Unplugged (Much Overdue)

Our fall break cruise charged extra for WiFi. They also charged extra for inner tubes, popcorn, mandatory activity bracelets, water, and mango smoothies – but I digress. Back to the point of this column before I get all annoyed and snarky. The point is that I wasn’t interested in paying for WiFi and thus took the opportunity to “unplug” while we were on vacation.

I turned off work emails, Facebook, and random web surfing for a full ten days and it was glorious. We were even out of range of text messages for four days. I actually (gasp) left my phone in my cabin much of the time, using it only to take a few pictures of the kiddos eating their over-priced popcorn.

The timing of the online hiatus was good for me because I had slipped into some very bad habits of work-life balance. The weekend before our departure, I found myself frantically trying to squeeze in some work-related texts while on a hayride at a fall festival. I had become That Parent, with her nose buried in her phone, totally missing out on the beautiful fall day and her children’s happy smiles. My daughter called me out for my inattention and I felt awful.

It’s hard for me to step away from my work because I love the organization I work for and my job is just so fun, but the hayride debacle was a wakeup call. It was time to take a break.

While we were on the cruise, my immediate world was wild and crazy – as happens when you’re sharing space with 4,000 new friends – but the outside world was nonexistent. I received zero real-time updates about the Kavanaugh confirmation and was utterly unaware of the activities of Hurricane Michael. (When we returned, I was startled by all the concerned queries from friends and family who didn’t realize our ship was sailing on the other side of Florida.)

Despite the sense that I spent every minute of every day keeping up with my kids, I also managed to read three books in the time I didn’t spend scrolling through my Facebook feed. Who knew there were so many spare minutes in the day?

While debriefing the vacation with my therapist, I mentioned the screen-free aspect of the trip and she asked me what I noticed when I logged back on. It took me a minute to answer because I hadn’t considered the question until that moment, but then it hit me. I returned home to 116 missed Facebook notifications and 97 new work emails…and none of them were important.

Or rather, none of them were wildly urgent. Some of the work emails were important but none of them caused the world to stumble in my absence. The Facebook notifications truly didn’t matter.

Being disconnected felt so good that I have kept my notifications turned off even now that I’m back on land. I haven’t abandoned Facebook – and can’t tune out my email entirely – but not having the constant stream of notifications pinging on my phone makes a marked difference in my overall stress levels!

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