Pulling the Plug
It wasn’t until November that I realized how dependent we all are on electronic communication. More important, I also realized that even without it the world around us doesn’t skip a beat.
Not that there’s anything wrong with cell phones and GPS and email and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and all the other social media that people younger than I access every few seconds. Each is a valuable tool in one regard or another, but as with any technology, each has its downsides.
GPS enables us to travel confidently to any point on the globe and return safely. Internet access warns of approaching storms. The cameras in phones enable hunters – who can listen to my radio show from their deer stands now – to send me real-time photographs of what’s hanging around the feeder on a cold winter morning.
Facebook and Twitter let us communicate our thoughts instantly, to one person or 10,000 people. All, of course, if the batteries are charged and you haven’t dropped your phone into water or a long way down onto a hard surface. (I’ve done both, and neither worked out well.)
At some point in time, and I couldn’t tell you when, my telephone and all its apps transformed from tool to crutch. I carried that thing on fishing trips and hunting trips and hikes and everywhere I went, even occasionally into the bathroom – as if I could have solved a friend or client’s problem from there. I caught myself checking it with increased frequency and was convinced that ignoring it for more than an hour or so might somehow alter the course of history.
At day’s end, I checked email before I went to bed. And when I woke, even before I brushed my teeth, I was staring at that screen.
Except on maybe one out of every couple hundred days, nothing had happened that required immediate attention.
So, back to November. On a much needed and long-awaited vacation with my family, on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, I made a decision to unplug myself from the electronic grid ̶ not permanently. That would have been too great a shock, like kicking an addictive drug cold turkey.
Instead, I set an achievable goal of three nights and four days. What, after all, could happen in such short time away from email and the Internet? My mind thumbed through a thick catalog of “what ifs” that ran the gamut of potential train wrecks. No, a deal’s a deal. I would do it.
And I did.
I locked my phone and iPad in the stateroom’s safe and, figuratively, swallowed the key.
Minutes passed. Then hours. My brain got a break from that constant barrage of information. And it felt good. And four days later, I welcomed the devices back into my life.
They were missed, but not nearly as much as I’d feared they would be. And nothing that happened during the blackout changed anything in my life. My head feels somehow lighter, but maybe that’s just the lingering effects of being at sea for so long.
Either way, I’ve promised myself after this experience to do something I hope each of you will try in 2014.
In the first quarter this year, any time you go fishing or hunting or otherwise enjoy the outdoors, set your phone to “Silent” mode and throw it into your day-bag for at least two consecutive hours. You get to choose which two hours.
It’ll be OK.
From April through June, raise the ante to four hours and physically shut it down, either from sunup to lunchtime or the back half of the day. Except in the case of a genuine emergency – checking office email does not qualify – leave the device stowed.
It’ll be OK.
By Q3, depending on your age, you’ll either remember or realize how much more vibrant the outdoors experience can be without distractions.
By year’s end, you’ll welcome every chance you get to turn the phone off and get back to it on your own terms. (Sending me photos from deer stands and fishing spots is just fine and encouraged. That’s an “approved” use of your electronic devices.)
Nobody my age grew up tethered to a telephone. We had one, maybe two in the house, and when you left home, you left that part of the world behind. You told loved ones when you’d be back, and they didn’t worry unless you missed that appointment.
Modern electronics keep us safer and in touch, but there are times and places when and where it feels pretty good to cut the cord ̶ or at least unplug it for a while.
Contact Doug Pike at