Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Unexpected Bliss

I am back in the “world of technology again”. But the question that comes to mind is “What now...?”

Before I do a quick recap on my “experiment” without technology, let me first start by explaining how I feel about cell phones and modern communication methods now that the month has passed.

As my mother-in-law called it, I have been “weaned” off my cell phone. I have no trouble anymore just putting my cell phone down and forgetting about it when I need to be doing something else. I prefer reading a couple more chapters of a good book instead of checking the latest status updates on Facebook. I prefer leaving my phone at home when we go out to visit friends and family, because I want to be there in the moment, with THEM. (Plus my husband has his phone with him in case of an emergency). Without thinking twice, I leave my phone in the bedroom when spending time with my husband and children. Whoever needs to get hold of us, has my husband’s contact numbers and our landline number as well.

I am not trying to be rude or uncaring by not constantly carrying my phone with me anymore. If I am honest, I was being rude during the times I always did have my phone with me. I was missing out on moments in the lives of my husband, my children, my family, my friend. I teach my children that it is rude to interrupt someone while they are talking to someone else. But when my phone rings or I receive a message while spending time with someone, and I stop what I am doing to answer the phone or read the message, that is just like letting someone “interrupt” me. And then I am really just a big hypocrite who is teaching my children values that I cannot stick to myself. The phone can wait five minutes, ten minutes or longer even. I never ever want to risk sending a message to my loved ones that I do not think they are worthy or important enough, by allowing my phone or any other communication platform to “interrupt” my time with the ones I love.

The bottom line, and one of my new philosophies: Stop worrying about the amount of time left on your phone’s battery life and start worrying more about the amount of time you have left in your own life to spend with those you love most. Stop checking incoming emails after hours on your cell phone, tablet or laptop. You can always recharge your phone, you can always catch up on Facebook later, you can always read through your emails later. But you can never ever get back time that has passed which you could have spent with those who are the most important in your life. Turn down the volume on your car radio and listen to what your husband or kids have to say instead. Switch off the television when you have visitors. Don't just press the "mute" button. A television that is switched on, still causes a distraction, even without the volume. Shut out the outside world. Don't let it interrupt your conversations and time spent with those who matter most. In the world of virtual reality and technology, you can rewind or fast forward across time and space as much as you wish, but real life does not work that way. 

A lot can happen in one month... This is something I became intensely aware of while spending  my December purposefully avoiding modern communication technology.

Just to name a few examples: During the month of December, while I was “offline,” good friends of ours made the wonderful decision to start the process of adopting a baby. We also heard news that a new little niece or nephew will soon be welcomed into my husband’s side of the family. Furthermore we learned that my husband’s sister and her family will be moving to the Northern Cape some time this month. I was happy to realise that I did not need social media or even a cell phone to stay up to date with what is going on in the lives of the people close to us.

A month without the use of modern communication technology has passed in the blink of an eye. So much so, that I am writing this blog post much later than I had planned. Mostly because I have actually been enjoying the technology-free time.

Initially there were some mental adjustments to be made. For the first day or two, not having my cell phone with me, felt like having a limb missing. Not that I have experience with that, but figuratively speaking, it felt like I was missing a limb. Boredom – or “withdrawal symptoms, if you wish – peaked on day 5. I also felt a little bit lost at first, as I had no way of telling the time, because I usually just check the time on my cell phone. I have a watch, but the battery died years ago, and I never got around to replacing it. After embarking on this “adventure”, I promptly had my watch battery replaced.

With new mental adjustments in place, and after the “withdrawal symptoms” decreased significantly by day 6, I hardly ever thought about my phone, Facebook or other modern technology anymore. Unlike I had expected, I didn’t even miss knowing what was going on in local, national and international news. I was just happy being “in the moment”. For example, it took me by surprise when I heard via a family member that Pierre Korkie had been killed days after the event had occurred. The thing is, to me it feels like the majority of news is bad news. And whether you realise it or not, being constantly bombarded with negative news stories is emotionally draining. I know it is important to be informed about the world around you, but perhaps you don’t need to know what happens EVERY day. I still want to be informed, but I am considering only reading news every second or third day from now on. A “break” from negative news does wonders for one’s emotional well-being.

Some friends and family diverted to contacting me via my husband’s phone when they needed to make contact with me urgently, but this happened on a relatively irregular basis.

By the end of the first week, I realised that without my phone and all the apps that come with it, I was getting much more done every day. In fact, looking back on this past December holiday, it has been the most productive, yet most relaxing holiday I've ever had (as an adult). I also found that I slept a lot better every night. Perhaps being in constant contact with the world, makes your mind feel “cluttered”, resulting  in poorer quality sleep. I even felt a sense of improved general happiness without my phone and all my gadgets.

My husband and I started using our expensive High Definition Video Camera to take videos of our children, instead of just taking videos on our phones. And with me not hanging out on Facebook so much anymore, I found that my husband used Facebook even less than he used to (which means he practically never checked his Facebook anymore). Not having my phone with me all the time, also caused me to notice how much the people around me were using their phones. And how sad it was to see just how many people were sitting in pairs or in groups, yet they were all “alone”, busy with their own things on their phones, instead of engaging with one another.

At night, before I went to sleep, I held my husband’s hand instead of clutching my cell phone. I managed to read a whole stack of books that had been collecting dust on my bedside table for ages.

During the past month I have come to know an unexpected feeling of bliss, and a sense of serenity that can not be found in cyberspace. Give it a try, but not just for a day. Perhaps for at least a week? Dare yourself to answer a question about life without modern technology - starting with the simple words “What if...?”

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