Unplug

The Wisdom of Plugging into #Unplug

There was a time when the notion of “unplugging” meant you were either euthanizing someone or going acoustic, or, in the case of Korn, both. These days, unplugging most often refers to turning off one’s various devices, signing off of social networks and generally diverting one’s stream of consciousness from one’s Twitter stream.

It can be done. Comedian Baratunde Thurston managed to disconnect for 25 days – long enough to rate a cover story in Fast Company and the sudden ubiquity of the unplug hashtag. The most I’ve gone is about an hour-and-a-half, which has landed me right where I belong – the opinion pages of the I-T (if only I could have held out a few minutes longer, the cover of the B section would’ve been mine!).

The problem with unplugging from my digital lifestyle is that my devices aren’t only diversions, they’re the tools of my trade. I started this column on an iPhone, I’m presently writing on a MacBook Pro and I might even go for the trifecta and finish up on an iPad if I can wrestle it away from my kid.

What this amounts to is a) I should buy stock in Apple and b) sharing observations about one’s decidedly First World problems is inherently gross. So, let’s just say it’s the addiction talking, not me. After the intervention I’m sure someone is planning, I’ll offer a sobbing apology for the whole of the First World. Then upload it to Instagram and filter it into something so hip, precious and “so true” it’ll be shared the world over. Well, the First World anyway.

After clicking through one of the thousands of tweets with the hashtag #unplug, I discovered Mindful.org. Their slogan is “Taking Time for What Matters,” and the link was to a post entitled, “Take Control of Your Tech Habits: Commensense (sic) strategies for keeping digital devices from ruling your life.” The fact that they incorrectly spelled “commonsense” should’ve been a clue that I was about to waste my time. It was the first subhead, however, “Information overload,” that made me recognize the irony of doing precisely what the article was recommending I don’t. This is the kind of common sense one might expect from a blogger who thinks the concept is a single word with three Es. “Peeved” comes to mind as another.

Then there are the smug ones whose unpluggedness, in one form or another, is just another occasion for self-congratulatory updates: “Jason” proudly tweeted, “All of my friends are going to see movies I’ve never even seen advertised. I love how disconnected I am from mass media. #unplug.” Um, dude, did you also happen to notice that you’re home alone on Twitter? You’re not only disconnected from mass media but your “friends” too. Don’t worry, I’m obviously here for you, at least until it’s time for my own digital detox.

I’ve already been weaning myself from social media. After promiscuously accepting Facebook friend requests for far too long, I had amassed an army of strangers, some of whom started to creep me out. So I collapsed my account into a “fan page.” From the outside, it looks about the same, but on my end it’s just a bunch of stats and entreaties to “promote this post.” Which, of course, I do. Facebook is now one-way conversation – I’m like a deaf guy shouting, “Can you hear me?” into a megaphone. Make that a megalomaniacal-a-phone.

Now that I no longer have a newsfeed, I don’t see updates and I have no idea what’s going on in Facebookistan. In the months since, I’ve been bereft of that brilliantly engineered time-suck, I’ve finished writing a novel, read a couple dozen books and have spent more time with my family. I figure, the more time I spend currying their favor now, the less likely they’ll want to unplugged me prematurely when digital devices are keeping me from signing onto that great social network in the sky. I’m supposed to say #yolo here, right?