I skipped my company Christmas party this year — not a smart move for a new employee who hopes to grow her job and widen her influence at work.
It wasn’t because I’d had a lousy week and my boss had barked at me (though both are true). I just needed a night at home, alone, after six straight days of having e-mails, texts and virtual meetings intrude on weekend plans and overtake every evening.
My iPhone is running my life. More accurately, my connectivity-fueled agenda is my life, and the signs of that imbalance — inability to concentrate, a craving for constant movement and excitement, and, recently, the not-so-subtle suggestions from coworkers and friends that I seem hyper and wired — have me worried.
Which leads to less sleep and more caffeine.
What’s an over-achiever to do? What else? Draw up a list on the iPhone. Make a plan.
Lately I have been drawn to media reports about the downside of an internet-amplified, over-scheduled life:
- Ever check your iPhone before and after a Sunday matinee? Or read e-mail on the sidelines of a soccer game? Me, too. In fact, the tools designed to keep us current and organized have stolen our leisure, according to a special report in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the cost of living in a state of fast-moving distraction.
“Plugged in 24/7/365, we are constantly struggling to keep up but are always falling further behind,” the Chronicle declares. “The faster we go, the less time we seem to have. As our lives speed up, stress increases, and anxiety trickles down from managers to workers, and parents to children.”
- Remember the days when we had fewer ways to distract ourselves? When we spent less time looking down, immersed in a small screen? Journalist Michael Harris’ new book, The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection, challenges those of us who were born pre-World Wide Web to incorporate some of those old-fashioned practices into our contemporary lives.
Read a book or a newspaper in its original form, he says, without the temptation to click through to related sites or articles on your portable device. Daydream. Sit still. (And do what?)
- “The time I’ve spent going nowhere is going to sustain me much more than the time I’ve spent running around,” says travel writer Pico Iyer. He schedules some amount of downtime every day to reflect on and process his various experiences.
In an August 2014 TED talk called “The Art of Stillness,” Iyer described how Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly found the space and creativity to write his latest book by eliminating smart phones and television from his home. Take an “Internet Sabbath” at least one day a week, Iyer says, “in order to develop the perspective and sense of direction when you go online again.”
What is scary about stillness?
I’ve been taking stay-at-home vacations since before the shorthand, staycation, was even coined. My husband and I couldn’t afford to travel when we were raising our two sons. Plus, I enjoyed hanging out at our small-town home after daily commutes to the city.
When colleagues asked, “Where are you going?” my standard reply would be: “Off the clock.” Lately, I’ve amended that to “off the iPhone.”
Since finally buying a smart phone in May 2012, I’ve learned that a staycation is no vacation if I stay plugged in to office e-mail and my social media accounts. Nor is time off a break if I’m scheduled dawn to dusk with workouts, lunches, errands and appointments.
A Type A person tends to see weekends or vacations not as opportunities to relax and recharge but as prime time to get things done. And that’s OK, she tells herself, because the busyness is tied to her family and friends. Problem is, the deeper I get into middle age, the more I find that “always on” is not sustainable.
I want to live more in silence, not with Minnesota Public Radio on as background news and noise, not with music blaring while I clean or cook, but silence. Without distraction, with myself. I want more mental freedom, more unstructured moments to get lost in a book or in my thoughts.
I want to live more often without a schedule and the tools that tie me to it.
“Be curious,” one of my yoga instructors used to say. So, what would happen if:
- I swore off caffeine for 24 hours?
- I invited a friend out spontaneously?
- I did yoga at home, instead of in a structured class, and followed wherever my mind and body took me?
- I turned off my iPhone for an entire weekend?
- I committed to focused reading time for a natural wind-down in the evening?
- I explored the observation my mother made of me long ago: “You’re always on the go. What are you running from, I wonder?”
I won’t find the answer till I learn how to be still.