Then it was the subway, which used to be a place I could read the commuter paper in peace. Then it was every damn hotel and resort around the world – and let’s be honest, free Wifi isn’t something I should complain about, but when the Wifi costs $20 a day it’s easier to justify staying offline when you’re on vacation.
The always-connected nature of modern public spaces means that disconnecting is now a choice, not something we’re forced into doing. And I want to make that choice more often, not just for my sanity but because there are so many cool things to do in life that don’t involve staring at my iPhone (I think).
I was inspired to consciously disconnect by my friend Renee Warren, the co-founder of startup PR agency Onboardly. Renee is a tech-savvy entrepreneur with two young kids, and even thinking about her busy daily schedule makes me tired. Like me she’s constantly online reading industry publications, responding to emails, working with clients, and keeping up with social networks. Over the holidays Renee posted on Facebook about how she had just disconnected for three days – no laptop, no phone, no TV. She said it left her refreshed, allowed her to connect with her fiancé (also an always-connected entrepreneur), and gave her time to read, think, and plan 2015.
Her post made me realize that I haven’t gone a day without my laptop, iPhone, or TV (yes, I have cable and watch TV daily) in…well, forever. In fact I can’t remember the last time I spent 24 hours without any devices, not even while I’ve been on vacation. Which is frankly quite sad, and makes me wonder if I’m just bad at taking vacations.
In the spirit of making an effort to consciously get offline, a couple weeks ago I went to my favourite place to attempt to disconnect, Ste. Anne’s Spa. If you haven’t been before it’s an oasis of tranquillity where you get spa treatments, spend all day in your bathrobe, and lounge about in the outdoor hot tub. There are no TVs, they encourage you not to use your phone, and most common areas are never louder than a whisper. I try to get there at least once a year for my annual “try not to look at your phone” retreat, and on this recent overnight trip I promised myself I’d leave my phone in my purse and not look at it until I left. I stuck to it for the most part, but then it made me anxious that I couldn’t share my amazing fireplace and the snow-covered grounds with my Instagram friends (confession: I totally cracked and posted that dang fireplace photo).
It made me realize that I’m the only one to blame when it comes to my always-on mentality. I could easily disconnect for 24 hours every weekend, but I like checking Facebook and posting photos to Instagram. I like checking my email every few hours to make sure there are no client emergencies. And I like watching TV, regardless of how mindless it may be, and yes I’m often using a second (or third) screen while Jeopardy is on.
Disconnecting is a choice, and I unconsciously choose not to on a regular basis, even if I know I’d rather be the person enjoying a good book without the compulsion to check their iPhone every 3 pages. I want to be the person who’s more concerned with taking in the rainforest then snapping a perfect scenic photo for Instagram, but alas I’m just not.
I wouldn’t mind forced solitude every so often though, since I believe Renee when she says it’s liberating. So if you know of a remote non-Wifi-enabled resort somewhere in the South Pacific, do let me know. I might need to escape there to recalibrate and plan for 2016.