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The Joy and Suffering of Being Unplugged

There was a time when I unplugged for a 4 or 5 days every year. When I say unplugged, I mean having absolutely no access to both cell and internet service. It was on my annual fishing trips to northern Ontario. It was a place where the armies of cell and the internet service had not conquered. These were days of pure joy, peace, and freedom. Each year, I couldn’t wait to break away from my technology chain and be free. Of course, I love fishing, being in the wilderness and, most importantly, I love being with close friends and my boys. But looking back now, I realize, I also loved, and needed, to be disconnected from my digital tethers.  It was a technology fast or, better yet, a technology Sabbath, a needed cleansing break.

But, if you haven’t noticed, there is this onward, ambitious, hungry march of the technology army. First, the internet, then cell service conquered and now occupy my little piece of paradise. To be honest, most of the quests of this special place are thankful the modern world has finally arrived. It gives them flexibility, a peace of mind, and a way to juggle responsibilities back at home and office while being away.

But, as for me?

I fought the marching armies as long and as hard as I could.

At first, I pretended, and told others, I couldn’t be reached, stretching the truth a bit about the technologies available. But hiding from reality never lasts for long – the armies always expose you.  This happened to me during a trips over the past couple of years when a friend texted my wife, and then work peers started answering emails and making calls.  My cover was finally and completely blown. I couldn’t hide from this army anymore.

Like any effective invading army, there’s this slow but steady conquering of people’s hearts and minds. During these last few years, I’d become the proverbial frog in the kettle, slowly accepting and believing these armies are a necessary evil, believing it’s the way it’s supposed to be, even taking by faith that these armies are a good thing, that to be connected 24/7/365 is to be human.

Until two of my close friends and one of their sons and I went on a “fly-in” fishing trip.  If you don’t know a what a “fly-in” is, it’s when a float plane takes you to a remote lake where there are no roads or trails, no other access.  You can only get there by float plane.  You stay in a remote cabin (no electricity or running water).  You’re literally dropped off in the middle of no where and you stay until the floatplane picks you up.

And of course, there is no cell or internet service.  Which meant I was totally and completely unplugged for 4 days, 96 hours, for the first time in many years. I had found my temporary paradise once again, but not without a cost.  For it took me a good 24 hours to stop wanting to check my phone for incoming emails and text messages.  Those 24 hours were a bit challenging, creating some anxiety about all the life changing, important events I just knew I was missing out on.  The first night I even had some problems falling asleep.  During those first 24 hours, whenever the anxiety crept in (which was hourly), I spoke words like this to myself – “just enjoy it, nothing you can do” or “what can happen in a few days?”.  But what was most effective was simply praying “God, you’ve got this, I trust you,  all the people and situations at home don’t need me right now.”  The self talk was simply Jedi mind tricks, so it worked for a bit but didn’t solve the problem.  My prayer of admitting  reality – God is God and I am not, was the key of getting through the technology detox.

But once I made it through the first 24 hours,  I began to experience peace, the absence of anxiety that I haven’t experienced in a long time.  I felt as if I was finally free from the tethers of technology and could enjoy the people, the place, and experience we were having together.  In other words to enjoy those days as a rare and incredible gift.  It was so good that I committed to not becoming a slave again to my technology. But, instead,  to be its master when back in the “real” world.

Dallas Willard said in his book Spirit of the Disciplines “Until we enter quietness, the world still lays hold of us.”  On that weekend, I entered technology silence and was freed from it’s chains.  The glow of those 96 hours has stayed with me, but not without effort.  It’s a glow I want to keep, it’s the freedom from and mastery over this invading army.  But I now know it will require a regular dose of total and complete disconnection. Without it, the counter attack will continue the slow but steady march, and eventually I will be it’s prisoner again.

So, I encourage you, if you’ve been captured by the technology army.  Take a true, extended technology break.  It’ll feel like you’re dropping heavy chains you’ve been carrying so long you no longer notice they were there. But when you shed the chains, you’ll experience a peace and freedom that will be so good, you will never want to be technology’s prisoner again.

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