This Summer, Try Going off the Grid

Photo Credit: Cottage Life

In two weeks, I’m going off the grid. No, I’m not a black ops agent like Jason Bourne, nor am I fearing a Skynet-style rise of the robot overlords. This is not about evading a WannaCry ramsomware attack, either (though those are increasingly terrifying).

The truth is, I’m about to go on holiday. These days however, my vacations are increasingly about disconnecting; I need a break from the constant grind of an always-buzzing smart phone, an endless email inbox and a fragmented attention span.

Sound familiar? That’s because I just described the daily reality for almost everyone living in the Internet age. We live in a swirl of limitless distraction, but that is not a new story. The real insight I’ve taken from my previous “connectivity cleanses” is two-fold: we need digital down time more than ever, and reaching that elusive state takes skill, practice and planning. Simply put, we should force ourselves to disconnect regularly, but realize that it takes time to get good at it.

This is how I do it. For 10 glorious days, I decamp to a cottage and leave behind TV, text messages and Twitter. I swap car horns and cable news for loons and lakes. It’s peaceful and incredibly pleasant … but not right away. As most of us know, It’s hard to take it easy. I struggle to turn off the digital drug dealer that is my iPhone (and keep it off). I have to consciously slow my lifestyle to synchronize with my simpler surroundings. It takes me almost a week to stop looking for WiFi in the woods.

What I’ve learned is that having a restorative holiday requires both art and science. In fact, it involves three phases as I see it.

First, you have to recover. I dial down my media intake gradually, initially limiting and then swapping out activities like web and channel surfing for longer-form reading (ideally, print magazines and books, sans hyperlinks!) and even writing. Just as the body needs a cool down after a vigorous workout, your mind has to power down as well.

Next is the reset phase. People want a Pattern Interrupt when they go on vacation; the whole point is to break away from the day to day. So since my life and work involves constant emailing (a recent study estimates that the average knowledge worker spends 28 % of their work week on email alone), screen time and juggling other distractions, I try to break that habit by going online only once a day.

Finally, use this newfound focus and discretionary time to reflect. Why is it that most people don’t get serious work done at “work”, and have to leave the office to do that kind of intellectual heavy lifting? Our lives have too many interruptions. We can’t attend to “the important but not urgent” when “the urgent but not necessarily important” is always appearing in the form of a new email, txt message or tweet. I use this opportunity to think BIG PICTURE. You might ask yourself some tough questions — the ones that you’ve been meaning too but haven’t yet. You know which ones I’m talking about.

I believe the future of leisure — if not luxury — is escape from ubiquitous connectivity. People are going to pay big money to get out of mobile phone range in the near future. Some day, “no signal” will be as common a sign of our generation’s holidays as “no vacancy” was to our parents’ vacations.

Canadian author Michael Harris wrote a book a few years ago where he made an eloquent plea for people to take “Analog Augusts”. He argues that doing so will “break the spell” the web has on us. I couldn’t agree more.

So as you contemplate your summer holiday, consider going off the grid for part of it. If you take the time to recover, reset and reflect, you’ll find this break to be a lot more restorative — and you might just feel rested and recharged when you come back. After all, isn’t that the point of a vacation anyway?

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