Why we need to unplug

Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail — as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.” — Martha Beck

IMG_2355I didnt realize the damned thing was missing until my husband caught me off guard.

“Wheres your cell phone?” he asked. “Does it need to be recharged?”

“Gosh, I dont know,” I said, faking genuine concern. I couldnt even recall the last time Id used it — other than to take photos of the cats to post on Facebook. Trying to appear responsible, I dug through drawers and underneath the car seats. No cell phone.

Thats when my husband remembered wed just dropped off a carload of discards, including old clothing and purses, for a church rummage sale.

And that’s how we ended up back at church the night before the sale, rummaging through my discarded handbags and coats. Just as I suspected, my phone wasnt there — and it hasn’t turned up since.

Cell phones are essential if youre a traveling executive, a detective, or a pregnant woman close to labor. And theyre a godsend when your teenager is out past curfew or your car breaks down after midnight on a deserted rural highway.

But I refuse to treat any gadget as if its part of my anatomy. In my ongoing quest to achieve serenity — at least on a part-time basis — I find it helps to unplug as often as possible. And that’s why I’m often caught without a cell phone. On purpose.

Despite the fact that I’m solely responsible for the care management of a parent with advanced dementia, there are times when I need to be unavailable. And despite the fact that I’m an outgoing, social person, there are times when I simply don’t feel like gabbing. And I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of “missed calls” and new messages in my purse or my pocket. When I return home, I know I’ll find enough of those in my email and in the voicemail on the house phone.

Lately I’ve noticed that most people seem more stressed, desperate, and frantic than ever — as if life were a series of dire emergencies to be handled right this minute. Some psychologists suggest the problem is linked to our cultural addiction to cell phones and social media. Or, as author Loretta LaRoche observes, these days we cant even run an errand to the supermarket without a cell phone, a pager, and other electronic devices.

“We now look more like a member of a SWAT team than someone shopping for groceries,” LaRoche writes in Life Is Not a Stress Rehearsal: Bringing Yesterdays Sane Wisdom into Todays Insane World. (Broadway Books). “God forbid we should be out of touch for ten minutes,” LaRoche quips. “And since we have the contraptions there with us, what the hell, we can call home and tell everyone we got bread.”

I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of ‘missed calls’ and new messages in my purse or my pocket.

At a writers conference I attended a while back, somebodys bleeping cell phone disrupted — three times — a wonderful lecture given by a best-selling author.  Days later, the same thing happened at a funeral service. At the drug store last week, I had to listen to another customers cell conversation while waiting in line for my prescription. Oblivious to everyone within earshot, the woman chattered on her phone, punctuating every sentence with the “F” bomb.

On the road, every other car is driven by an idiot with one hand glued to a cell phone and the other barely guiding the steering wheel. Ive watched these drivers swerve in and out of lanes, fail to use turn signals, even run red lights.

“We all know that technological advances have made connection easier than ever before. They’ve also led some people to think that breaking away is a violation of the social order,” writes Martha Beck in “You Have the Right to Remain Silent,” an essay on why being disconnected, periodically, can be good for one’s mental health. “Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail, as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.”

As it happened, I did end up replacing my missing cell phone with another one. Right now, the thing is dutifully recharging on my desk, where it’s likely to remain until I need to take a quick photo of the cat.

8 thoughts on “Why we need to unplug

  1. I’m with you, Cindy. I have a cell phone in my purse, turned off unless I am traveling or need to be in contact with one of my children when we are out and about. It helps that we can’t get cell service in our house – my kids are relatively unplugged when they visit:)

  2. Love it, love it. What I’ve been preaching for years, Cindy. I am glad you find yourself in this soul-full place! Me too. I wish more people would see how they are limiting and even (on some levels) harming their whole and holy well-being. xo

  3. I totally agree with you Cindy,we are turning into a society of sheep all of us following in a flock of self centeredness.Why not put the phone down and do something creative,like drawing,painting or even working out.Take your dog for a walk,endless things to do than tweet or veggie out on your Facebook.Also the health risks that cell phones will cause,from all the electronic frequencies going thru our bodies.

  4. I’d be hard pressed to give up my cell phone–not that I use it or that it rings that much, but it does give me a sense of security “in case of emergency”.

    A close friend recently stopped looking at email except at work. This was shocking since she practically lived online. But what a difference it made. She’s soooo much more calm and anxiety-free. And as it turns out, so am I because she used to email and text me 20 times a day! I’m kinda liking it.

    Have a great weekend, xo jj

  5. Joanna, thanks for mentioning the anxiety issue. I’ve noticed, too, that I don’t feel as frantic when I’m not compelled to check email, FB, and other messaging systems.

    My theory: Deep down, I think humans require a degree of privacy and dignity. There’s something a little off-putting about people having instant “access” to info about our lives — and to us.

    I suspect, too, that this is why the French remain deliciously mysterious and attractive. They are very private people with a healthy respect for boundaries. I think it’s classy to keep a few secrets 😉

  6. Wonderful column, Cindy. I had to get a new cell when my old one, circa 2007, died. I’m with you about not staying too connected. As long as we can stay master of these things instead of the other way around….

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