– Or: What to do for twenty-four really twitchy hours
Yup. Exactly as the name say. National Day of Unplugging. It’s literally that: from sundown on Friday March 4th (5:59pm Seattle time) to sundown on Saturday March 5th (6:00pm Seattle time), devices off. No notifications, no Google, no chat apps, no social media, no movies, NOTHING.
Even thinking about it makes my eye twitch and I already have Tourettes so it’s just more twitches of varying degrees.
What on earth is the purpose of that? Honestly, it could be many-fold. Let’s talk about it a bit more. And by talk about it, I mostly mean I’m going to talk and you’re going to read. Hopefully I finish before you do.
Tell me more about this unplugging thing
It really is a national thing. National Day of Unplugging even has its own website and it’s chock full of really fun ideas and projects that can be done during the course of trying to live for 24 hours without our pocket tracking device. Unable to do twenty-four full? That’s ok too! Do one hour. That’s it. Easy as that. Or is it???
This is an event that goes all the way back to 2009 – let that sink in, 2009 was 13 years ago now – and started out super tiny. It’s evolved into something that is shared by over a hundred-thousand all over the world. As more awareness and research goes into exactly the impact our devices can have on mental health, these things can be ever increasingly important. There’s even a non-profit foundation built around this entire concept that is referenced on their site. It’s all very worth checking out and I highly encourage you to do so.
Why on earth would I want to do this
It’s a really good question. What is the motivation for unplugging for any duration of time? I think it would depend on the person opting into the activity.
Just taking a cursory look around the website alone is a great list of ideas for why we might want to do this. Several quick examples crop up by looking around real quick:
- Reconnect with family
- Focus on a craft project
- Rediscover a musical instrument
- Calm down
- Start a projet
The list goes on and I think you get the idea. There are so many more reasons why this can be a good idea; it’s of course up to the individual to decide if, when, and why.
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that kids ages 8-12 spend from 4-6 hours on average per day using screens. They don’t delve too far into all of the possible purposes – in the case of my kids, they spend a fairly significant amount of time on laptops doing homework – but when the amount of time spent gets broken down, it kinda seems like their every waking non-school hour is spent staring at a screen.
HYPOCRISY ALERT! HYPOCRISY ALERT!
“But wait, George!” you are probably saying. “Weren’t you the kid who spent all his days in front of first a Commodore 64 and then a PC XT 8088 and then a 386 and so forth and so on throughout basically your entire life?” To which I would respond “Uhhh. I plead the fif.”
It is true. I was a child of technology and screen time. Television and computers. Requests from parents for unplugging were like asking me to carve out a kidney. My keto-compatible fatty meat computer wasn’t able to comprehend life outside of the confines of a screen.
Are there things that have carried throughout my life that I learned from that? Absolutely. Are there things that I wish I did differently in terms of time spent? Definitely. Do I wish that I had the capacity for self-management as a youngster? Oh yes!
So part of that is hindsight, and part of that is “there are so many benefits from those activities in my adult life” so trying to find some kind of balance would have been key. Helping our kids find that balance is critical rather than just drinking from the proverbial fire hose.
Our unplugging experience in this little corner of the world
In our case, it was something that was encouraged by our youngest child’s elementary school librarian. There would be prizes involved so that right there is a PRIME motivator. Of course, there was no way on this beautiful green earth we would let her do it alone so we jumped in with both feet as well. Because that’s the kind of people we are this week.
We set alarms, got all of our affairs in order, let all our friends know that we were going dark for twenty four hours and one minute, and then BAM it was time.
So uhh. Now what?
Unplugging Phase 1 – The Evening
Welp! Since Friday nights are usually “pizza and movie” nights, we ended up eating dinner a bit earlier and watching a bit of TV in the lead-up. After the alarm, it was time to bust out some board and card games. First item up for bid on the price is right: JUMANJI!
We’ve been wanting to dive into that game for ages. We even took it on two road trips only to eventually NOT play it so this was the first time. We ended up playing two rounds; round one was confusing because we didn’t fully grasp the mechanics. Round two was MUCH more fun.
At this point, there was a bit of angst. Some tension. A bit of kids sniping at each other. Much of that tension started to melt away as game night progressed.
Beat the Parents was next! Fun trivia game with questions geared to kids and separate questions for adults. The kids clobbered us.
Star Wars Operation! Our youngest at age 7 got really frustrated with this one. The fine motor skills are challenging at first.
Finally, we busted out Kids Against Maturity. Holy cats this game. Outside of the fact that some of the cards were of questionable content – and thank goodness the kids didn’t understand all of them – I don’t think we’ve ever laughed so hard as a family ever. Ever. My abs still ache from being unable to stop laughing at times. Seriously. Wildly inappropriate most of the time but we had so much fun that the kids wanted to play it again the next day.
After all that, it was spontaneous balloon fight in the youngest kid’s room time. More giggles ensued and then it was bed time for the kids.
For the adults? Book reading wind down time! What a treat that was. After a bit we finally wonked out for the night.
Unplugging Phase 2 – The Next Morning
Breakfast and zero screen angst for the kids! We did use a tablet for the purposes of the kids having a virtual piano lessons but we agreed that this was allowed.
It’s worth noting: I also had special dispensation from my youngest to use my phone for work purposes only if needed because I was on call. She made me pinky swear not to use it for ANYTHING ELSE. By nature of the fact that I needed to have it handy in case a work call came in, I saw that there were notifications. I ignored them completely but they kept growing and growing and, I have to admit, it was making me anxious.
That is something that I will be exploring in the future. If not checking notifications gives me anxiety, I know I have a problem.
Piano lessons were a hit, the youngest off to gymnastics, and the oldest and I started … uhh …. cleaning. Simple stuff at first and then next thing we knew we spent the next 4-5 hours at it. We were on a ROLL and the things we accomplished were widespread and massively impactful. It was a great distraction from my notification anxiety and there wasn’t much else she wanted to do – being wrapped up almost solely in her phone is another conversation for another time – so we accomplished a ton!
So much that the next day, she wanted to do more. Even though she had her stuff back. It was incredible!
Unplugging Phase 3 – The Next Afternoon
Oldest kid and I hit the cleaning train, youngest and my wife worked on the science fair project poster. Between those two activities, that soaked up a ton of the afternoon.
After that, we cheated. A bit. It was my Aunt’s birthday so that took up almost the entire final two hours of our device quarantine. Once again, special dispensation for using my phone to take pictures. It was the first time many of us were together for a dinner in over two years.
By the time we got home from dinner with the family, it was almost 6. When the alarm went off announcing that our sequestration was complete, there was a bit of initial FLURRY OF CHECKING FOR MESSAGES. After that though?
We busted out Apples to Apples first. Then Kids Against Maturity again. That was the rest of our evening.
We didn’t have a specific agenda in mind other than to Do The Thing as prescribed. What we walked out of it with was, I feel, a renewed connection with each other. We spend so much of our time wrapped up in things that are apart from us even when we’re together that sometimes I think the connection frays just a little bit.
There are some very dear friends that I have where the regular means of communication are via instant messaging systems. They knew what was happening – a couple even sent me some really nice notes for the duration to have waiting for me when I came back on – and were really encouraging of the effort. I won’t say that I liked it necessarily, but it was an important thing to do and a small sacrifice for the sake of doing something together as a family, unified in our resistance of the device collective.
Would we do this again? Probably. It’s an annual thing and I expect that notices will get sent home as the years go on and for as long as there is a prize incentive for the elementary school child.
Would we do it more often than once a year? I’m not entirely sure. It feels weird and uncomfortable to be disconnected from much of the outside world. I also think we appreciate it more when we have it back after it’s been gone for a while, so maybe it’s a worthwhile exercise. To be continued.
That’s all for this week! Hope you enjoyed going through bits of our unplugging journey.
-= george =-