Last week’s entry in the Scott Drotar Literary Review was “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown. While there are many valuable lessons to be learned from its pages, the overarching theme is simplicity. He proposes that by eliminating the nonessential people and things from your life, you can simplify your world and become happier and more successful. Since we now live in a society where we are constantly bombarded by emails, Tweets, and texts that over time can burn out even the most socially needy individuals, one way that we can apply this idea is in terms of our use of technology to communicate. I know that some people would rather lose an arm than go a whole weekend without access to Facebook, but it is important to occasionally take a few days to unplug, go off the grid, and spend some time just being in the moment with the people around you. This period of being disconnected will not only help you to avoid technology and social media overload, but also help you to appreciate some of the simple things in life that you may have been missing.
When I was 12 years old, my family rented a cabin at Potato Creek State Park for four days in mid December. Now, we were not exactly “roughing it,” since there were some modern amenities like central heating, a fully functioning bathroom, and a fully equipped kitchen, but there was no tv, no internet, and no phone. The only electronic device we brought was a portable CD player to listen to Christmas carols. We were completely disconnected from the outside world for four days. We baked Christmas cookies, played board games (which led to the infamous Drotar Star Wars Monopoly incident), read books, and just enjoyed being with each other. Going off-line for a few days and slowing down from the fast paced lifestyle we usually had, allowed us to appreciate simple things like the beauty of the snow falling in the woods or the calm, comforting effect of a warm, crackling fire. More significantly though, it gave the five of us us the opportunity to spend time together without any interruptions from the outside world, which allowed us to really talk to and connect with each other.
The most important information that I learned from this incredible time with my family was that the world did not end and my life did not fall apart because I spent a few days away from technology. My parents didn’t lose their jobs from not having access to email. My friends didn’t hate me or forget I existed because I didn’t have contact with them. The world did not stop spinning, and our lives went back to normal when we returned from our little hiatus. Actually, our lives were even better than they had been before, since we were now enjoying all of the benefits to be gained from getting away. All five of us were now both mentally and physically rested, as well as more relaxed after experiencing the slow, calm pace of nature for the last several days. We also felt closer to one another, which made us all feel more comfortable and loved. All of these positive changes we gained from slowing down combined to make us more productive and happier as we went about our lives.
Several years later, when I first started graduate school at the University of Kansas, I thought that I had to prove myself to the professors and other students in my department. To accomplish this, whenever anyone needed help on a research project or there was a client who needed someone to go over their data, I immediately volunteered. Not only was this a ton of work, but by being on so many projects with so many different people, I was constantly responding to emails and texts from my clients and colleagues. As you can probably guess, I quickly got close to burning out completely, but thankfully my academic advisor saw what was happening to me and put an end to it. He sat me down in his office one Friday afternoon, and told me that I was under strict instructions to take the weekend off. I was to send no emails and accept no texts from clients until Monday. He said that I was doing very well as a graduate student and had nothing to prove to anyone. He also explained that they would rather I work at a little slower pace and complete the program, than try to do everything for everyone and end up getting burned out and leaving the department. Basically, he reminded of the importance of slowing down and getting away.
These two moments from my life, together, show both the dangers of technology overload as well as the benefits of getting away and simplifying your life. I love Facebook and Twitter as much as the next guy, and I am a technology junkie (my personal WiFi network has 11 devices on it), but even I make myself unplug occasionally. As much as I hate to shut down the website for a week just to get away, I know that the benefits I will gain from doing it will allow me to deliver content that is better in both quality and quantity in the long run. Think about how much time you spend using your iPhone or stalking old friends on Facebook. When was the last time you turned off your cell phone, unplugged your modem, and spent some time off the grid? If you are like most people, it has been far too long. Try to find a few days where you can get away and simplify your life for a while. Not only will your world not explode from taking this little retreat, but the benefits you will gain will bring you more success and happiness.