My “Unplugged” Experience

After a busy summer with SOS (this explains my lack of posts over the past two months), Laura and I were able to take a relaxing and enjoyable vacation.  Prior to our vacation I was providentially bombarded with articles, blog posts, and podcasts about the effects of the Internet and social media on our brains.  As you can imagine, the effects on our brains are certainly not positive.  In fact, they’re strikingly negative.

In summary, our generation is losing the ability to think for ourselves.  We’re losing the ability to read.  We’re losing the ability to engage in deep, authentic relationships.  We’re addicted to the Internet, and this addiction looks much like addiction to drugs and can lead to serious psychological damage.  While the Internet certainly has many positive attributes, the damage it is causing is startling and should cause us to rethink the way we use our time online.

Here are some of the resources I was bombarded with.  I highly recommend at least scanning or listening to one or two of these.

  • Short version: Michael Hyatt’s blog post.  Read it here.
  • Medium version: Newsweek article on how the Internet affects our brains.  Read it here.
  • Long version: White Horse Inn Podcast on how our generation is being negatively affected by the Internet.  Listen to it here.
  • Longer version (but perhaps the best): Michael Hyatt’s podcast on this issue.  Listen to it here.
  • Longest version: Nicolas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  I haven’t read it.  But if you want to, you can buy it here.

In response to these intriguing, relevant, and true discussions, I decided to unplug on our recent vacation.  I didn’t check my work email.  I didn’t look at Twitter.  I didn’t look at Facebook.  I “hid” all the social media/email applications I knew I would be tempted to open up.

Before this experiment, I found myself (like most Americans in their mid-twenties) reaching for my iPhone anytime I had a 5-second break.  So this experiment was challenging at first.  I found myself habitually reaching for my phone to check Twitter or to see if I received any new emails.  But the fruit I’m still experiencing is incredibly valuable.  It is certainly worth the challenge.  Here are some things I’ve noticed after unplugging for a little over a week:

  • I’m more focused.  Prior to unplugging, I found myself reaching for my phone when I was trying to focus on tasks (reading a book, writing something, etc.).  This was a terrible habit, and I’m happy to say that unplugging for even a short time helped increase my ability to focus.
  • I can give my attention to something for longer periods of time. Prior to unplugging, I found that I could only give my attention to a task for a little over an hour.  Now I can devote longer periods of time to a single task.
  • I’m more engaged in real, face-to-face conversation.  I’m ashamed to admit that prior to unplugging I was distracted during real conversations with “fake” virtual conversations.  Now that I’ve broken that habit, I’m no longer tempted to consider “fake” conversations during real, face-to-face conversations.

So where do I go from here?  Michael Hyatt presented some great tips in his podcast for fighting against the dangers of the Internet.  His strategy is very balanced: he recognizes the positive benefits of the Internet while guarding against its potential negative effects.  Here are the 5 tips he presents:

  1. Rest.  Regularly take time to “just be.”  Work this into your schedule.  Put it on your calendar.
  2. Reflect.  Think about what you’re learning.  Write things down.  Let things soak in.
  3. Read.  “Leaders read, and readers lead.”  Develop the habit of reading.  Devote undistracted attention to at least a few minutes of reading each day.  If you’re like me, maybe you need to put this in your calendar.
  4. Relationships.  Commit to real, in-person, face-to-face relationships.
  5. Recreate.  Have fun.  Do things you enjoy.

After my great experience unplugging, I’ll add to what Michael Hyatt says:

  • Unplug regularly.  Take a long weekend at least once a quarter to completely unplug and refocus.

What about you?  Do you notice the Internet fighting for your attention when you should be focusing on other things (family, work, reading, etc.)?  Have you participated in similar unplugging experiments?  How did it go?  Let me know.  Leave a comment.