Last week I talked about organising your email and messaging to help you unplug. This week I’ll be looking at how to keep our relationship with technology in balance.
6. Analyse how you use social media
Out of all the strategies to keep us unplugged, this is probably the most important. Take a look at how others use it, and compare your own activity.
For example, some people use Twitter strictly as a professional and marketing stream. Others interact socially as colleagues and friends, or as interest groups via hashtags. Some use it to campaign and drum up support for a particular cause. Others still tweet about everything going on in their lives, or use it to openly message people about personal arrangements when they could be communicating offline.
It’s the latter group I want to focus on, because it’s clear that some people are still unaware of the notion of privacy, or the value of taking a step back and self-editing.
In the past I’ve unfollowed people who overshare: who document every moment of their waking lives on social media, their sheer volume of tweets dominating everyone else’s feed.
These are the people who need a social media detox: who reach for their phone and Instagram, tweet or post to Facebook every time they experience something, however banal.
The key is to be interesting
Put simply, recording the minutiae of our lives on social media isn’t interesting.
If something extraordinary has happened, if there is cause for celebration of a happy event (or even sadness at a tragic one), fine. If there is something intriguing, funny or newsworthy to share, fine. If there’s something beautiful to share, equally fine to pass it on.
However, tweeting that you’re on the bus, or your Sunday roast is in the oven or whatever your horoscope says, is not engaging. The key to making – and keeping – people interested online is to be interesting.
Using social media to interact genuinely with others and create meaningful connections is a productive way forward. Treating it as a one-way personal megaphone is not. The added value of editing your online activity is detaching from the internet, rather than pointlessly chaining yourself to it.
7. Take tech out of the bedroom
This may have beneficial consequences for other areas of our lives, but the main point here is that gadgets – whether a TV, mobile phone or laptop – are not a good thing in the place that we are supposed to be resting.
Technology where we sleep is not a good thing
I’m a big fan of Lumie clocks, which encourage gentle sleep and waking with soft light that mimics sundown and sunrise.
Clock radios, with their bright red digits and brash alarms, mock the insomniac and bully snoozers into waking submission. I strongly recommend getting rid of them and finding another, more conducive solution to greeting the day.
8. Go analogue
In the last 20 years surfing the information superhighway has become second nature to us. It’s our very own global, 24/7 Database of Everything.
When did we lose the power of the book?
Which is all very well, but we might want to ask ourselves: when did we lose the power of the book? Or even memory?
On Frank Skinner’s Absolute Radio show (whose excellent podcast I listen to every week), Skinner has a rule about googling which he adheres to in real life.
Skinner only allows himself to google if he doesn’t know something. If he’s simply forgotten it, google is out of bounds – he must try to remember it. In this way he prefers to use the internet as a reference source rather than an aide memoire.
What Skinner is doing here is noteworthy: consciously avoiding a reflex action to go online as soon as the need for information arises – more precisely, as soon as perceiving that need to arise. He is advocating forcing your mind to do the work rather than automatically hitting ‘search’.
Thinking about how we source our information is a useful process, because there are other means available – some of which are already under our own noses, if we care to look for them. A life unplugged sometimes means conquering that reflex action to go online, if we aren’t to spend all our time manacled to technology.
9. Unplug at weekends
This is a crucial one if we are to truly unplug: email off on Friday evening, not to be turned on again until Monday morning (unless, of course we normally work on weekends); laptop put away unless we absolutely need it.
Weekends are important to restoring ourselves
Weekends are so important to restoring ourselves, whether we’ve been looking after our family, at work, studying or even all three.
It should be a time to be fully present in our own world, both physically and psychologically.
Social media will crank on all through the weekend: the feeds never stop. We don’t have to be lured in by it. Moreover, we shouldn’t feel we are missing something important by not being online.
By all means use an app or quickly google to find cinema showtimes, make that restaurant reservation, check if that charming place you want to visit is open, or research your next holiday. Use the internet to assist your life – but don’t be owned by it.
Above all, don’t spend all your precious time on Twitter and Facebook. And don’t spend too long on your computer in general, it’s literally unhealthy.
To purloin that old saying: on your deathbed you won’t regret not tweeting cat pictures. You’ll regret all the time you wasted doing precisely that.
Go outside. Be present. Make memories. That’s what a life unplugged is all about.