I went camping with my family this past holiday weekend, and I didn’t bring my laptop. This was a first for me, but when my husband said he wasn’t bringing a generator, I knew I wouldn’t be able to power up my laptop once the batteries died down. So I left it behind.
Usually, my fallback access device is my iPhone but within minutes of driving out of the rural Alaskan town where I live, I lost cell signal and knew there wouldn’t be any more signal most likely to the Canadian border. The campground where we were staying was definitely signal free.
I was disconnected.
Normally, I would panic about this situation. I’m the woman who is practically intravenous about my digital information consumption and am constantly communicating in some digital way during work hours. I’m also the woman who has a hard time stepping away from my laptop at the end of the day. I started unplugging my laptop and putting it into my computer bag to literally disconnect from the compulsion to check emails just one more time over and over again. I’m also the woman who walks around the house holding my iPhone in my hand just to feel connected.
But this weekend, I did not panic. Why not? Because I’ve been on a personal journey toward understanding my digital compulsiveness, my electronic A.D.D., and to get a handle on how and why I connect and how and why I find it so hard to disconnect. My personal explorations are turning into a weekly podcast and book project called The Zen of Being Digital. I’m peeling away the layers of emotions around being online to reveal my innermost fears, obsessions, you name it. And at the same time, I’m identifying ways I can free myself from the chains of what most people might call Internet addiction.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not the crazed individual staring at the computer screen in the wee hours of the morning with bloodshot eyes, not showering because I’m playing some addictive game or another and, well, nobody can smell me on the other end of the cable connection. I’m not spending exorbitant amounts of money on an Internet gambling habit, I’m not accessing online pornography, I’m not buying excessively from the Web.
I just happen to do nearly all of my work and most of my socializing on the Internet.
But I do know my need to be connected online if a bit extreme and to gain control of it, I’ve come up with some “rituals” to make sure I don’t continue to get carried away because we all know what a time suck the Web can be now that we have social networks. Here s how I’m reframing how and why I connect to the Internet:
1. To check who is getting in touch with me and responding to them.
2. To see who is trying to reach me and make contact.
3. To reach out to the people with whom I want to connect, either directly or through a mutual contact.
4. To share information with others either in a tweet, a retweet, a blog post or a podcast.
5. To research for information that I need to do my work.
Then I disengage and go to my offline mode where I can work on my writing for my company and my freelance assignments.
Knowing that I have a system for connecting and disconnecting is somehow incredibly comforting to me. It has taken a lot of the panicked feeling out of leaving my laptop behind or being in an area without cell signal. The other things I have set up to ease the pain of “unconnectedness” include:
1. Build a team you can trust. I know that when I am not connected, my team can do a lot of work without me. If you are a company of one, think about getting a virtual assistant who can field things while you’re not connected.
2. Put it in perspective. I am learning that if you can’t get online, the world will not end. Life goes on. Work goes on. You get online when you can and deal with things that need to be dealt with and everything is okay.
3. Don’t dwell. There are still repercussions to not being connected and not getting that message just in time. This was the case when we didn’t have cell phones at all and when we weren’t checking our emails multiple times a day. If you lose something because you weren’t available and connected 24/7, drop it. Unless it is in your job contract to be on 24/7, you are only human. Celebrate your wins, don’t dwell on those occasional misses.
I’m feeling a lot less stress about not being online when I can’t be online. I’m also rediscovering the joy of spiral notebooks and great writing pens to jot down reminders so I can make sure my time online is more productive.
What are YOU doing to survive - and thrive - in those moments when you aren’t “plugged in?”