the luxury of completely unplugging from the grid several times over the past year or so, and it has helped me realise more than ever just how dominated we are by all things digital, and the ‘always on’ nature of social media, messaging and immediacy of news feeds and suchlike.
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The digital world is an essential part of our lives. I have no Luddite tendencies nor wishes to go back to ‘the old days’; so much of what we can achieve is precisely because of this digital world. But, and it is a big but, the ability of that screen, big or small, to absolutely dominate waking hours is an exhausting reality for many.
Whether it is the incessant noise in the background, the iridescent screens, the ‘ping, ping’ of messages coming through to the phone, the need to take photographs of every meal that you have to share with the world ... it is endless, seemingly indomitable and utterly scary.
Digital slaves and other quandaries of our own making
A great case in point is the current fad of the ‘Flip Out’ challenge, where diners must place their phones, face down in the centre of the dining table and not touch them during the meal. Whoever breaks first and picks up their phone must pay the bill for the entire table ... a costly move.
You may or may not be a champion ‘Flip Outer’, but the very fact that this has become some type of endurance game, with all the associated emotional and psychological stress of a marathon run, just makes my point.
We have become slaves to our own digital architecture. That is the savage reality of the situation. And yet we haven’t reached the much talked about and hyped singularity point: where machines can code themselves and ultimately start to take control.
Or have we? We may, or may not, see the singularity inflection point, but right now it already feels as if we have bowed down to the screen slave, a slave entirely of our own making. Perhaps the reality is that the digital world already controls us.
Is it possible to wind back the clock? Possible to pretend that the iPhone, PC, or clever pane of glass never existed? Go back to the days when WhatsApp group lists didn’t exist, and we had to think for ourselves?
Of course it isn’t. Progress is progress. The world can and has been changed for the good by the digital age, in many, many different ways.
Neither you nor I can, nor should, hold back that progress. However, our destiny should remain just that: ours. To do that we all need an analogue moat behind which we can stand and find a way of taking a break, reflecting and recovering from the digital onslaught.
How to take a step out of the digital world
This not one of those self-help magazine articles about ‘your one stop guide to a digital detox’ or ‘managing your children’s screen time’. I am talking about creating something more fundamental and more sustainable in our work and leisure routines which allows our brain and body to adjust back to their natural rhythm and state on a regular basis.
For our own sanity and balance. To allow us the time to actually think. And if we can think again in an uncluttered way, we get the opportunity to re-harness our innate and native processing power that is way more real and powerful than any screen or CPU.
Our needs are quite different. Our bodies and brains are all unique. Some of us may react better to long stretches of time away from all forms of electronic devices and information; others may need repeated, small breaks two or three times a day.
By being conscious and thoughtful about how we take a step out of the digital world, we are already making choices about what our analogue moat can and should be.
Enforcing digital ‘off time’ at home and in the office
We also need to help our employers, employees, friends and family understand what our analogue moats are, and what our needs are to support those.
Taking long stretches of time off, unplugged, when you are the CEO is rarely feasible unless you have the support of your team and board. An employee in a call centre is not going to be allowed that luxury either ... so being realistic but highly structured about how you architect the analogue moat, and then get support for it, is critical.
Personally, I have only just discovered the need for, and the power of, the analogue moat. Over the past year or so I have realised I need regular, daily digital free time, and also much longer breaks.
Mini-moats for me have become simple, but small periods. A long bath, a whisky and a (real, paper!) book. Time cooking and eating with family, with no electronic clutter around. Old fashioned board games ... walks in the countryside. And so on. Mini-moats may only be 30 minutes, but it is 30 minutes that create a serious power-up for my health.
I also have found that real time away, preferably with digital devices entirely ostracised and left at home is best.
My full-on, real deal, analogue moat is the luxury of time with the family doing the most simple but fundamental things, a long way away from cities and skyscrapers. Riding bikes in the countryside, walking along beaches, playing in the sandpit with my young boys, being by the fire and reading real pages of real books or magazines with my wife and a glass (or two!) of wine.
Those are my analogue moats. Being able to stitch together a meaningful tapestry of them over a week or so with pretty much all screens resolutely turned off, is a liberating and invigorating investment to make.
Pulling it all together
I’m just not sure that we take enough time and care of ourselves and our families to make this investment as material and special as it could and should be.
How do we reach deep enough into our souls to remain real and true to who and what we are, to pause and reflect on what’s happening to us and around us, without being interrupted all the time by the noise?
Do you have an analogue moat, and do you spend enough time making it deep and wide enough to create some distance between your soul and the digital world out there?
Can you afford the time to?
Can you afford not to find the time?
This article is an edited extract from Ian Russell’s book, The Other End of the Telescope, available on Takealot.com and at all good bookstores nation-wide.