Unplugging – Restful or Stressful?
Four days from now it is National Day of Unplugging, which starts sundown, Friday, March 6th, and goes until sundown Saturday, March 7th. Now is a perfect opportunity to talk with youth about how they (and you) would feel about putting tech away for 24 hours (or less or more) for this National Day of Unplugging. The key questions to ask are, “Why do it?” “Will it be restful or stressful?” and “How to do it?”
The National Day of Unplugging started about a decade ago. The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, an adaption of the ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.
Now every year, there are more than 1,000 events around the country.
Even if it doesn’t work for you or your kids to unplug for a whole 24 hours, picking just a segment of that time, like maybe the night of March 6th, would be worthwhile. No matter what, these are questions worth brainstorming.
“Why do it?”
There are lots of reasons I will propose here, but of course, there are so many others as well.
One reason why is to “break free of automaticity.” I came up with this line thinking about National Day of UnPlugging. One gains a lot of insight from stepping out of habits. Noticing urges can be educational like the urge to check a phone, or laptop, or urge to pick up a video game controller. Thoughts may emerge like “Wow, I never thought how many times I go to do this or that,” or “Wow, I never knew it would be so hard to resist the urge to…,” or “Wow, it felt great knowing it was not an option for me to default to a screen during that period of time.”
Your family’s “why” may be to reclaim a sense of relaxing together. In a 2017 American Psychology Association survey of parents, 45 percent reported they felt disconnected from their families even when they were together, because of technology.
I just learned about the app, lilspace that matches business sponsors with people who unplug. For every minute the person disconnects, the business donates to a designated charity or non-profit. In March, when one uses the app to time their unplugged minutes, a sock manufacturer will give a new pair of socks to a person living in a homeless shelter.
Schools, or even just individual classes, can consider an unplugged day — it doesn’t have to be this week. Creating opportunities to rock the status quo is the perfect way to spark thoughtful discussions about how tech helps to learn, hinders it, affects student-teacher time together, and peer-to-peer time together. Framing an unplugged day at school as an “Experiment in Digital Citizenship” could be cool. Quest plans to organize an “unplugged moment” within our community this spring – stay tuned!
“Will it be restful or stressful?”
Some people welcome the event as a time of freedom from the constant mental pull of devices. This complete “no” can allow for other things to take place. Others may react by being flooded with anxious feelings.
Recently the MIT Review wrote about professor Ron Srigley’s work with his students. In 2015, Srigley asked his students to try going several days without using their cellphones at all. In 2019, he again asked students to do the same thing. Each year many students signed up for the challenge. Students from both years reported upsides and downsides of their experiences.
Some students reflected on the positives of not having a phone, reporting that it was easier to complete school work. “Writing a paper and not having a phone boosted productivity at least twice as much,” one of the students claimed. “You are concentrated on one task and not worrying about anything else.”
Some students gained essential insights during the challenge. One student wrote, “Having a cell phone has actually affected my personal code of morals and this scares me … I regret to admit that I have texted in class this year, something I swore to myself in high school that I would never do … “
Not surprisingly, in 2019, the students were more dependent. It was harder for them to go without their phones and all the tools that live on it, like the bus schedule or payment apps.
“How to do it?”
If you decide to unplug, how can you increase the chance that it is restful? One way is to plan. For a long time, I experimented every Tuesday, unplugging from dinner until the next morning. Any habit change is indeed an experiment, and it took me a while to realize how important it was for me to plan the emails I would need to send before I sat down for dinner. I also needed to plan alternative things to do so I could resist the urge to grab my laptop. For instance, I would set out a beading project and put a fun magazine by my couch, which I had meant to read, such as National Geographic or Eating Well. During these months, one thing I loved was that I was more relaxed and available to my family every Tuesday night.
You might suggest a card game in place of a video game or how about a scavenger hunt for things they might find outside? Or, if you are driving somewhere, maybe talk about those car games we used to do in the “olden days” where we looked for different license plates from different states.
Here are some questions to get the discussion going about the National Day of Unplugging:
If you were to unplug for the day, what do you expect would be the best things about the day? What would be the worst things?
What are some ways you would set up the day so there wouldn’t be so much of a pull to your devices?
Do you think you could gather a group of friends to unplug for 24 hours? Or a different amount of time?
This post has been shared with permission and originally appeared on March 3, 2020 as part of the Tech Talk Tuesday blog on the Screenagers website.