Going Off the Grid: Battling Your Secret Phone Addiction

Just the phrase: “Going off the Grid,” makes me think of Jack Bauer embarking on an undercover mission as part of the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) on the tv series 24.  It conjures up thoughts of danger and intrigue…but this blog is all about turning off the power on your cell phone.  Seems simple enough right?  If you are addicted to your smart phone — blackberry, iPhone, whatever your poison of choice may be, the concept might rock your world, but I want to challenge you to go off the grid at least one day a week.

How much technology do you think is a good thing?  Do you still feel a buzz of anticipation when you walk to your mailbox to receive a letter, or are those good ol’ days long gone?  I remember working in L.A. in a fast-paced film industry job where I was typing all day long permanently glued to my email inbox, awaiting the next important correspondence. I would sometimes fantasize of tap dancing into my boss’s office, breaking into song and singing, “Here’s your memo!” This simple act would then encourage my boss to get up and reply in a song and dance that would seamlessly transition into a spectacular musical overture.

There are obvious pros to using your computer for email correspondence: increasing work productivity by increasing your accessibility, but how accessible do you want to be?  When I worked in the film biz in L.A. I resisted buying a smart phone for quite a while.  I can remember rushing home to read my work emails and how relieved I felt when I got my first iPhone because I could reply to work emails during my commute or on lunch breaks etc, hoping that by the time I got home I would be finished work for the night.  But, the chain of correspondence doesn’t end there.  It continues like a hamster running on a wheel.  It’s continuous with no break in sight.

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like without your phone?  Probably not, right?  Well, I’ll tell you…  You will have to be alone with your own thoughts a lot more often.  You won’t be able to check emails, play video games while riding the subway, or be able to distract yourself in a public setting while waiting for a friend to meet you for coffee.  You also will NOT be able to annoy others by forgetting to turn your phone off during a movie and you won’t be that rude relative at a family function who pulls their phone out to check that urgent email (which is probably not so urgent).

Have you ever found any of your close friends have chosen texting as their preferred methods of communication?  I feel there’s a certain disconnect from the world, a lack of tangibility and interface that I miss when texting.  And while email is so great and really perfect for quick correspondence, texting for me seems to take it over the edge into a bizarro alternate reality.  Tell me if this strikes you as odd:  I’ll be texting with a friend and then I will call them on the same phone they are texting me from (mainly because I’m tired of typing and would rather speak to them directly), but they will NOT answer the phone — the same phone they were just communicating with via text.  I could write a whole other blog just about the social implications of texting and why it has become an easy escape for people who don’t want to engage on a deeper level, but let’s stick with the subject of time.

Do you ever wish there were more hours in the day?  Sometimes I might work at my computer going through daily emails and time will just evaporate.  The accessibility and expectation to reply to an email right away, allows time to slip right through our fingers.  Perhaps The Days of our Lives soap opera said it best, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”  I find time just melts away and before I realize, it’s time to go to sleep.

How much time is acceptable to wait until you get a reply via email?  Half a day?  24 hours?  A few days?  A week?  I feel like we are entering into unchartered territory with this question because it’s kind of a grey area.  Most people I know march to their own drum and decide what works for them.  I think this grey area is where people get into trouble because you have the type-A folk, like myself, who like to reply right away so they don’t have an email to reply to later.  I’d rather reply and not have a task hanging over my head.  On the flip-side, you have people with desk jobs whose inboxes are continually flooded.  How do you prioritize that correspondence and not seem like a complete zero when you reply to someone and a week has gone by?  I’m all for marching to your own drum beat, but I am going to try to create at least one golden rule for myself — and try going off the grid at least one day a week.  I’ve created a little quiz to see how close a relationship you have with your smart phone, tablet or computer:

  • How often do you check your email daily?
  • When is the first and last time you check your emails each day?
  • Are you scared by your own reactions to the first two questions above?
  • If you had to go on a fast from your blackberry, could you survive?
  • How often to do you use your phone or computer in the bedroom?
  • Have you switched over to reading your books/newspapers on a tablet/ipad?
  • How much time do you spend each week without relying on any technology?
  • Would you like to spend more time without technology?

Keeping all those questions in mind, I challenge you to my test of GOING OFF THE GRID for at least one day a week.  If you’re concerned that close friends, co-workers, or family members will flip out if you don’t hit reply instantly, let them know you are starting to do this and not to worry on the day you “go off the grid.”  Good luck!