I recently flew from San Francisco to Montreal and, for five blissful hours, I was disconnected, completely unreachable.
Now, understand, I am gadget man. I write about technology for a living and people are always asking me to empty my pockets. There’s usually something curious in them, like a dog translator or a wireless sniffer. I am also connected. My wireless laptop is by my side all the time. It’s my office during the day and my reference book and TV guide at night. It’s easier to get me via e-mail than through any other method. On the weekends it’s never far away. I typically have at least one cellular phone nearby. I think there are three in my house at the moment. So it’s never hard to find me. And people do, all the time. It’s sad and probably unhealthy, but it’s an occupational hazard. You can’t write about a technology-enhanced lifestyle if you don’t live it.
Switching all digital conduits off isn’t easy. It’s like disconnecting a life support system from a patient, but when I do it, the digital silence is gorgeous. You should try it sometime. When you do, make sure to plan for it. Choose the day or hours you will be offline. Tell everyone, but also tell them when you will be back. This second piece of information keeps potentially panicked interrupters calm. If someone balks, tell them to send an e-mail during your absence. E-mail waits for you, if you are disciplined. Silence your mobile phone by taking the chip under the battery out (and the temptation to cheat away). No one can call you, but if you have an emergency, you can still dial 911. If your phone has no chip, take the battery out and put it in a distant luggage pocket.
If you are down for a whole day but need to provide an emergency window, be near a phone for only one hour. Better still, have someone fetch you if a call comes in. Tell only people who love you about this communications window.
While you are disconnected, get news from third parties. Do not go near a TV or radio. Stay away from your laptop and the Internet. Newspapers are okay, as they deliver yesterday’s news, which is never urgent. Try to read a ponderous magazine.
Think. We spend way too much time using our minds to solve problems that have pressing deadlines. When you are off-line, you can think about problems, but be calmed that they are tomorrow’s problems, not today’s.
Talk to people. The airport shuttle driver told me about how San Francisco’s East Bay Bridge is being partially demolished and rebuilt for earthquake worthiness and for beautification. He read this in the newspaper. He told me the facts and then provided his opinion. It was an old-fashioned discussion, quite glorious.
Look at something up close. Did you know that still water in a glass at 37,000 feet develops fine and beautiful bubbles on the inside surface of the glass?
Look at people and wonder where they are going. I talked to a pretty girl in passing. She had a musical voice and I noticed the strawberries on her scarf. I’ll probably never see her again. That’s okay.
Drink lots of slightly chilled water. It’s usually a chore. Savor it.
Do not read packaging, except for ingredients. Ignore billboards. In fact, look away from all advertising.
Take three sheets of clean white paper, a pen, an envelope, and a stamp into your self-imposed analog exile.
Write a letter in longhand to someone. It’s hard to do. Your muscles will feel cramped, but it is a good ancient feeling, reminiscent of a past full of #2 soft lead pencils and hinged desks. Tell the recipient of the letter how you came to write to them.
Before the end of this indulgence, pause and wait 60 seconds. Consider the experience. Plan to do it again. Power up. Then use your technology to tell someone what you did and encourage them to do the same.