I spend a lot of time online; I realize this isn’t atypical, but after freelance writing and publishing a website for nearly five years — two of which were remote and part of those two, international — I feel qualified in saying a “quick email check” or “hopping online for a sec” comes easier for me than most.

It’s hard for anyone to disconnect when you carry your office home with you, have an inbox at your fingertips and the general societal consensus readily reinforces, even encourages, our technological dependency.

Personally, I don’t want to get used to this. As someone who happily played “Jill of the Jungle” on the family DOS computer (if you know what that is, I love you) and whose friends promptly told her in college, when Facebook first came to their university, “That’s so creepy. Get off it,” I’ve grown up with technology as a welcome addition to life, yet still held in regard that it is not life itself.

Times are changing, though. I get it. I also understand that my sometimes hate of the Internet is in direct conflict with the fact I love it for enabling my livelihood — which is why I find it all the more important to ensure I regularly check in with how I’m using it so that it doesn’t end up owning me.

Here are a few ways I do that: 

Get outside.

This is a big one, its Obvious Factor matches its importance. As living, breathing beings we weren’t meant to hunch our necks and exist through surrogate machines all day. We need to reconnect with the stuff we’re made of, but it’s surprising how easy it is to go hours, sometimes even days, without getting outside and really being present of where we are.

It’s more likely that whether in the car, at the office or decompressing at home on the couch, a screen is before us. I find that when I purposefully set aside a few minutes each day to take some deep “outside air” breaths, watering some herbs, rubbing the rosemary between my fingers or thanking my dogs for getting me up at 6am to stand outside and watch the sunrise, something happens — a fix that wakes me up on a deeper level; suddenly social media feels oh-so-far away.

I want more of that.

Cook something.

In the same vein, I do my best to counter longer periods of digital activity with something analog. Cooking dinner is a great example.

No matter if I’m working remotely or just getting home after an hour in traffic, when the day is done I’m diligent in my “sacred space” of cooking dinner. Typically this means a record is playing, intermittent sips of wine and the hard chop of vegetables on a cutting board, things that engage different senses than the ones I’ve used to type all day.

Even if I have to work on an assignment late into the evening, I prioritize this manual block of time to prepare and connect with what I’m eating, sans screen. Call it my quiet rebellion.

Limit your apps. (AKA: Resist the upgrade.)

When will the iPhone arrive? As soon as you marvel at one upgrade, there’s another. And another. And it will never, ever stop. (Satisfaction isn’t a great business model.)

I do have a smartphone, so again, I hope I’m keeping my hypocrite level to a minimum here, but as much as I can understand how helpful and magical they are, I also do my best to prevent it from truly replacing my brain. What I mean by that is, I focus on what I use my phone for — communication, email updates, a few apps for inspiration — and try to leave it be.

I’ll switch off cellular data for apps I know distract me, that way I have to go out of my way to hook up to Wifi if I’m not at home and mindlessly want to scroll. I’ll also leave notifications off my home screen, so I’m not distracted if I casually check the time. In short, I know there was a time in life when I got along just fine with my (itty bitty Verizon) cell phone left in a drawer in my dorm room. I don’t want to lose that capability now.

Study the generations.

Lastly, in a spirit of inclusivity and generational respect, I find that when I’m not as clued into my phone or devices, I’m more aware of the wisdom of different people and ages around me. For all the ways technology can bring us closer together, it can also keep us isolated in our own little bubbles. I won’t mention the election, but I will give it a discreet eyebrow raise from here.

I remember dashing off from holiday dinners to go sit on the computer for hours, never expecting my grandmother could be more interesting than deSignIng mY aOL pRoFiLE (and with a font like that, how could I ever be wrong?). It’s only now that I realize how incredible her life story was, and because she wasn’t keen to do my thing, I felt she had nothing exciting to offer.

It pains me to think of how easily this can happen, not just in dramatic ways of losing time with loved ones now gone, but a juvenile attitude of “we can only relate if we’re the same.” I don’t know why, but I find that technology makes it easier to form camps: PC vs Mac. Apple vs Android. The Plus or… I literally don’t even know. The X?

So I leave space to have slower things fill my time. A book here. A longer than usual phone call with Mom there. Because with all of this, I keep coming back to one thing: It’s the not device, but the user who has the power. As technology programs itself into a finer and finer expression, all I’m asking is that my inner compass can do the same.

Is screen-free time a priority for you? How do you use it?

Image via We are the Rhoads for Darling Issue No. 21


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