Are You Always Plugged In?

2009 May 26
by Grace Boyle

This blog post came about because I just got back from the beach. A much-needed vacation, with some of my best girlfriends. Before I left, my co-worker dared me to completely unplug and to not open a computer the entire trip. I didn’t. It felt good.

I think Y Pulse said it best: “There’s No Clocking Out When You’re Always Plugged In.” Sometimes I’m not even sure if I know when the work ends and life offline resumes.

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Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re pretty plugged in to the online world. I  work at an online company, circled around blogging and social media so it’s part of my everyday life. I rarely turn my phone off, I receive my e-mails, Twitter and Facebook notifications on my Blackberry (which is almost always on me) not to mention the texts that come through. I’m always thinking about my next blog post, I can learn about most of my friends’ every move on Facebook, we upload photos and write status updates about our lives. We live in a digital age and especially if you’re Generation Y, you know what I’m talking about. We grew up online.

How does this affect our daily life? Our health? Our personal relationships? Although it doesn’t have to be negative, I can’t help but think about the downfalls. These are some of the steps I take to ensure that I have some peace of mind.

1) Once a week (usually Saturday) I plug out. I wrote this as a New Year’s Resolution this year and about 80% of the time, I do it. I don’t open my computer, I don’t go on Twitter, I don’t get on Facebook. If my phone is on me, it’s for the phone calls I need to make that day. Most importantly, I am active and doing something that doesn’t involve technology. You have NO idea how good this feels, by plugging out I am recharged.

2) If you’re out at night or eating dinner with friends, set your phone in your purse or pocket. I can’t tell you how many times I go out and see a group of girls, all sitting together but holding their phones texting away. Personal interaction is important. I understand using your phones while you’re out, but sometimes, leave them be for a bit. Concentrate on what is physically present.

3) Find time with your friends that aren’t technologically savvy. This means the conversation doesn’t involve phrases like, “DM” “Tweet” or “trackback link for my blog.”

4) Finally, if you’re going (or planning) a vacation concentrate on leaving some work behind, or at least leaving your computer and e-mailing for only one of the days. Remember it’s a vacation for a reason.

I think it’s important to recognize that when we’re plugged in, we’re somewhere else. I firmly believe in staying present to where you are but being able to balance the online world that we so often find ourselves consumed with.

Do you feel it necessary to plug out from the online world? It worries me, because I think it’s a practice that will not sustain, as the online world grows. Thoughts?

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  • http://www.QwikSmarts.com/ Kathryn Marion

    I could allow myself to stay completely absorbed in online activities, but when I shut the laptop, stop thinking about writing books, and do something that's totally focused on the kids, it's amazing how much more I enjoy it. Good post, Grace! Glad you had a refreshing trip.

  • rachelconn

    Grace – This is something I think about kind of a lot so I love that you blogged about it and completely agree with your sentiments!

    Besides the fact that I'm a young web designer (which means I'm online a LOT) I'm also a self diagnosed work-aholic. Working for a startup demands a bigger time commitment than a normal 9-5 job. So in order to have my unplugged time, I need to make sure to carve it out. Some people go to church on Sunday mornings – I go to yoga. It's nice to have even just that one hour a week where I know I can fully tune out the constant hum of activity going on around me.

    It helps that my boyfriend has the completely opposite view as me as far as social media, he detests twitter and visits his facebook account maybe once every few months. We just got back from 2 weeks in Europe, I only used my laptop once, and watched very little TV (there was only one English channel!) During that time, I realized how good it felt to completely disconnect. I read more and felt less stressed (or maybe that was all the Italian wine?) Anyway, once we got back we decided to get rid of cable and take advantage of the little time we get to spend together.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Kathryn Thanks for your comment and support. Closing the computer can be a metaphor for stopping and closing down the rest of the online world, for the time being. Good idea!

    @Rachel We're definitely in similar boats here. Spending so much time with someone (e.g. your boyfriend) who isn't as technically involved is also nice. I mentioned being with my non-tech friends because it really is refreshing. It's not as though I pick and choose by profession, but I just make a point because I can't even talk about Twitter with them which I find nice. I too, go to yoga. That time is very important to me, so I'm glad you also feel the same way.

    I think that carving out time or planning ahead to get offline and do something specific works best for those of us who have busy, crazy online schedules :)

  • http://iquitforlijit.typepad.com/i_quit_for_lijit/ tarable

    I love this post because unplugging is something I've been preaching for a while now. Maybe it's because I'm not Gen Y and didn't grow up online, or maybe it's because I've had other jobs outside of the tech sector, but I don't feel the need to be online all the time. There are some in our field that consider it a badge of honor to be plugged in all the time, but I've spent time with these people and it's obvious that they're not 100% present when they're talking with you. I never want to be like that. Connection is where it's at and that only happens when you can commit to being in the moment.

    Whew. End of rant. Thanks for letting me chime in.

  • http://robot-heart.tumblr.com heartbot

    Last summer, my boyfriend moved in with me while he was doing a 6-month internship in my city. (He's still in school, about 100 miles away usually.) When he moved in, it became immediately apparent that I spend way too much time on the internet. Instead of paying attention to him or anything else, I'd pay attention to my e-mail, my AIM, my blogs, my whatever. I couldn't make it through a TV show, a movie, a conversation…nothing. It got to the point where he wouldn't let me talk or start watching a show or anything unless the laptop was closed and put away. It was very helfpul, although I still think I spend too much time on the computer.

    Lately, I've been trying to use it less on my own. I read. I go outside with my dog. I watch movies. I spend time with other human beings. (Shocking, I know.) It makes a marked difference in how I sleep, how I feel every day. You really don't miss it as much as you thought you would.

    I still work on the internet, and that means I spend a minimum of 8 hours a day plugged in. BUT. At least I get some downtime on the evenings and weekends.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Tarable I think the fact that I have always (and we both do now) work online has something to do with it. But like you said, you're a big supporter of unplugging and I have to say that it was the best thing I did this weekend. Honestly, it's rude and it's like you become a robot when you're tweeting everywhere you go, always needing to check a computer, etc. Thanks for sharing :)

    @Heartbot Sometimes it takes someone on the outside (especially someone were close with) to rattle us and let us see how we really are. When I'm at home at night, alone, I don't really notice that I'm on the computer because no one is there to care. I like the perspective you have given and you're right, sometimes it is hard to unplug (especially if you're not on a vacation).

  • http://www.cowgirlswest.blogspot.com/ Jacqueline

    Amen to that sister! Getting away and turning off is key! I think this is why I love yoga so much, I just let everything go and focus on myself! Great post!

  • http://www.praisegratitudelove.com/ Nicole Relyea

    Because I am online all day at work, I try not to go online at home unless it's for something like finding a recipe or guitar tabs or a movie time. I find having the home/work division really helps.

    I completely agree that vacation should be for vacation and time with friends should be spent hanging out with the people you are with. Unless it's part of connecting with someone (i.e. one of the people we're meeting is lost or needs to let me know they're running late,) I don't answer my phone or texts when I'm with friends or family. It's just rude, in my opinion.

    I also try to exercise almost every day, and if I'm on equipment at the gym, this means I'm reading an actual book. It's a nice switch from the electronic screen. :)

    But I am definitely the plugged-in type. I find I prefer email over a phone conversation, and probably spend a solid 5-6 hours a day reading and writing things online.

    Great post, Grace! It's a good reminder to us all to get out and live in the real world, too.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jacq I know, yoga has really been one of the greatest activities for me to unplug. I love going with you, let's not stop the power :) Thanks for the post love.

    @Nicole Ever since working full-time for a completely online company, I realized that at night I often don't even open my computer. It usually feels like an extension of work and sometimes I need a few hours offline e.g. gym, dinner with friends, yoga, etc. Thanks for sharing!

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  • http://www.lifeschocolates.com sameve

    Oh Grace, we are so alike! As you know, I am also connected all the time, in my work life and my personal life. I work for an online ad network, and my role is largely Internet based. I'm definitely a bit of a tech geek, and I love gadgets, new media, and new technology. Knowing that you're the same way, I am infinitely impressed that you unplugged and truly enjoyed your vacation. You give very valuable advice that I hope to follow. Awesome, thank you!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Sam I know we are really alike! I thought it might be a bit of a challenge to unplug for five days, but while I was there it wasn't that bad. It helped that none of my friends were too techy. It was all about being present and enjoying each others company. I had two very full inbox's (work and personal) but it was worth it. I suggest it to EVERYONE, no matter your style or inclination to technology. So give it a try. Hey, you can even have a go at it one weekend when you're in NYC, you don't have to go somewhere to unplug. I dare you 😉

  • http://www.lifewithoutpants.com Matthew

    It's one thing I HAVE to get better about – 'plugging out' from time to time. The dependency we (myself included) build on technology is actually a pretty scary thought. Can you imagine a life without social networking? How would we ever communicate? Would we just all be walking around like mindless tech-less zombies? Or would it be better? Would things be more real, more genuine, more authentic – would it force us to get out there and meet people face to face, force us to change the world instead of talking about changing it? I don't have the answers, because to our generation, it's impossible to think about a world without technology.

    To your point, I have been getting better about 'plugging out' – especially on the weekend. I get my blog posting, tweeting, and everything else in during the week, and give myself a vacation to reality, you know, the one away from the computer screen, on the weekend. Good post, we could have a discussion forever about a post technology apocalypse. :)

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Matt I know, you're so right. I often wonder what life would be without technology…but honestly, I remember right before college where I just used my e-mail, sometimes AIM and that was it. There was no Facebook, no Twitter and I didn't video chat then. Fast forward to now where most of us are so completely immersed.

    I think finding a balance is the most important. Like you said, finding some free time on the weekend away from the online world is so helpful. It's not that I dislike being online (I mean, look at me) it's just that I know I need some of both to be satisfied and recharged. Thanks for your support–it's true, we could go on forever about this 'argument.'

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  • http://meenalvamburkar.wordpress.com/ Meenal

    I know this post is from months ago, but I saw it under your popular posts and it caught my attention. I just wrote a similar post, actually, and I think you make a great point. We're more and more caught up in our MacBooks, BlackBerrys, etc. I know I, myself, am addicted to email and spend an obscene amount of time on the computer. But there is really no substitute for personal interaction…and that's really the best part of life: being with other people. Just because we can always stay plugged in doesn't mean we should. I agree, being fully involved in the present is important.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Meenal Thanks for commenting! No post is ever too old to share your thoughts. You're right, there isn't a substitute for personal interaction and that's the most important thing to remember. Unplugging isn't hard for me anymore, because it feels so much better to have a balance.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Meenal Thanks for commenting! No post is ever too old to share your thoughts. You're right, there isn't a substitute for personal interaction and that's the most important thing to remember. Unplugging isn't hard for me anymore, because it feels so much better to have a balance.

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