Can you switch it off? yes, you can.

I love modern technology. I love the way it enables me to communicate with my family and friends back home in Israel without having to wait for letters to travel back and forth. I love the way it has enabled me to get to know people from other countries and to build cross-cultural friendships. I love being able to take a picture of something I see and immediately show it to a whole load of people all over the world.

I love being able to chat with my niece online and just give her a link to something interesting I saw on the net which I know she’ll like. I love being able to pour my thoughts onto the screen and share them with the whole wide world. I love being able to share family photos online with just family. I love being able to mess around with photos and draw a silly moustache on a friend’s pic for a laugh.

I love being able to find so much useful information without having to leave the house. I love being able to look up bus times or directions or shop opening hours whilst sitting in a corner of my lounge, wearing pyjamas and munching on a biscuit. I love being able to read inspiring blogs, to connect with people who are on a similar wavelength, to have discussions with people who hold different views… I could go on. I love the internet, I love my digital camera, I won’t say I love my cellphone but I find it very helpful to be able to ring someone when I’m out or to send a text message when I’m not up to talking. And I’m old enough to remember life without all these things, and to hugely appreciate the difference they make to my life.

I’m old enough to remember – not that long ago really – life without mobile phones, when if you wanted to talk to someone on the phone you had to find a time when they’re in. And if you wanted to make a call when you were out, you had to look for a payphone and see if you have enough coins (or phone tokens back in Israel). You couldn’t sit on a bus and phone to say you’re running late or to ask: which stop did you say I should get off at?

I’m old enough to remember life without search engines, without Wikipedia, without blogs or social networks or discussion forums. Heck, I’m old enough to remember life before word processors, when you had to type carefully because any error correction would require the Typp-ex ritual – delicately painting the word white, then blowing and waiting for the stuff to dry, then carefully positioning your typewriter in the right place to type over it. Not to mention when I typed a contract for a lawyer, which had to be done with several copies, with carbon paper between them. Correcting stuff on all those separate copies was fun :)

So I appreciate all this stuff. Massively.

But I’m also conscious of how easy it is to become a slave to things that are useful and helpful and fun. The internet is fantastic, it offers so much stuff that’s interesting, informative, fun, useful – it’s so easy to just click from one thing to another, to look at just one more article, one more blog post, one more funny cartoon, one more video clip, one more Facebook update from a friend, one more G+ post (do they come in ones?), and… ooh, look, another shiny thing!

Not to mention games, which are fun but are designed to keep you playing longer and longer.

And then there are cellphones. A fantastic invention, and becoming more and more sophisticated, enabling you to do more and more when you’re on the move – it’s great that people don’t have to stay in for phone calls, but…

When was the last time you had five minutes of quiet, to be alone with your thoughts?

And how about really listening to friends when you’re having a chat – do you break a conversation to answer your cellphone? do you give anyone your full attention for longer than a minute at a time?

I am the sort of person who easily gets sucked in to the “one more post” or “one more game” trap. There was a time when I thought the answer to these kind of issues was to avoid whatever it was that was tempting me. I gave up TV because I’d been seriously addicted to it, but soon after that I found myself getting addicted to Minesweeper instead – on an old computer that I was given when the firm where I worked upgraded its computer equipment. There was nothing on that computer apart from a word processing programme and games – no email or internet, but it did come with Minesweeper and sadly my brother explained to me how to play it, and there I was, sitting there into the night playing just one more game, and one more, and one more… I ended up throwing that computer out. But later, much later, I realised that this isn’t the answer, that I can’t keep throwing out each and every thing that has that effect on me – temptation will come from somewhere, I can’t hide from it, I have to learn to fight it.

Resistance is not futile, it’s just very hard work. But the more you do it, the more you get used to doing it. And the sense of satisfaction is great, the sense of freedom – it’s worth it.

Some things you might like to try if this is an issue you struggle with:

Choose certain types of situations in which you are, from now on, going to switch off your cellphone and give yourself the freedom to focus on what you’re doing without the distraction of the phone ringing or an email coming in – when you’re having a chat with a friend? when you’re eating? when you’re in the bathroom? when you’re watching something on TV that you really want to see and enjoy? when you’re working? when you’re being creative? when you’re making love?

Choose a chunk of time that you will dedicate regularly to being offline – maybe start with ten minutes a day? or an hour once a week? Go for a walk with your cellphone switched off and see the difference it makes – see how you can really look at stuff around you, or how you can get lost in your thoughts. Sit down in your favourite chair and let yourself read a book for an hour without checking emails. Go to a place where there’s pretty stuff to look at – a riverbank? a park? – and sit there for twenty minutes with your cellphone switched off, let yourself get totally absorbed in watching the beauty of nature. Or if you’re an extrovert, maybe what you’d really enjoy is going to a busy shopping mall and browsing through lots of shops? or going to an art gallery and looking at paintings? Pick something that you would actually enjoy doing – I’m just throwing examples around, but we each have different things that work for us. The point is simply this: pick something that you like doing, and set aside a chunk of time in which you will allow yourself the freedom to do this thing without the distractions of your cellphone ringing/beeping/vibrating in your pocket.

My bet is that once you’ve tasted this freedom a few times, you will start craving it and wanting it and insisting on having it regularly.

Me, I find it easy to turn off my cellphone, I don’t use it a lot anyway. For me the battle is with staying at the computer and reading just one more G+ post. Sometimes I fight it by making a public announcement, posting on G+ to say I’m going – it’s a way of making it too embarrassing for me to stay. Sometimes, like now, I deliberately start by opening my blog before even looking at G+, because I need to do some writing and it won’t happen if I get sucked in there – I’ve set up a desktop shortcut for my blog so that I can go straight there without seeing the other tabs that my browser is set to automatically open. (I have it set to automatically open all the tabs I had open at end of previous session, because it saves me having to remember or bookmark them all.) I don’t feel I have completely solved this, but I am trying.

And once in a while I do this amazing thing: I just go and sit on the sofa with a book or a magazine or the newspaper and just, you know, read stuff on paper! without checking emails.

Vive la résistance!

One thought on “Can you switch it off? yes, you can.

  1. This is so very true! The advancements in our lives are a blessings but can easily be a distraction. I find myself too quick to check my phone or computer during the day or even when I’m talking to someone! This is great reminder to turn it off! :)

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