How an unintentional break from technology brightened my world.
Happy. That’s the word I would use to describe my state after moving into a new house this summer. There were plenty of other emotions that accompanied the move—stress, exhaustion, hope, weepy nostalgia (as I peeled the paper cutouts from my children's bedroom walls in the old house). But since settling in, I’ve had an overriding feeling of peaceful happiness.
Cutting the cord
This is not just a lucky-me treatise on a new house. In fact, the thing that’s made me most happy has little to do with the house at all. It has to do with cutting the cord between me and my computer.
In my old house, my home office—and thus, my computer—was at the kitchen table. This made sense, because, as a food writer, that's where much of my work takes place. Even when I wasn't working, I could always steal a moment to jump online and check email, shop for something that just popped into my head or check in on Facebook.
What this meant, of course, was that I filled a lot of little spaces in my life by popping open the computer. It seemed harmless, even good: "I have 10 minutes; let's see if that editor wrote me back." Or, "I have been meaning to get the kids' Halloween costumes; let's see what's on sale." And thus, I became a screen zombie.
I'm not alone We walk through airports, sit with friends in a bar, even drive—unable to resist the pull of whatever fascinating banality pops up next on the screen. This was something I had tried to avoid.
The happy Luddite
I deliberately don't own a smartphone or electronic tablet, which already makes me a Luddite in our over-stimulated world.
I wasn’t consciously planning to escape technology when I carved out part of our new guest room as my home office. But now the computer, and my electronic life, is a flight of steps away from where I hang out.
Technology, with intention
The effect has been immediate and dramatic. Suddenly, I only use my computer deliberately, either when working or when I have a reason to check in. And my sense of wellbeing has increased, as I live more in the physical world. I find that I spend more time interacting with my family, or just being alone with my thoughts. I even find time to read an actual print newspaper.
Tied to the mast
Putting a physical barrier between you and temptation is no new concept. Psychologist Walter Mischel describes in his new book, The Marshmallow Test, how children who attempt to delay eating a treat can wait much longer if they simply hide the treat from themselves.
According to Mischel (who also happens to be my former college psych professor), "If you are able to lock the temptation off and prevent yourself from gaining access, you're like Ulysses tied to the mast against the siren song."
Try taking a technology break
Certainly, there are a lot of luxuries built into my scenario—starting with the fact that I work from home. But if you wish to spend less time cozying up to a screen, I believe the lesson here is universal. Just tie your electronic device to the mast, whatever that means for you (turning the phone off after a certain time of night; putting the iPad in time-out …). Those messages will still be there when you come back.