“Technology is a useful servant – but a dangerous master.” Christian Louis Lange
At the time of writing this post I’m 34. At 17 I became the proud owner of a mobile phone, which means I’ve lived as much of my life with that little piece of technology in my pocket as I have without it. I’m old enough to remember sending a fax, using charge cards and phone boxes to call home (yes please, I would like to reverse the charges), flicking through encyclopedias to do my homework and making do with whatever was on the television, from the four (yes, only four!) channels available. When the internet came to our house, along with Microsoft Encarta and MindMaze (if ya know, ya know!), it opened up a whole new world of learning. I set up a MySpace account, dabbled in early HTML coding…and the rest is history.
I’ve embraced social media and technology, and love and enjoy it, but I can also remember life without it.
Working in communications, I spend most of my working day on social media. In my free time, I manage Twitter and Facebook pages for the choir I sing in, gossip on Facebook with the people I sing with and find plumbers, dog walkers and gutter cleaning people through my village Facebook group.
Unless I’m sleeping, I am always online.
And lately it’s become a problem – my work and home life are a bit blurred, my sleep’s been suffering, I don’t always listen as well as I should and my attention span is getting shorter. So when I saw the lovely Comms Unplugged folk were holding an event aimed at comms professionals who just wanted to be offline for a bit and learn stuff without the distractions of tech, I sent a link to my manager – because it was for comms people, and it looked amazing. It was in Dorset though – it would never actually happen!
But being the mega supportive boss she is, she saw the value in it and booked us up. And let me tell you, in just one day, it’s changed everything. Here’s what I learnt:
- Nothing beats having a conversation with a human – IRL! I met some inspirational people, like Saranne from Fresh Air Fridays, Heather Baily (who champions women in the police service and taught me the 20 things that confident people don’t do), and Philippa Stanton, who ran a creative workshop, opening our eyes to the beauty of ordinary things and teaching us to look at the world differently.
- Far from feeling awkward, standing on your own for a couple of minutes without talking to anyone or burying your head in your phone is actually liberating.
- Meditating on a log, with the sunshine warming your face, is the single best way to start the weekend.
- Dorset apple cake is a game.changer.
- Not taking photos of stuff doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
- Walking in the countryside, with nothing to listen to listen to but your own breath and the footsteps of people behind you, is one of the quickest ways to unwind.
- Alpacas don’t like to be alone (so it’s probably best I don’t get one as a pet).
- Unpluggers are some of the most accepting people you could ever hope to meet. Special shout out to Josephine, who joined me on my mindfulness walk and listened to my ramblings! I will learn to play that guitar.
- Even the Head of Comms at Twitter switches off his phone notifications.
- I’m going back next year. For the weekend. With my dog. And a tent.
When I got home, I stuck my phone on charge and told my husband all about my day. I barely picked my phone up again all weekend, apart from to make an actual phone call to my mum (to rave about Comms Unplugged). I found pleasure in other things – sitting in my garden and listening to the red kites. Getting immersed in a great film. Cooking a roast. My brain seemed to work better, and I slept like a baby. When I did check my phone again, I had 20 emails – but the Earth didn’t spin off its axis because I responded to them 24 hours later.
The challenge of course, will be in maintaining this balance going forward, and stopping some of those bad habits from creeping in. But Comms Unplugged gave me the wake-up call I needed, and I’m so thankful for that.
So why not give it a go? Live life in real time. Switch off. Get out. Look up. Magical things can happen.