Going off the grid

By Denae Jones – 

I just came back from an ‘unplugged’ weekend with friends. We were gone three nights and most of four days without our phones or other technological devices. We didn’t just turn them off, we left them at home. There was a land line phone available for emergencies, but that was it. Fortunately, none of us had to use it.
I’m so used to having my phone with me, that for the first day or two I kept getting that urgent feeling that I had forgotten it or dropped it somewhere. (Hoping it wasn’t in the toilet.) Then, just like waking up in an unfamiliar place and needing a second to remember where you are, I would remember that I didn’t bring it. We had no idea what time it was, because most of us use our phones to tell time instead of watches. We had no idea what was going on with the weather unless we walked out to look. We didn’t know the score of the ball games. We didn’t have calendars to check. We didn’t get any email alerts. We didn’t hear bad news headlines. Nobody got calls from work. We had to bring flashlights because, as you can probably guess, the one we usually use is on our phones. We didn’t have alarm clocks. We didn’t take pictures or video. We weren’t on social media. Conversations weren’t interrupted by texts. Although I did miss telling my kids goodnight and getting random texts from my husband throughout the day, I have to say that having no phone strapped to my side was a breath of fresh air.
It’s crazy stupid how much we rely on technology these days. As much as we like the idea of some disconnect from it, we tend to get a feeling of panic without it. I have turned the car around and driven back home to get my phone just to make a trip to the grocery store. Why? I’m sure I would have managed the three mile drive without it. The teenage driver at our house has to keep the location on her phone turned on at all times so we can tell where she is. She asked me once how I ever drove back and forth to an out of state college for almost 5 years by myself with no phone. Didn’t my parents worry constantly about where I was, and if I was going to break down, and what I would do in an emergency? Well. Maybe. Or maybe my parents just prayed a lot more, because I never recall getting worried over things like that. If I broke down or ran out of gas, I would have just walked to get help like everyone else did. However, the thought of my daughter doing that instead of just calling me for help scares me. I guess it was just a different time.
Being off the grid was a welcome reminder of the good ol’ days. The time we spent together with no technology was so genuine. We asked each other questions instead of asking Siri. We learned from one another instead of Google. We wrote things by hand instead of talk-texting or email. We told stories or read books instead of watching television. We laughed. A lot. We had quiet reflection. And we didn’t have to worry about a goofy picture or video of us singing out of tune being posted on social media. We ate when we were hungry and slept when… well. We didn’t sleep much, but you get the idea.
It made me wonder how much of our time, our lives, is being missed because we don’t allow ourselves a break from technology. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying technology is bad. There are phone apps that actually save lives. It connects us to others when we feel lonely. We stay in touch with long-distance family and friends, and have a world of information at our fingertips. The trick is using it in moderation and for the right reasons.
Is checking a text or email more important than the conversation happening right next to us? Probably not. But it seems like it is to the other person who is being put off until we finish what we’re doing on our phone. How do we use all of those pictures we take (many without permission)? Do we post them, just to get a laugh at someone else’s expense? What about our evenings at home? Do we like to spend our free time reading through social media or scanning over ideas on Pinterest? If so, there’s nothing wrong with that. (I mean, where else would you learn to make a beautiful table decoration out of an old wine bottle, rope, rocks and glue?) But I challenge us to set boundaries around it. Create some hands-off time, where all phones and screens are put on chargers in another room and that time is used to do other things. Play a board game. Talk. Watch a movie together. Have dinner at the table. If you live alone, perhaps you could use that time to call someone you’ve been meaning to touch base with, talk to a neighbor, or invite a friend over to visit.
I challenge you to find some time to go off the grid. Maybe not for four days like I did, but try it for a day. Or for two hours every evening. Or on weekends. If you would like some ideas on how to do this better, consider reading “Hands Free Life”, by Rachel Macy Stafford. Great book. After all, if our hands are not holding our phones, they are free to help others. Who needs your help, time, or attention?
Have a blessed week, friends!