“Notice what you notice.” This is one of my favorite Allen Ginsberg quotes. For me, it speaks to presence of mind, body, and spirit. And one thing I notice is this: I don’t feel awake and alive when I’m constantly attached to the various screens in my life: cell phone, laptop, TV. Instead, it drains me. Worse, I know I use these devices as a crutch. And apparently I’m not alone. According to a recent USA Today article, vowing to unplug was one of the top New Year’s resolutions tweeted about at the end of 2014; right up there with lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and working out.
So, I’ve made a promise to myself. Spring is all about new growth and renewal, and I’m going work on containing my screen time over the next three months. To stay accountable, I’m going to keep a journal to see what I notice. Will I struggle? What will I gain? How will I feel mentally and physically? Here are 5 things, big and small, that I’ve decided to try.
1. Making eye contact with strangers.
I love the human connection that happens when I’m walking down the street, riding the subway, or sitting in a waiting room, and I make eye contact with another person. The last time I rode the subway, I struck up a fascinating conversation with the guy next to me, and it happened because our eyes met when he walked on the train and we were both present enough to notice each other. I love hearing people’s stories—it’s the fabric of life—and I’m committed to looking up and doing this more, and at least saying hello to passersby.
2. Walking in nature.
Nature has been proven to be so therapeutic, and I live in Colorado, so proximity is on my side. There are a couple of hikes that are only a few miles away. But it’s interesting how it still takes resolve to get there. I’ve noticed that if I pull out my laptop on a sunny Saturday morning, which I often do, I can easily get sucked into the internet for half the day, and then I feel unmotivated. But I’m committed to changing this. At least one day a week, perhaps two, I’m going to walk amongst trees. And what better a time to start, when they’re beginning to bloom and leaf out.
3. Keeping my basic phone.
I know, I’m one of about ten people in the universe who doesn’t have a Smartphone. It’s a personal choice, because I simply don’t have the willpower to stop clicking around. And interestingly, although it may seem like a dying trend, when I went into the Verizon store a few days ago, planning to get a Smartphone because I’m kind of embarrassed, I was actually able to “upgrade” to another basic phone, and I chose to do that. The employee said he’d sold three that day. So, there’s that.
4. Taking one screen-free day each week.
This is probably going to be my biggest challenge, and admittedly, I haven’t tried it yet. But I’m to the point in my life where I plug in really soon after I wake up every day of the week. My devices aren’t in my bedroom, but they’re near the kitchen, and it’s easy to fire them up while I’m making breakfast. And then I don’t even notice what I’m eating. Speaking of that, on my screen-free day, it will be interesting to see what I think about while I’m eating without distractions. Also, I wonder if I’ll feel like I have more time in my day.
5. Doing a digital detox.
These days there are actual “digital detox” getaways where people turn in their devices upon entering the retreat center. They’re usually a few days in length, and it’s some pretty smart marketing. I’m not sure that I’ll do an organized retreat, but I am committed to doing two trips in the next few months that are completely off this grid. At the top of my list: A yurt in the Colorado backcountry and a backpacking trip in New Mexico.