The Benefits of Unplugging

At home and at work, I rely on computers like most of us do. I use e-mail and social networking, online bill paying, Internet browsing, shopping, research and hundreds of other things. I am frustrated if the power goes out or the Internet connection isn’t working, even for a short period of time.

Many of us are tied to BlackBerries, Droids or iPads (or iPods). Some studies claim that up to 80 percent of teenagers now go to bed with their cell phones turned on and next to their bed.

We have all heard of the need for work-life balance, but now more than ever we need to seek a high-tech/low-tech balance. The question is can we marshal those needs on a day-to-day basis or do we periodically need to unplug completely?

At the end of last summer my husband and I and a group of friends and relatives took the unplug completely route. We headed to Montana for a weeklong fishing and camping trip. It started with a 17-mile horseback ride led by an outfitter. With all our gear and food for a week, our horses and mules took us into the backcountry. When we passed the Bob Marshall Wilderness sign, we knew there would be no motorized vehicles, no chain saws, no laptops with Wi-Fi and no cell phone service where we were headed.

The outfitter supplied the tents and basic kitchen and we supplied the rest—including as many rainbow and cutthroat trout as we could catch and eat. Along the North Fork of the Sun River, our camp hosted an occasional elk, three bald eagles, white-tailed and mule deer and the tracks of black bear, coyotes and wolves.

We were truly unplugged, and it didn’t seem to bother us at all; in fact it was wonderful. With each day—including rain and cooler than usual weather—we became less and less concerned with our loss of technology (with one exception: We did have two digital cameras and a couple disposable cameras in our midst to capture pictures for memories’ sake).

When we got home, we were prepared to reconnect to the high-tech world. But due to weather-related storms, we were thrown abruptly back to low tech when we found that our home phone and DSL and thus household Wi-Fi were on the blink. In Montana it was fine to be out of touch, but back in civilization we didn’t want to bear it. Rather than go to the local coffee shop to catch up on our e-mails, we discovered that the phone land line was working to the junction box at our house, but a lightning storm had damaged the connection and destroyed the dial tone to any phone jack inside the house.

Unwilling to wait a week for repairs, we set up a card table in the garage, hooked to the outside phone line, and added answering machine, wireless modem and portable telephone to the mix of wires. We were back in the high-tech business!

While checking my hundreds of e-mails—junk and not junk—I received a link to an article in The New York Times that exactly reflected my thinking. It was titled, “Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain,” by Matt Richtel, August 15, 2010. The article was about five neuroscientists, a reporter and a photographer on a three-day rafting trip. “It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.”

Some of their findings at the end of the trip mirrored my own, that we may need to occasionally unplug from the high-tech world—in order to clear our minds. The trip and being outdoors was definitely restorative and as scientists they plan additional study to seek scientific data as to why and how the low tech and high tech affect our brains, our work performance and our quality of life. I look forward to learning more about their work, but in the meantime, I know that unplugging from high ech helped me and am looking forward to my next opportunity to do it.

Adrian Bass is a quality consultant and lifelong learner, who believes that learning is a prerequisite for quality improvement. She is a board member and volunteer for the newly transformed Capital Quality and Innovation (CQI).








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