One of the most valuable lessons I’ve absorbed is that when I unplug is not so important. Staying offline a whole day – or indeed the whole weekend – just for the sake of it, doesn’t offer unlimited benefits with no downsides.
Far more influential is what I unplug from.
For example, spending an hour online reading blogs I love is not time wasted.
When it’s just words especially, the act is little different from reading a paper book. And both give me far more reward and nourishment than watching TV, or skimming absent-mindedly through social media.
Conversely, unplugging entirely from the internet for a couple of days, but then spending some of that time doing mindless activities, also rails against the original spirit and purpose of this experiment.
In addition, getting overly obsessed with the discipline of being unplugged – sticking rigidly to specific hours or periods of time – can be just as bad as over indulging in unnecessary online activities.
In the much same way that someone who takes minimalism to extremes and continually obsesses over counting how few items they have, appears caught in a strikingly similar cycle of behaviour on one level to someone who constantly hoards, unable to let go of any possessions.
To help me further in continuing to make more intelligent choices about what I use the internet for, rather than purely when I use it (and when I unplug), I’ve also been experimenting with an app on my phone called Quality Time.
It’s pretty simple, and tracks which apps you use on your phone and how often you use each day and week. It also shows the frequency you use each app, and the frequency the phone is unlocked overall.
What I’ve been reassured by in the couple of months I’ve been using Quality Time, is whilst overall it’s been surprising how much I use my phone (typically just over an hour each day), very little is for what I’d describe as mindless online activity.
For example today, the total usage was 1h37m.
Breaking it down, 21 minutes was using the calculator to work out some figures at work. Next was YouTube which I used for 20 minutes to watch a video on how to change a bike chain. A further 13 minutes was messaging my wife on What’s App. A bit more down the list was Keep, an app I use to capture notes and ideas for future 35hunter posts.
Chrome was used for 16 minutes, mostly to look up some tools for my bike (which I later bought) and GMail only 8 mins.
I’m happy enough with this usage, and whilst I also own and use an iPad and MacBook too, I’m far more focused with those, using them only for specific purposes and rarely for mindless browsing.
More concerning is the frequency I unlock my phone, which seems to be averaging about 50 times a day.
This just seems like a large number, and spread over 16 hours of awake time means I check my phone for some reason or other every 19 minutes. Which feels far too much like the addictive checking and chasing I’ve been trying to overcome, and a far cry from the original 24, then 48 hours unplugged experiments I began with.
So what’s next?
I feel like huge progress has been made in the last seven months or so, and I don’t feel like much of my online time at all now is aimless or being done without thought and purpose.
The “lessons” that seem to stand out most so far are –
– Restricting my use of a device just for the sake of it, and to meet some arbitrary timeframe, causes its own frustrations. I’m not doing this anymore.
– My phone, iPad and MacBook are fantastically useful devices that for the most part I use for reading, writing, and meaningful communication.
– I use my phone for a range of non-online functions too that I enjoy and find very useful, from something as simple as the calculator, to messaging, my fitness tracking, listening to music, taking and editing photos, and making notes. None of these have any downsides.
– My phone has vibrate alerts for the more important stuff, like WhatsApp messages from my wife, so I don’t need to be checking it so often, just in case. I can set vibrate/flash notifications for anything I want, and mute everything else.
– The biggest timesuck I know is eBay, whether for cameras or bikes. Sometimes this is very useful for research and learning. The danger is when I’m swiping through mindlessly (that word again!) looking at stuff I don’t need and can’t afford, rather than spending this time enjoying what I already have.
– It’s all about making conscious, intelligent choices about using my devices for useful and focused activities that somehow enrich my life. And being aware of when I’m doing anything just for the sake of it, or without much thought or purpose.
Overall I’m really happy with unplugging this year, and plan to continue to hone and experiment.
Most of all, I hope to continue to stay more mindful in how and when I use my devices, which of course is a great exercise in all areas of our lives.
How do you feel about when and why you use your devices?
We’d love to hear your experiences below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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