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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Life, unplugged

Go ahead, put your phone down for awhile, Russell Wangersky writes. Or better yet, don’t have one in the first place. —
Go ahead, put your phone down for awhile, Russell Wangersky writes. Or better yet, don’t have one in the first place. — 123RF Stock Photo

I’m doing better.

I’m working on it. I’m working on me.

One day at a time.

I don’t even think about it all the time anymore — though I miss it dreadfully sometimes. And I miss the contact it provided with my friends. I haven’t gone cold turkey yet, and sometimes, when I see someone else enjoying one, it’s literally all I can do to stop myself…

No, it’s not a drink.

It’s a phone.

Ever notice that, when you’re out somewhere, if someone pulls out their phone to check for messages, you can see everyone else reaching, too? It’s like an itch that’s hard not to scratch.

It’s your brain, still in hunter-gatherer mode, desperately seeking out the potential endorphin rush of good news. Like a pointer, trembling and pointing its nose at hidden prey.

But think back: what kind of critically important message can you remember getting from your phone? And was it critical and important enough to justify the requirement that you be on call — for free — all the time?

Work’s another story, as far as electronics go — I’m kind of like a bartender. I have to know all the drinks in order to be able to make them. I think of myself at work as a massive satellite dish, trying to make sense of huge streams of information coming my way electronically. I have to be electronically connected, if for no other reason than to find material to write about.

But I get to the end of the day, convinced that I’ve gotten all sorts of things done, that I’ve read articles and written columns and analyzed arguments, and then when I sit down and total it all up, it’s a tidal wave of unimportant, scattered, wasted electrons. And I think: what’s the value in that? I’ve been functionally diverted for nine hours or so. I must be on the verge of being able to cure cancer, right?

Not even close.

Think about it: if all you do is to plant yourself on the couch and binge-watch Netflix, at least you get to think about whether a show is cohesive and consistent. The daily flow of social media and email has no context, no themes, no structure. It’s just a polluted river of scattered content: there’s a shoe, a chip bag, a dead squirrel.

There is a way to a less-polluted existence, friends. But it isn’t an easy road.

I’m lucky. I can stay weekends at a place that cell towers barely reach, so that connection to the e-world can only occur standing in front of one front-room window. That’s a little closer to cold turkey, and it was the first place where I realized the slow life has many things to recommend it.

One of those things?

You get things done. If you’re trimming out a window, you come down the ladder with the measurements, cut the wood, go back up and nail it in place. Maybe your mind wanders a bit and you have to measure again, but if you’re looking at emails before you cut, guaranteed you’ll be starting over.

It’s more than that. The entire pace of life changes when you’re disconnected. There’s even value, I find, in — wait for it — actually being bored.

In the last couple of years, I also got to spend some time on the road in the United States working on a book project without a data plan for my phone, so the only time I could check the web for things like emails was when I was underneath someone else’s benevolent Wi-Fi umbrella.

The daily flow of social media and email has no context, no themes, no structure. It’s just a polluted river of scattered content: there’s a shoe, a chip bag, a dead squirrel.

Standing in the rain of real life has much to recommend it.

So I try.

I’m working on it. Outside of sleeping, I’ve found an extra two hours every workday where I never even touch my phone, where I can think and, more importantly, defrag my head the way you’d defrag a computer hard drive, clearing up space for thought by getting rid of incomplete and otherwise overwritten scraps. But it often means carefully, resolutely doing something else.

I’m not cured.

I don’t think any of us ever will be now, not those who have drunk deep of the electronic brew. When addiction rewires your brain, you don’t ever get to go backwards to simpler times.

But you can fight, every day, and you’ll eventually see some improvement.

Learn to step away, at least sometimes. Before it’s too late.

And if you’re late to the game — don’t start. You’ll be happier for it.

Recent columns by this author

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: No room left for beautiful

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Not all tales are hypnotizing

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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