National Day of Unplugging

My wife and I were a bit surprised when our daughter announced after school this past Friday that it was National Day of Unplugging between Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 6pm. So said her principal among that morning’s announcements, anyway.

The point of the Day is to get people off their electronic devices and engaging with each other instead (and maybe even to this place spoken of in fairytales, called “outdoors”). We hadn’t heard of it before, but even if it were just something the school itself had made up, we were ready to give it a shot, because it’s a worthy goal.

We knew there would have to be some exceptions made and some ground rules to how it would play out–we had to book a city-run program for the kiddo first thing Saturday morning, for instance, and the only option available for that is to do so online; we met and are in talks with an architect about some renos we want to do, and so far that’s been almost entirely by email and that’s at least moderately time-sensitive; we often arrange play time for our daughter with nearby friends, and that would almost certainly be done by cell phone, so unless she wanted to skip all possibility of that happening, etc.–but we pledged to cut out unnecessary use of phones and other devices. No gaming, no checking email or social media (for me), etc.

I certainly did notice over that time how often I thought about picking up my phone, purely just out of routine, to check on email and social media, and sure, maybe play a game. I caught myself every time, but it was an interesting (mindful) mental exercise to observe myself outside myself. It was interesting as well to note how much we (I?) rely on electronics. Not just as distraction in between focused thoughts or tasks, but also for so many common things I do.

‘Well, I can’t play a game while I’m waiting for my wife and daughter to come out of the dojo,’ thought I, ‘so I’ll just whip off this email to an illustrator friend to ask him about maybe doing something for these tabletop games I have in mind.’ More productive than playing a game, of course, but… Oh, wait, that’s using my device and it doesn’t really need to happen right now.

‘I have a couple of paycheques that I haven’t deposited yet, and I’m not sure how well my bank account is doing. I should really get those sent off to the bank and…’ Hold on, that uses the banking app on my phone.

‘I need to make a reminder to swing by the school office before I pick up the kid on Friday.’ Well, that’s an app…

I have to say, though, that for all my catching myself every time before I fell victim to those kneejerk tendencies to grab my phone, I was really good for sticking to the spirit of the thing that full stretch of unplugging. Email only came up on my phone once (embarrassing to say, a literal thumb twitch of habit when my phone is open and unlocked), but I shut it down immediately and it didn’t happen again. I stayed off all social media and didn’t play anything on my phone–I was, in fact, barely on it for any reason–and not just for the requisite 24 hours, but for another almost three hours beyond that, in part to prove to myself that it wasn’t like I’m some kind of digital junkie just waiting for the clock to wind down the full 24 hours, and in part to see how long I could actually comfortably do it. And even when I finally got it back on and into a casual doing of phone-ish things, it wasn’t a need, just an awareness that the time required had long-since passed and I’d done it with no real problem.

In total, I went close to 27 hours. And not only do I think I could do that again pretty easily, I think I could do it for longer next time, and I know it would get easier to do the more often it was done.

Undertaking the National Day of Unplugging was not only a worthwhile goal, but something my wife and I should do more often than just once a year. Maybe a couple of times a month? Maybe even once a week? It’s unrealistic in this day and age for us to just not use our phones at all for a variety of reasons, but this stretch of time of intentionally staying off of all devices unless actually needed was an eye-opener in a few ways.

After all, less time staring at screens and more time engaged with other people (and in no small way, with ourselves) could only be a good thing.