It sounds dramatic to write that but I can’t think of a better way to phrase it.
I just got back from spending 10 days exploring China while disconnected from social media and US news.
I fired up my VPN to check out Twitter during the Indians brief playoff run and that was about it.
It was fantastic.
Instead of checking social media for the latest hot take on news, politics or workplace trends, I read books. Six of them to be exact:
- Thrive – Ariana Huffington
- American Heiress – Jeffrey Toobin
- Age of Ambition – Evan Osnos
- The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
- The Westing Game – Ellen Raskin
- Galileo’s Middle Finger – Alice Dreger
Those books scanned multiple time periods and genres, some were uplifting and inspiring; Others were escapist and others were educational.
Instead of reaching for my phone to read the latest news, I read books and enjoyed being disconnected from the rapid fire “breaking news” and breaking outrage, that is our daily existence.
How Do I Hashtag This?
China has this thing called the Great Firewall, you have to make a special effort to access stuff like Facebook or Google. I downloaded the apps I needed (Google Translate is really indispensable, Converse is good too but doesn’t have an offline mode) before I left and pretty much only used my phone for taking pictures.
I was like many of the other tourists: constantly taking pictures, even selfies (no selfie stick) but without a connection to the internet, that’s about all I did with my phone. I did not and could not waste my time at a 1000-year-old building trying to figure out what hashtag to use or the right filter.
I was in Beijing, when the U. S’s latest shooting rampage began. That day I visited the Great Wall and The Temple of Heaven. When I arrived at the hotel my phone connected to Wi-Fi and I saw the news alerts but the hotel didn’t have any western news channels and exhausted from a long day I fell asleep quickly.
Typically, when these things happen I’m inundated with news because we have TV’s everywhere; you can’t go to a gas station without seeing the latest news. And of course, our phones chirp out the latest news while our Facebook feeds quickly fill up with condolences and opinions.
For the first time in a long time I was completely removed from all of that.
That perspective was powerful. Not getting sucked into the early hours speculation and hot takes was refreshing.
We can feel sadness and empathize but we don’t have to take on the anguish of the event. We don’t have to have an opinion. We can just be: read, understand, empathize and continue our day-to-day lives.
You Don’t Need a 14 Hour Flight to Disconnect
On my way back, I thought about how to re-capture this feeling and I realized the problem was me. I failed to see the control I have in my life. I didn’t need to take a 14-hour flight to disconnect.
I know that our technology is both a blessing and a curse. I have the information and instinct to understand that on both a personal and intellectual level. But what to do about it? I have to make the choice. Just like you.
I embrace technology but I also recognize the folly in technology – that it removes all that’s wonderful about being human- connecting with others and ourselves.
Put your phone away when you’re having a conversation with friends or family.
Take a normal task and choose to focus on that without any distractions…no music either!
I’m choosing to proactively disconnect on a regular basis. What about you?