One of the things I love most about wild camping is that it forces me to unplug. Without a cell signal or even electricity (aside from an optional solar charger), there is literally no way for me to check my phone.
Within one day of camping, my circadian rhythm resets (curing my insomnia), I feel calm and relaxed, and my 7-year old stops asking if she can “watch something.” She is too busy catching salamanders or making mud statues.
But, as I write this, it is the dead of winter. That, combined my 6-month pregnancy belly, has put a damper on my outdoor outings.
I catch myself checking email more frequently, letting my girl binge watch YouTube, and reading fatalistic news headlines online. It is time to renew my efforts to unplug.
Why Unplug from Tech
There have been dozens of scientific studies which look at the impact technology has on our lives and wellbeing. Overall, the evidence for unplugging is staggering.
- Heavy technology users have higher risk of mental health issues.
- The mere presence of a cell phone is distracting enough to impede mental tasks.
- Light-emitting devices hinder sleep.
- Social media use increases feelings of loneliness and jealousy.
- Scaling back on tech improves productivity.
- Subjects who unplugged from tech reported feeling fresher and a better quality of life.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the why part of unplugging though. Tech is ubiquitous and is really hard to avoid. So, I’d rather focus on the how part of unplugging.
How do I unplug and get offline???
Despite the fact that most of us know that there are many benefits of unplugging, it is really hard to do.
Our phones are always there.
Our laptops are critical for work.
Access to all that info and entertainment online is hard to pass up…
Aside from going out into the wilderness, I can’t offer up a single solution for how to unplug. However, there are a lot of small things you can do to reduce your time spent on tech. These are some of the ones I’ve implemented in my life which have helped a lot.
1. Turn Off Mobile Data
There are times I’m really grateful for my smartphone. Like the other day when I used Google Maps to find a store (it’s not like I carry a map and compass around with me in my daily life).
But there is absolutely no reason for mobile data to be turned on all the time.
Mobile data on means you will always hear those little pings each time you get a Facebook message, new email, or whatever alert. They are distracting and anxiety-inducing.
So do yourself a favor and turn off the mobile data. You’ll probably save some money on your cell bill too. 🙂
2. Use Apps to Turn Off Data & Wifi at Certain Times
I do keep my Wifi turned on at home, particularly because so many people contact me via online messenger instead of sms. But having Wifi constantly on means that I get distracting pings at inappropriate times.
There are a lot of great apps (or maybe even your phone settings) which allow you to control when you get alerts. For starters, I’d suggest automatically turning off Wifi at dinner time and 1 hour before bed.
3. Don’t Take Your Phone with You
This is going to be a hard one. But there is absolutely no reason you need to bring your phone everywhere.
I do carry my phone with me during the day. In case my daughter gets sick at school, I need to be reachable. However, once I pick her up, there is little reason for me to have my phone with me.
Think about it:
Why the hell would I take my phone to the grocery store? Do I really want to answer the phone in the middle of the cereal aisle? Wouldn’t it be better to keep the phone at home and call the person back when I can give them my full attention?
“But what if an emergency happens?” I know you will ask. Unless you live in the boonies, I’m sure there will always be someone nearby to call 911 for you, because everyone else does have a cell phone with them!
4. Swap Digital for Analogue
- I rent magazines from the library. I could read the same magazines online. But I love not being able to choose what I read – unlike the zillions of distracting sidebar options on the web version.
- I play Sudoku, but on paper.
- My family plays board games instead of online games.
- I wrote this blog post on paper before typing it online.
*I know this wastes paper, but it is all a balancing act!
5. One Screen at a Time!
This isn’t exactly unplugging, but limit yourself to one device at a time.
For example, I sometimes find myself watching an online video with my daughter. I get bored, grab my phone, and start looking at nonsense. That’s two screens at once!
The next time this happens, I’m going to suggest we watch something we both enjoy. Or, better yet, do something interactive like play with clay.
6. Set Small Rules
Tech can be a big plus to our lives, and I’m not advocating for unplugging completely. But there are some areas of our life where tech should not be. Figure out what areas these are and make rules.
Even when tech does make sense, it isn’t always healthy. For example, I hate seeing how many people on public transportation are glued to their phones. Tech is robbing them of the “do nothing” time they normally would have for staring out the windows and zoning out.
Thus, I have these “No Phone” rules:
- In the bus
- During dinner
- While with friends
Yes, sometimes I break these rules. But at least the rules make me more aware of my tech habits so I can keep them better in check.
7. Don’t Respond to Messages Right Away
This one my husband finds crazy. He (like most people) is the type who always responds to a message immediately – even asinine messages like “How are you?”
I, on the other hand, sometimes wait days to respond to messages.
My rational is that I don’t want to respond to a message until I can give it my full attention. I consider it a matter of respect and feel it strengthens relationships.
So, where my husband might immediately respond to the “how are you” question with a line or two of text, I deliver a long, thought-out message about what’s happening in my life.
8. Start an Offline Hobby
The more time you spend doing activities, the less time you will be in front of a screen. For me, my hobby is going to the gym. My phone stays at home and I’ve got 2 hours of unplugged bliss.