This is a follow-up post to my earlier tale of my first day without a car, computer, clocks or caffeine. I talk about the lessons I learned over the five days and what from my experience I’ve carried forward so far.
Over the week, I blasted through my to-do list. I had completed all the physical, moving around activities by Thursday lunchtime.
I was faced with only sit-down administrative work.
And I just didn’t want to do it.
All week, I’d wanted to move. Slowly but steadily. Nothing rushed or strenuous. Just steady, gentle motion.
Accomplishing this, managing that.
I didn’t work to exhaustion like I often do. No need to take breaks, as in, ‘Phew, I need a sit down.’
No naps were needed.
I was sleeping regularly from what I guessed was 8 or 9 o’clock at night after reading and writing for a few hours.
Then I’d waken in the dark and lightly sleep for a few more hours before getting up when it got light at 7am.
I felt totally rested.
And just…serene, swan-like.
Without access to the computer, I didn’t burn my corneas by staring at the screen too early in the morning or for too long.
I didn’t get that sense of anxiety and subsequent rise in stress I sometimes get when I am overwhelmed by the all the information coming at me.
And which causes my attention span to reduce down to that of a gnat.
Often I end up flitting here and there, stopping for a second or two, my brain buzzing, unable to process thought coherently.
I’m like a chipmunk, scattered, chattering, wasting energy.
I need to take a break at this point but am often so addicted to the buzz generated by the computer, it takes an awareness to do so and a conscious effort to break the spell.
I have to push myself away from my desk.
There was none of that this week.
I focused loosely, transitioned gently and completed projects calmly and smoothly.
Nothing was forced or hard or jarring. It all just flowed out of me.
Even the most challenging project of all, hanging four photo frames on a large wall, equidistant and evenly level, worked out almost without hitch.
Once these active projects were complete though, the desk jobs did not appeal.
I found myself procrastinating, doing busy work instead of the job at hand.
After a while I realized that my darkness hours gave me plenty of desk time, I simply didn’t need or want anymore, my body wanted to move and so I did.
And that helped.
One thing I really missed was social interaction.
No question, I over-isolated myself.
Beforehand I had arranged for visits with friends every day but one.
Snafus, ones I wouldn’t allow myself to fix using technology (although I got very, very close) meant I went from Tuesday morning to Friday evening without seeing a soul.
That was too long even for an introvert like me.
These days alone, longer than I’d ever gone without talking to anyone (48 hours was my previous record,) reminded me of the importance of our herding instincts for safety, security and bonding.
But also how dependent we now are on our technology for making the most basic of arrangements.
The accessibility and responsiveness of the electronica we have all around us gives us the flexibility to make, confirm, and change details at a moment’s notice.
A simple call or email would have eliminated the problems I’d had.
But this ease and the busyness of people’s lives has also led to tighter controls over our social plans.
It is rare these days to just casually ‘pop in’ to someone’s house, uninvited and without prior arrangement.
And so in some ways we are as confined by social convention as ever.
This isolation made the anticipation of the returning prodigals feel like a triumphant rock star’s homecoming, it was so bathed in importance.
And I don’t think it was entirely because I had missed my kids.
As the sun started to set, I started my transition back to earth.
I turned on the outside porch light, one of our homecoming rituals.
It felt momentous.
I opened the garage door, I got in the van.
Turning on the engine felt exhilarating and slightly scary.
Driving to meet them, I kept to the speed limit.
It seemed quite fast enough.
I had kept enough supplies in my house over the week so that I didn’t need to use a car but I had been getting close.
Walking to town and back was a huge undertaking and would have taken most of my day’s energy and half a day of daylight so I chose not to do it.
But towards the end of the week, the need for new sights beyond that of my neighborhood had got strong.
Finally getting in a car, it was freeing and totally exciting.
Later, I went…to Target.
I was so happy!
Somewhere different, lights, color, lots of lovely things to buy!
It was a big adventure.
A week later, I still haven’t worn a watch.
Only one of the clocks has been put back in place.
I keep the lights low in the evenings and make the time purposefully quiet and relaxed.
I’ve developed a new interest in learning more about the people who lives were lit only by sun and fire.
I’ve even taken to reading by flashlight.
With the advent of artificial light, we’ve been given the option to extend our day to last twenty-four hours if we choose.
We fill those extra hours of light with activity, bolstering ourselves with stimulants, crashing when we reach exhaustion point.
It seems unsustainable.
And perhaps it is.
I’d expected the week to go slowly, speeding up as the time went on.
I’d expected cravings for computer time and a longing for daylight.
It didn’t work like that.
Time went much faster than I expected, as long as I was active.
I forgot about being concerned about what time it was.
One day I was so absorbed in framing photographs, I was totally caught out by the sunset.
But time went slower when I was sedentary and when I went too long without social interaction.
I was far more content, serene, peaceful than I normally am.
I worried less and focused more.
I moved slower but more often.
I didn’t miss my computer at all.
However, the limitations of this experiment meant that I didn’t fully experience what it would be like to be without modern day gadgets.
Five days isn’t long enough to truly appreciate that.
And thank god.
Because I think it would be limited, arduous, repetitive and dull.
Technology allows us to have vibrant, exciting lives.
Ones where we can travel far beyond our neighborhoods, doing whatever work we like.
However we like.
We are limited only by our imaginations, our fears and our prejudices.
The key is balance – using technology to reach our goals but not allowing it to take us so far from our natural way of being that we become lopsided, sick and weary.
Nurturing our innate selves in a technology-driven world takes constant vigilance because the pressure to focus elsewhere is immense.
And it’s easy to feel we are wrong or weak or that we will miss out if we turn away.
So while it’s important to recognize the privileges of technology, to embrace and appreciate them, we also need to be conscious of our usage.
If we don’t make a stand, the world will drag us the way it wants us to go.
For many of us, this is a blind spot.
We don’t know what we don’t know, we can’t see what we can’t see.
So set some limits, regularly unplug for a while – a few hours or some days.
Perhaps then we can shine some light on those self-imposed constraints that stop us being a star and work to put them at bay.
We can calm down and rest.
And maybe uncover that swan within us that glides around purposefully and authoritatively instead of the chipmunk constantly chattering and scrambling.
We can get back some of that equilibrium – somewhere between the excitement technological advances give us and our more innate, gentle, way of being.
We need to use all our natural and technological advantages to build ourselves the very best life.
Because truly there hasn’t been a better time in the history of mankind to be alive.
If you’re reading this, you have the opportunity.
Chipmunk? Swan? Something in-between? Which way will you go?