Unplugging and Work-Life Balance


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Unplugging and Work Life Balance | A Practical Wedding

The other night, the baby was in bed, the weather was lovely, and I asked David to come downstairs with me and hang out in the hammock. David’s never been one for sitting and staring into space with me (ruining many a perfectly good vacation moment, if you ask me), meaning a double hammock is the smartest thing I’ve ever bought. Once he’s IN the hammock, it’s hard to get out, so I’ve effectively trapped him with his own laziness. Marriage!

Anyway.

So we were lying together in the hammock, holding hands, watching the sun turn the tops of the trees pink, and listening to the birds sing their farewell song. I realized the moment reminded me of the best parts of my childhood, and that I hadn’t been able to just sit and enjoy my surroundings like this for ages. The hard work of unplugging was finally paying off, and for the first time in a long time I felt like my work was serving my life, instead of my life serving my work.

We all know that the American media landscape is currently obsessed with work-life balance. Every other second this year we’re discussing leaning in, leaning out, having it all, not having it all, and the time juggle. It is, perhaps, a particularly American idea, having it ALL. We’re the land of huge houses, huge cars, huge credit card debts, and hugely long working days, so we were never going to be worried about having just enough. Nope. We want it all. And we’re juggling and hustling and stressing and guilting ourselves as we strive for a goal that we are convinced isn’t impossible, even with kids (especially with kids!). And you know, that goal might not be impossible if the average American work week wasn’t 46 hours, plus another 7 hours at home, plus 18 hours a week on housework (I’m a failure, apparently…), plus an hour of commute time a day, and we were not spending 21 hours a week doing intensive parenting of kids (up from 10 in 1965, when the majority of mothers didn’t work outside the home). That goal might not be impossible if Americans didn’t take only 2–3 non-consecutive weeks of vacation a year (that they worked during). But if having it all means 53 hours of work a week plus 18 hours of chores plus 7 hours of commuting plus 21 hours of parenting plus only 2.5 weeks of (working) vacation a year, whelp. You do the math. (No, I’ll do it for you. If you add that up and assume 8 hours of sleep a night, that gives the average American a grand total 13 free hours a week, give or take. And by “free time” I mean time they need to spend eating and dressing themselves. Holy. Hell.) The American system is rigged for exhaustion and over work, and instead of lighting the system on fire, we’re playing into it by filling our hours with even MORE. More emails, more status updates, more websites to check, more guilt. More.

Apparently, as with all cultural questions, the French do it differently. (I didn’t even like Paris that much when we visited, so it’s annoying that they have all the good wine and socialism, and answers to cultural riddles.) According to Pamela Drunkerman in her book Bringing Up Bébé, The French strive for équilibre. Equilibrium. The idea is that a life should be balanced, with not too much of any one thing. Work, sex, marriage, (parenthood), a social life, pleasure—all aspects of your life should be present, but no one thing should overwhelm the other. Instead of a mad dash to be it all and do it all, to work a sixty-hour week and be the perfect mother with the iconic marriage, the goal is a balance that results in pleasure. The goal, in essence, is less. (With wine.)

Huh.

Last month, I wrote about my quest to unplug on weekends. I described the issue this way, “My problem wasn’t so much working in front of computers all day. My problem was the way my brain was reacting off of computers. My old, less jumpy brain was what I was missing. I missed that unspooling reel of thought. I missed writing longhand and not wondering if an email had come in while I was doing it. I missed staring up at the leaves on a tree and thinking about nothing in particular.” And said, “Even as I watch myself, and those around me, cramming our days with messages to check, alerts to read, and Pinterest boards to fill, I know those actions are not really our goal. We’re reading blogs because we crave smart conversation and connection. We’re pinning things to remind us of what our lives could be. We’re finding places online that we fit, to remind us of who we are. But at some point you have to stop pinning, and start doing. Sure, those pinboards of party ideas are great, but what’s really excellent is lying around the deck with your friends eating cake, not thinking about doing it.”

The tricky part was this: my brain has gotten used to the pleasurable feeling of the internet—of waiting for the next email to come in, of going from website to website, of looking for the next status update on Twitter or Facebook. At some point, my brain’s desire for the next hit of dopamine out-stripped why I originally loved the internet: finding and reading interesting things, meeting cool people. Because with so much content, so many tabs open, so many constantly updating feeds, I stopped doing what I used to do online: poking around and reading stuff. Alexander Nazaryan recently wrote a piece for The New York Times about how he uses the internet to soothe his anxiety, which, God knows I know a thing or two about. When his daughter was born, he went online to avoid thinking about the terrifying and huge change he just made to his life. He said, “I don’t want to call it addiction, to trivialize the suffering of alcoholics and compulsive gamblers. It is more like reliance, a psychological craving that will only be satisfied by the calming swipes of my finger across the smooth, shimmering screen of a device. Thus, as my wife was going into her tenth hour of labor, I was blasting through my Instapaper reading list, making sure I was fully informed about both the future of Syria and hipster mustaches. The next day, the first day of my daughter’s life, I was back on Facebook, wallowing in inanity like a pig in mud.” And he further noted, “I am far from alone. Some researchers are pushing for inclusion of Internet Use Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Which makes me think we’re avoiding calling it an addiction to make ourselves feel better, if we’re being honest.

Going online feels good, in the way that addictive behaviors often do. Going online makes me feel good right now. I can check for those emails, re-pin a few pretty images, and delay taking action on things by doing some more “research.” (Seriously. What amount of research do I really need to do on legging jeans?) I do this, and my brain lights up with pleasure. But that short-term rush takes prescience over the harder work of building long-term happiness. The search for that momentary dopamine high supplants the creation of real pleasure.

I thought I would be reporting back about how good I’d been at unplugging, and if it had helped solved that jumpy feeling of internet addiction. But it turns out, in the last two months, the changes are bigger than that. When I was a kid, growing up without a TV, I was regularly asked, “What do you DO with your time?” And my response would always be, “When do you have time to watch TV? I don’t get it.” If you don’t have passive media to consume, you just get on with living your life. You don’t ponder an absence; you just focus on what’s present. Set in that context, the changes in our lives in the last two months make sense. What’s really changed is the amount that we’re doing. I’ve kept up my needlepoint. We started a new chore plan (and the kitchen is currently spotless). I started project “Let’s get some postpartum clothes that make me feel hot” (which means actually going to stores with the baby in tow to try things on, because I don’t go online over the weekends). We cheered the baby in his jolly jumper. We spent time in the hammock. We started a massive Parenthood marathon (because I didn’t sign up for no TV). We made a lot of trips to the farmers market. I got into a good groove on doing laundry. And I learned two new hairstyles (after a lifetime of not knowing what to do with my hair) and am finally working to learn how to do the cat eye. Oh yeah, and we went to some parties.

Good stuff, right?

The thing is, as enjoyable as life has become, and as many cool projects as I’ve taken on, unplugging has been hard. I don’t want to pitch it to you otherwise. It’s gotten easier, but it’s something that usually takes vigilance. My brain has adjusted to the idea that in a moment of downtime, I should check something. If I’m sitting on the couch bored for two seconds, I want to flip through my Instagram feed, or check in on Facebook (even though I don’t care what’s there). So I find myself saying no, and refocusing on the moment a lot. I’m having to learn how to be bored again.

It also means that my time online is limited, and that I always feel a little behind. There is a lag time for me answering emails, these days (though after getting down to inbox zero on maternity leave, I’m still able to stay on top of things). And there are always things I mean to do and haven’t done yet: order something, check a blog post, flip through a specific Pinterest board, read an article. But it does mean that I’m forced to consume media more consciously. And as my brain has gotten used to working without distraction, it’s changed the way I use the internet. I’m writing this without other tabs open to distract me, for the first time in a long time.

But mostly, it’s changed my relationships. Jonathan Safran Foer wrote an op-ed for The New York Times last weekend where he said, “Everyone wants his parent’s, or friend’s, or partner’s undivided attention—even if many of us, especially children, are getting used to far less. Simone Weil wrote, ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.’ By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.” And he’s right. As I’ve worked on unplugging, I’ve noticed more when we’re really present. I’ve noticed when I have to ask for David’s complete attention by asking him to put down his phone. I’ve noticed when he’s had to ask for mine when I’m busy checking email. And I notice those moments when we could be chilling with our kid, but are instead checking for Facebook updates we don’t even care about. Of course, it’s not always that simple. There are times when work needs to be done, and emails need to be checked, and God knows the baby doesn’t need us in his face all the time. But building a life takes the unspooling of time. Life is the moments in between. Looking around your kitchen and thinking about how it reminds you of your grandmother’s. Glancing over at the baby and seeing him go wild with glee. Having that long conversation with your husband. Being bored and seeing where that takes you.

In many ways, fixing the American system of ALL-ness is out of our reach. We can opt in or out of its insane hours and quest for more stuff, but it’s often hard to find a middle ground, or work to achieve structural change. But what we can stop creating false busyness, of trying to prove something with our frenetic energy. The New York Times article “The Busy Trap” contains a line that has become my new mantra. “If your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.” I have a job I really love. It makes me happy, and often it matters to others. But at the end of the day, I’m not a brain surgeon. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, and a lot of jobs that mattered. Some mattered in terms of creating joy (the Turkish coffee house), some mattered in terms of function (the gas station), some mattered in terms of money (the investment bank). But none of them, no matter how they were spun by my bosses, were life or death. We’re pros in this country at creating false urgency. And the internet has turned us all into our own mini-bosses: must check that email, must read that blog post, must respond to that tweet, deadline deadline deadline.

Unplugging allowed me to step back and get some perspective on what matters in the flesh and blood world. And it’s my kid, my husband, my friends, and doing work I love. It’s not if this particular blog post goes up late, or unedited, or not at all. It’s not responding to my endless social media messages. It’s not the tyranny of my email inbox. So much of my internal landscape is devoted to proving my enough-ness. I worked enough today, I contributed enough, it was hard enough, I was miserable enough. And what matters way more than the struggle, but the joy. It’s not the emails, it’s the glass of wine with my family.

I don’t have it all. But I do have just enough. And I’m aiming for équilibre.

****

Some of you vowed to join me in some version of unplugging or doing something on your pinboard, and I cannot wait to hear your thoughts.

View from my hammock, as taken on an unplugged Polaroid camera, by Jillian (aka, APW Sponsor Little Bat Photography). 

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

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  • Liz

    I’m glad that your experiment worked well for you.

    I’m curious though – given that you work online for your job, maybe switching off is necessary for that very reason. When your job and your internet addiction go hand in hand, I think unplugging makes sense.

    But if you work a job outdoors or a manual trade, or you research in an archive and take long hand notes all day or all week, a few hours on the couch on a weekend with your laptop also makes a lot of sense. Unplugging, escapism of a different sort.

    Each to their own, maybe.

    • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

      I think about this often, too, and it’s one of the reasons that I’d like me next job not to be computer-centric. I’m tired of sitting in one spot for most of the day, and I’d prefer to be more intentional with my computer usage. Currently, I don’t even want to get online for necessary household tasks after work because I’m internet-ed out. I imagine if my job didn’t require computer usage, I might be better able to go online and read interesting things, then get offline and write about them.

    • Liz

      To clarify, as I didn’t do a good job of articulating this before –

      I understand that Meg is trying to actually create more rather than simply observing, and that by going unplugged with technology she’s actually trying to ‘plug in’, I just think that the extent to which you need to do that probably depends on the time of work you do.

      I’m always going to want to write letters while listening to music, or going for long walks or any number of things in the same vein, but I probably don’t need a whole weekend without technology because I am both a teacher and a researcher. We all need different things.

      • meg

        Probably, yes. That totally makes sense. Though playing on a cell phone is a pretty widespread problem. That’s one of the things I’m cutting down on, and that’s not really work related for me.

        • MDBethann

          Except for when I get weird looks from people, I’m incredibly happy that I have yet to upgrade to a “smart” phone. I can call & text on my phone, which is all I really need. Would it be nice to check traffic while I’m on the road? Yes, but there’s the radio for that. And if we need to find a detour around something, we either get help from the built-in GPS in our car or our trusty road atlas.

          I hope I can find another “dumb” phone when my current one dies. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay out of the cell phone game trap.

          • Abby J.

            You know, I really thought I would have the same problem – I resisted getting a smart phone for the longest time. But since having it, I’ve discovered I really just text, call, and use the GPS most of the time (I don’t have a car GPS.) I don’t have any games on the phone, and the only app I use regularly is the Kindle reader app….reading books while in the waiting room, at lunch, etc.

          • Not Sarah

            I actually recently turned off data on my “smart”phone. I’d considered getting rid of the thing entirely, but it’s not all that hard to turn off the internet and I love the threaded text messaging. I just can’t go back to not being able to see the text message that I’m replying to. I can’t!

            I pretty much just use my smartphone for texting and the occasional email at home when I don’t feel like opening up the laptop. I hardly even use it for calling since I have a VOIP line.

          • Sara

            I agree w/this entire comment except for 1 part: I couldn’t care less what kind of looks I get from people! I figure all the people with smart-phones are suckers, paying ridiculous and exorbitant monthly fees for the privilege of feeding their small-screen addictions. Seriously. They can look at me and my “dumb” phone any way they want; I am completely content.

          • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

            I love my fancy phone (dumb phone with keyboard so I can actually text) too! Every now and then I see the merits of a smart phone. But let’s be honest, that’s mostly when I’m visiting places I don’t know at all and won’t go back to for a while.

          • MDBethann

            @Sara – I really don’t care what people think either, it’s just annoying after awhile when people ask about my phone. Though I should be used to it by now – my previous phone was a Samsung Juke – it had a really odd shape, like it was trying to be a skinny iPod or something, which honestly made it a bit challenging to use. At least my current phone looks like a standard flip phone and I LOVE the QWRTY keyboard on it. I think I get the weird looks b/c people seem to have forgotten what a flip phone looks like!

          • k

            I don’t have a cell phone at all — talk about weird looks. I might as well be saying, “I live in a shack and stockpile ammunition.” I have a land line for $20 a month and people can leave me a freakin’ message and I’ll call them back. I don’t need to pay five times as much as I pay now to carry an electronic tracking device everywhere with me so people can bug me at any moment of the day or night.

    • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

      yes. i really feel like working at a computer all day almost forces me into an internet addiction. this may be specific to being in an office, but i find that when i need to take a break from work while at work, screwing around online is one of the only options available to me – on the occasions that i work from home, i can take my break by doing dishes or playing with the dog, which are much more fun and effective, as well as not fueling the internet addiction.

      • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

        Yes, definitely! My job is flexible, and my boss and coworkers don’t really care if I choose to work from home or from a cafe. But the guilt I feel leaving the office (shirker!) really prevents me from taking advantage of that flexibility. I know to work my best, I need to use my hands/body for other things, not just stare at the screen. Even so, it was a major revelation when I started planning on going home for lunch rather than pretending I was working so hard I couldn’t step away.

      • Erin E

        Yes – in definite agreement here. When I worked from home, my dog walk breaks were the best… don’t they say that there’s something about getting away from your environment (read: office/computer screen) that fuels creativity? Now that I’m back in an office, I’m trying to leave the building for short little walks and to eat lunch on the picnic bench outside that no one uses. Maybe this will help the internet addiction.

        • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

          I used to work in an office where all of the surrounding street parking was 2 or 3 hour zones. The breaks I got from going to move my car every 2-3 hours broke up my day so nicely that I found myself missing them on the rare occasion that I found an all day spot. Plus I got really good at parallel parking.

  • http://www.theadvicist.com/ The Advicist

    I do think Liz has a point, that what you do all day impacts how much internet time interferes with your downtime.

    I remember a time (not that long ago) when I didn’t have a home internet connection, precisely because I used a computer all day at work, and it was the last thing I wanted to be doing in the evenings.

    But then I got a connection… not long after I started blogging, and from there on in, my computer usage went way up. And not just in the obvious way of writing, and actually blogging. But in connecting, socialising online, keeping up with other blogs. I was wasting a LOT of time reading other blogs that I thought was ‘part of my job’. But really, it was just an excuse for the dopamine rush, as Meg described.

    When I found out google reader was closing, I weirdly felt relief! I was reading a lot of blogs out of habit, or, to be brutally honest, nosiness. I took that relief as an important message, and decided to stop using RSS altogether. I reasoned that if there was a blog I really liked, I would check up on it, of course I would. (Oh, hi, APW!).

    So even though I didn’t join the original challenge, over the last few months I’ve tried to cut back my consumption too. And I’ve found that when I’m not aware of the new information (ie, I can’t see it in my RSS stream), I don’t miss it. I never wonder what some of those people are doing, and they are the same people whose updates on their latest painting project I would read about daily!

    Same with Facebook. If I check it, I get into a habit of checking it. If I just ignore it unless I get a private message, I don’t think about it at all.

    Also, I’ve just come back from France. I love (and hate) how most shops shut for a long lunch. It’s frustrating because it always seems to be when I want to buy something! But it’s lovely because it really made me realise it’s not important to get exactly what I want, as soon as I want it. And because everyone is taking lovely, long, proper lunches. I don’t think it’s going to stay that way for long though – I think the 24/7 culture is sadly taking over Europe too.

    • http://www.kristinyc.wordpress.com kristinyc

      I’m using Google Reader ending as an excuse to cut back too! There are really only a handful of blogs that I really enjoy reading regularly – and I check them on my own anyway.

      • JEM

        This is a great idea. I’ve been panicking (literally. weird, I know) over finding another reader, which is probably a good sign I just need to cut it out/cut it down.

        • Liz

          For what it’s worth, I have always hated google reader. I’m using BlogLovin’ and like it. Then again, most of the blogs I follow are not updated frequently.

        • Sara

          I use Feedly, which syncs to google reader for the time being so there’s no new set up.

          Not that you should or shouldn’t cut back. Just offering up an option :)

  • KINA

    “Unplugging allowed me to step back and get some perspective on what matters in the flesh and blood world. And it’s my kid, my husband, my friends, and doing work I love. It’s not if this particular blog post goes up late, or unedited, or not at all. It’s not responding to my endless social media messages. It’s not the tyranny of my email inbox. So much of my internal landscape is devoted to proving my enough-ness. I worked enough today, I contributed enough, it was hard enough, I was miserable enough. And what matters way more than the struggle, but the joy. It’s not the emails, it’s the glass of wine with my family.”

    THIS! This is awesome.

    I come from a family that has always emphasized balance, and while I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, it’s certainly a guiding principle and something that I aspire to. I actually keep a list of different things I enjoy doing or normally do every day and go through it each day (so, that’s definitely obsessive too, but it helps me remember a few of the things I could be doing with my time and helps prevent me from getting super locked into one thing).

    I did some unplugging consciously, but it was while I was on vacation, so I don’t know if it counts. But boy, did I enjoy it! It was just great to remember that the Internet/constant contact isn’t everything (or sometimes, anything at all).

    • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

      unplugging counts double on vacation.

      • meg

        Yup. I’ve never had a problem unplugging on vacation. We ALWAYS do it, and it’s one of the most important things we do for our relationship every year. It’s time just to plug into each other, hang out, tell jokes, etc. No reporting back what we’re doing to the internet. It’s great. (We got in this habit with a few vacations out of the country where our phones didn’t work, which was handy.)

        And I’ve noticed when I unplug on weekends, it then feels like vacation.

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          YES! I mean most of the time when I unplug on weekends it’s at the boyfriend’s place and he lives in a different state so it is kind of vacation anyway. But knowing that I won’t have internet access at his place unless it’s an intentional decision to seek it out helps me focus on work during the week and focus on us during weekends.

      • Moe

        Confession:

        On our honeymoon, we often got online to watch our dog on web cam while she was boarded.

        “I wonder what Lucy’s doing.” …and we watched her ignore the other dogs in the play pen.

        • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

          I love that you checkd on your dog via webcam on your honeymoon, that’s so sweet!

          We shared a lot of photos via FB and Instagram while on our honeymoon, but we weren’t checking them so much as sharing our joy, if that makes sense?

          • Moe

            Sometimes I consider them brag-photos. “look how happy I am, bitches.”

            :D

          • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

            I love seeing those pictures. I think it has to do with “The Good” and how rarely we see it online. Pictures tend to be one of the few ways people show the great stuff in life, and it always makes me smile to see friends share awesome stuff.

            Also, Moe, I couldn’t reply to you specifically, but #instabrag is a thing :)

  • Kristen

    I mentioned in the comments here a while ago that Meg’s original Unplug Post had caused me to pay more attention to my attention when doing things. That has continued and I am so grateful for this follow up. I’ve not only found myself focusing on the smell of the air or the feel of a warm breeze or the pink of cotton candy much more because I don’t have my phone or camera in front of my nose all the time, but I’ve also been able to improve my photography.

    In an effort to live my life instead of just record it, I am also more careful and measured in the photographs I take and therefor I have less to dig through to find the gems. Recently I’ve gone to a parade and the zoo and have been able to take 1/3 the number of photos I normally do and then I make myself throw out all but the best. Applying the less is more tactic to different aspects of life really makes a difference.

    This last weekend I found myself sitting on a bench at the zoo, watching the giraffes and kids playing and eating popcorn and drinking a Summer Shandy and life felt wonderful. I wanted to take an Instagram – Hey everyone, look how awesome my life is! But instead I just held my husbands hand and we enjoyed living life. It was perfect and I’m glad I’m learning to shut off the part of me that wants to record it all.

    P.S. I’m all doped up on Mucinex and Dayquil so apologies if this is mostly gibberish.

    • meg

      Yeah, I was lying around listening to my kid giggle with David yesterday, and thought, “I should grab my phone and make a video.” And then I was like “Nah, I should just remember it.”

      • Kristen

        Because my David and I like photography and videos as artistic expression, we try to set aside times specifically for taking pictures of the dogs or making a stop motion video with toys – stuff we’ll also do when we have kids as well I imagine. Sometimes having that stuff scheduled helps me relax about “missing” things when I force myself not to pick up the camera or my phone to record something as it happens. It doesn’t make the memory of spending a summer afternoon drinking beer on a patio with friends any sweeter if I Instagram it.

        • MDBethann

          That’s a good idea and I’ll have to keep that in mind for when we have children. It won’t work with our cats because they are only playful when THEY want to play and not when we want them to play, but children are a lot more flexible than cats :-)

          I think capturing things via pictures or video is important though. One of my friends was annoyed the other day when his wife took him and their daughters for pictures (their youngest had just turned 4); he HATES posing for pictures and wondered why we do it when we are given a memory. Because I’ve been watching my grandmother lose a lot of her memories for the last few years, my response to my friend was this: “So when you are old and your brain doesn’t retain memories as well, you have pictures to look at to jog your memories.”

          I also found photographs to be very helpful in learning family history with my grandparents when I was in school. If I would just ask them questions, they wouldn’t have answers, but if I had pictures or some names to jog their memories, I could get A LOT of information from them.

          Because of these things, I don’t look at photographs or video as REPLACING memories, but as keys to unlocking our memories when they become distant. Much the same way a parent might pull out a stored article of baby clothing to remember how tiny their children once were and how they smelled.

          • Tina

            I completely agree with this. For me, I’ve noticed that the way I take my pictures has changed. I love photography and playing around with stuff, but I spend more time editing one moment with what’s cool and trendy and how many filters I can use to make that moment look perfect rather than focusing on the experience as a whole.

            Meanwhile, I’ve gotten less camera obsessed about family gatherings and other functions. I think I’m going to miss those when I want a memory jogged. I need physical reminders to jog my memory and I’m not even that old! I just went back and re-read a travel diary, and I couldn’t believe how it brought some things back that I hadn’t remembered or thought about. I also obsess over old pictures so I want to have pics around when I’m older too.

            I’m getting to the point where I think that getting family photos at a specific point in time is important. Taking a picture of the swirl of my latte with my backyard in the background doesn’t need to happen all the time. I won’t really need to remember that. :)

          • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

            There’s a key difference between taking photos at important moment or events and the constant need to photograph everything. The way digital technology allows us to take hundreds of throwaway photos to come up with a handful of decent ones makes it really easy to get caught up in taking pictures rather than recording a couple of important memories for posterity. It’s not photo-worthy every single time I look hot, or the dog does something cute or I make dinner. Some of those times? Yes. All of those times? No.

    • Shiri

      “Hey everyone, look how awesome my life is! But instead I just held my husbands hand and we enjoyed living life.”

      Yes, this. Instead of feeling the awesome and reveling in it, we have to share it. Otherwise, we can’t prove to others that it existed. Eff others, we need to remind ourselves that its there, and just feel it.

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    Favorite part:
    God knows the baby doesn’t need us in his face all the time. (Picturing him doing a sassy finger roll and insisting that you give him some *#%$ room.)

    Okay the whole thing was great, really enjoyed this read. I work on the Internet all day so I completely identify with this and have been taking a similar step back. I don’t bring my laptop home from the office unless it’s an emergency. My iPad having water damage and thus taking a while to turn on has been revolutionary. It’s a work in progress but I am LOVING it!

    • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

      PS try this, I dare you: http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com

      • Jashshea

        Sonuva! My work computer must re-ping at one minute. I swear I wasn’t touching anything.

      • KEA1

        LOVE that, and I also find it hilarious that it’s apparently available on the App Store!! =O

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

        AWESOME-SAUCE. Totally.

    • meg

      Perhaps unsurprisingly, my kid *is* very sassy, and does like his space now and then. So, you’re not far off.

    • Moe

      My home laptop crashing is probably one of the better things that happened to me this year.

  • Sarahrose

    Love that you emphasized the value of learning to be bored again. That is something when I moved abroad this past year that I very actively tried to do. And it really is wonderful how much more thinking and imagining you end up doing when you give yourself solid chunks of time to be bored — no blogs on my smartphone, no podcasts on my iPod, just staring out the window on the train and watching the world go by, maybe looking around and noticing the people around me.

    I’ve read that there’s a bit of research about that one of the main ways we (used to) use downtime — whether it’s commuting or standing in line at the grocery stores — is to imagine and plan social situations. Maybe it’s imagining how to ask out that co-worker you’ve been crushing on for ages, planning how to surprise a friend for his birthday, or processing how you could have been kinder in that last argument you had with your mother.

    Point being, I think there is a double benefit in terms of our relationships to letting myself have that mental downtime: first, I pay attention to other people when they are actually there, but secondly, I have time to actively work on my relationships and myself, even when I’m not with them.

    • meg

      Mmm, interesting, I didn’t know that! But it seems true to me. I planned a baby shower in the… wait for it… shower this weekend. (Rim shot!)

      • Paranoid Libra

        A reason why I enjoy taking longer showers before bed as I just relax in there instead of the race to get out to get to work. I do let my mind wander as there isn’t anything else to distract.

        ….I swear I am not in there for the same reasons as a boy in puberty might take a long shower.

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          My junior Girl Scout leader predicted we would all be taking morning showers by the time we got to high school. I like proving her wrong.

          Bedtime is important. Having the wind-down with time to reflect on my day (whether to my parents when I lived at home, in my journal through college, or on the phone with my boyfriend) helps me fall asleep. My evening shower is where I separate from the day and give myself mental space to begin that routine.

    • http://raisingthedough.wordpress.com Marina

      That is really fascinating to me… and I think that may be a big reason I feel strongly drawn towards pointless internet usage during my downtime, specifically so I can avoid planning social situations. Maybe there’s a healthier way to do it, but I find that rehashing past situations or imagining future ones makes me super anxious both during my downtime and then the next time I see the person I was thinking about.

  • http://kbegnaud.tumblr.com Kathryn

    Speaking to the work/life/everything balance- I got married a few weeks ago and I will start a new job teaching in an intense inner-city charter school known for longer hours for both students and teachers. The weight of the work sometimes keeps me up at night. (It’s kids! And education! And achievement gap!) But I received some good advice not too long ago: “You are going to love your job. It will be so awesome. And at certain points you’re going to have to say ‘screw the job’ because that’s what it’s going to take sometimes for you to find your balance with your marriage.” I wish it didn’t have to take me saying “screw the job” to get my brain to actually switch over when it needs to, but I think that’s my first baby step to finding balance. Hopefully it won’t have to be such a forced shift but can eventually become an easier flow between all parts of my life. That flow is my goal.

    Also, on a different note, I think my online habits have affected my attention span and I hate it. I used to be able to sit still far longer and not get so antsy during long meetings, presentations, church services, etc. I think it’s the constant clicking, tab-switching, app-tapping, inbox-checking to blame.

    • Corrie

      “I think my online habits have affected my attention span and I hate it. I used to be able to sit still far longer and not get so antsy during long meetings, presentations, church services, etc. I think it’s the constant clicking, tab-switching, app-tapping, inbox-checking to blame.”

      THIS. Ever since I got a laptop and a smartphone, I’ve found myself feeling more antsy. I actually thought to myself one time, “omg I think I’m getting ADD!” I hate it and I’ve been trying to actively recognize those moments and tell myself to chill. the-freak. out. and focus on the task at hand.

    • meg

      Yup. There is a bunch of research about this, which is one of the reasons I’ve been working to intentionally unplug for two days in a row. Unplugging for a shorter amount of time doesn’t help my brain re-wire. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve noticed real changes in how my brain works, even during the week. I’m sure if they did a study of me, my brain would actually be changing somehow.

      • Caroline

        Maybe I need to unplug more. I unplug for Shabbat every week, but it really hasn’t helped my attention span. I too hate how short it has gotten!! I used to just sit and read a book for hours and now, even when it is really good, I feel like I have to ( aka I want to) check my phone, check email, Facebook, APW, etc. I’m trying a two week Facebook ban. I tried a someone’s tip in a previous post about uninstalling facebook on the phone. That worked for two weeks then I got used to typing it into the browser on my phone. I love the Internet but I’m really sick of it too.

  • Shauna

    I think this issue is so interesting! I tend to surf the Internet mindlessly at home (same stuff mentioned here – browsing Pinterest, researching random trivia, checking blogs and social media), and periodically ask myself whether I am wasting time. Could I be doing something more worthwhile? If so, what would that be? Am I wasting time, or relaxing? I’m not always sure about the distinction.

    • Tina

      This! Am I wasting time or relaxing? My usual internal narrative goes something like this, “I have no less than 15 projects I want to do. I have 10 things I NEED to do, but it’s been such a busy week. I just want to relax.” Then I hate myself for “wasting time” after pretending to call it “relaxation”.

  • Corrie

    I really, really love this. All of it.

    Ever since I got my first smartphone in October of last year (a little late to the game, but partially because I didn’t feel the need to be ‘plugged in’ all the time until I took on a new management role at my job), I’ve been feeling uncomfortable about being attached to technology 24/7. I recently moved my late grandmother’s piano into my house and took up playing ukulele a few months back, so I find it easy to pick up those things and not be distracted by technology. However, those aren’t things I do every day, and during the rest of the time, I find it hard to make myself not check my phone when I see the blinky light. Or hop on Facebook when I have 30 seconds of downtime. I can completely relate to the habit of internet researching, which puts off actually DOING something much longer that it should have…it’s basically how I’ve approached every craft or house project since acquiring a laptop 2 years ago. I also frequently get frustrated with how my boyfriend is so easily inclined to go upstairs and play video games for an hour or two when he’s bored instead of offering for the two of us to find something to do together. He’s good about putting it aside when I request it, but I still think maybe we need some self-intervention. Perhaps we can start making Sunday an unplugged day.

  • http://twitter.com/NoPants_McGee Christina McPants

    I’m still in shock that people only spend an hour a day on commutes. I spend an hour each way (no driving, walking & public transit) and have for years.

    • Rebecca

      I don’t remember the source (although if anyone’s super curious I can probably hunt it down), but the average commuters “commuting budget” is about 90 minutes per day. Obviously there’s some diversion from the mean, of course. But also, if you live closer to your job, you’re more likely to switch to a slower form of transportation, whether it’s public transit or biking or walking or whatever.

      The U.S. Census tracks commute time if you’re curious where you fit in the larger picture…

      • http://twitter.com/NoPants_McGee Christina McPants

        I’m sure I could have a shorter commute if I chose to drive, but driving in Washington DC is an exercise in frustration and parking would cost me $250 a month. Instead, I have a mile walk, a 30 minute metro ride and a six block walk. It costs $100. I’d love to switch to bike, but the quickest route is not commuter friendly, sadly.

      • meg

        That’s slightly bizarre to me. David works 10 minutes away these days (thank god), but that doesn’t motivate him to walk there (which actually sounds sort of hellish…) It’s more like, short commute, more time to hang out with family, high five. But these days we’re very “rush to all get home together.” It’s the working parent with a baby in daycare thing.

    • Jessica B

      I’m lucky enough that one of my jobs is a 5 minutes walk from my house. The other is about a half hour walk, and I would use that time to either just listen to music or (now that it’s finally nice out), enjoy being outside in a beautiful city. I just got my bike fixed up, so taking less time to walk means I get out of work earlier every day or take a longer lunch.

      I know people who drive (DRIVE! WTF?) for more than an hour each way. I don’t think I could do that for more than a week–or only if I knew there would be an end date on that craziness. I understand so much more if it takes an hour on public transportation, but when someone else is driving the passenger can be doing something else.

      • http://twitter.com/NoPants_McGee Christina McPants

        I’m a little jealous. To live in the same square footage as my current house 5 minutes from my job would easily be a million dollar mortgage. And sadly, in DC at rush hour, a 10 minute with no traffic, 6 mile drive can take an hour.

    • MDBethann

      Me too – between my drive to the train station, the train ride, and then my walk to the office, I think my one-way commute is about an hour and 10 minutes.

      Fortunately, I can use the train time to read the paper or catch up with friends. It’s my way to unwind (or nap!) at the start and end of each day.

    • theemilyann

      This.

      Some changes in my life recently have increased my commute from 15 minutes, driving, to over an hour!

      I spend at minimum an hour in the car each way, and that’s if I leave both places (home and the office) at EXACTLY the right time. This will, mercifully, change when we get moved into the house we’re buying(!!) and my company’s office moves to 7 miles from my new house(!!) by the end of the summer, but for right now, I gave more money to NPR because I now listen to it 3 hours a day, every single day, Monday through Friday, simply to get to and from work. Thanks NPR.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      Anything involving transit almost inevitably seems to make a commute longer than it is. My current job is a seven minute car ride away, but travelling by bus eats up an hour of my day either way. Yes I can read or daydream or whatever it is I choose to fill that time … but it’s frustrating and the money doesn’t make sense to do it any other way.

  • Manya

    I LOVE this piece Meg, and I feel like APW is having a meta-conversation over the weeks! So cool…

    Two years ago somebody helped me to reframe life/work balance in terms of life/work FIT and I found the renaming to be practical and useful in helping me to make decisions about how to spend my moments. That’s where the rubber hits the road after all: in the decisions we make about how we spend our moments. I’m working on being more deliberate about my internet consumption decisions right now, and finding it to be difficult, but so important. I think you are so right about “trying to prove something with our frenetic energy…” and somehow using false busyness to convince ourselves (or prove to others) that we are enough.

    Anyway, not a very coherent comment from me, but I really loved this piece. Thank you for it.

    • Jessica

      I love this – work / life FIT. That’s perfect. I’ve struggled with the term “work / life balance,” because for me, at the end of the day I really enjoy work. I just do. So even though I work more than average, I’ve always felt like my jobs “fit” my life – I could work remotely and travel to be with family, squeeze a work out in, etc. Thanks Manya! Work / life FIT. Totally stealing that.

  • http://teastrumpets.wordpress.com/ kyley

    This morning I hit snooze about 1,803 times, rather than get out of bed and spend the morning with my fiance, and then when I finally decided to wake up I *immediately* reached for my phone, to check facebook, my blogs, pinterest, etc. GUYS, I HAVE A PROBLEM.

    Thankfully, this was the article that popped up on my screen this morning. For Lent I gave up Facebook, in an effort to spend my time more mindfully (Catholicism + Buddhism is pretty much how I roll), and it was a great success. I need to resume my efforts to unplug in a serious way. I find myself reaching for my phone or refreshing a comment thread or checking a blog obsessively in a direct effort to ignore my anxiety, but it’s a temporary salve that I know only makes the situation worse. I’m really happy to be having this dialogue.

    Meg, I’m curious about the logistics of this process. Did you lay out specific rules for unplugging? Are there times of the day/week that are tech-free, or are you just trying to be more mindful about it all the time? Any trick to hold yourself to those times when temptation rises?

    • meg

      I do have rules, thank you for asking :) (No, I kind of wanted to detail it, but it didn’t fit in the piece). These rules are flexible, as needed, obviously.

      - No cell phones in the bedroom or at the table, pretty much ever.
      - Turn off the computer at 5 on Friday when I go get my kid. Not turn it on till after breakfast on Monday. (This means we have to have all of Monday scheduled and done, which is good for the whole staff.)
      - No email on the weekend, because that’s my real problem.
      - If I have to go online for something specific, I normally tell David what it is and ask him to hold me to it, because I almost ALWAYS say I’m going to check one thing, and six things later… So I’ll say, “I’m going to buy jeans at Old Navy, that is all.”
      - I use G+ to keep up with a tiny group of my closest girl friends, and I use it in moderation on the weekends, mostly on my phone.
      - I will instagram things now and then on the weekend, but don’t check my feed… much. That’s something I don’t have much time for on weekdays, so now and then I’ll check it on weekends, though I often regret it.

      Because I set firm boundaries on the weekend (and turn off computers), I’m able to observe the temptation when it arises, sort of surf through the feeling, and then let it go.

      I’m still working on weeknights. I don’t have specific rules there, though I’m getting better. I often SAY I need to check email for work, but me unplugging has ended up with the whole staff being farther ahead and more efficient, so I often don’t have to, and should stop. My one trouble (blessing?) is that I have a hard stop at 5:10 every day to get the kid, and I often feel like I have 15 more minutes of work to do, which keeps me feeling kind of rattled.

      • Maddie

        Coming from the staff perspective, I just want to agree wholeheartedly about the trickle down effect Meg’s unplugging has on workflow as a whole.

        I’m actually kind of fascinated by it, because at first I didn’t know what to do with it. I used to wake up on Saturday morning and open my computer, but with Meg unplugged, I was basically forced to put my computer away and go enjoy myself. Now I get *annoyed* when I have to work on the weekends.

        I actually think this says a lot about our work culture (as a society, not at APW necessarily). I used to work in an office where the higher ups were ALWAYS plugged in, and it made me feel like I needed to be available 24/7. But with this change in Meg’s life, I don’t even have to make a conscious decision to unplug. It’s just happening.

        I mean, I still wake up and check my phone every morning and THAT’s something we have to fix, but, you know, baby steps.

      • Jenny

        I really appreciate you listing your rules. When you first posted the challenge I didn’t really think it was something for me (probably because I also thought it would be really hard). But this article made rethink my position. I also appreciate your disclosing the struggles you had. I feel like a lot of other things I’ve read about it tend to be I gave up facebook and my life is all better. Or in a similar but different vein- I gave up sugar and now I don’t crave it at all and I have 100 times more energy.
        I like that you talked about the struggles and accountability. And also that reaping the benefits might take a while to see/notice. I’ve decided to adapt some of your rules into guidelines for myself and implement them until school starts again.

        These are mine
        No Internet on the weekends 7pm friday- 7 am Monday. Exceptions (looking up directions or phone numbers, using Netflix). If I do need to go on for something I’ll tell K so he can hold me to it. No games on my phone other than on my morning/afternoon bus ride. Nook or Nook App is allowed. Also on K’s days off, no mindless Internet usage while we are both at home/in the same place. My plan is to do this until school starts (aug 20) and then reassess how they need to accomodate my schedule.

        Thanks for sharing Meg!

        • Caroline

          Dude. I have up sugar and was totally one of those people for like 3 years and now, even having done it once before, I can’t do it. I’m addicted to sugar and can’t have the willpower to give it up again in the same way right now.

          • Caroline

            Gave up sugar obviously, not have up.

      • http://www.katesshortandsweets.com Kate

        Is this something that you and David are both participating in? It seems as though it would be infinitely harder if it was one-sided.

  • Jashshea

    CONFESSION TIME: I’m reading the comments on this post, twitter, and a post by Lauren Bacon on W/L balance all at the same time. I have at least 30 windows/tabs open on my laptop screen and am running a phone call.

    So, I, um, need to read this at some point. Not necessarily now, but sometime when I can focus. Thanks for this.

  • Hintzy

    First of all, providing happiness in the media of Turkish Coffee is a wonderful thing ftw

    Second, Thank you for posting an update :) I can’t remember if I commented on the first post about unplugging… I say stuff to people and I often forget what I said (in real life and on the interwebs).

    I agree with what others have said about it depending partly on what you do all day for work – I work for an internet company in front of a screen all day, so I do try to avoid screen time in the evenings for the sake of my eyeballs and my health. Having a renewed fitness initiative has done me good in terms of unplugging – can’t be very digital whilst swimming laps. But every so often something online will try to reel me back in – recently it’s been candy crush saga… puzzle games are apparently tricksy for me.

    • Jashshea

      I hear you on eyeballs and puzzle games. The better half and I are closing on a house next week and one of the things we’re most excited for is having space to do real, honest to goodness jigsaw puzzles.

    • Rachel

      Fitness activities can be SO helpful for unplugging! I’m pretty sure if it weren’t for yoga, I’d be a mess in a million different ways right now. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to stay present during yoga, but I treat it like a mental exercise and keep pushing through.

  • M.E.

    I identify with this so much. Over the last few years, I became extremely active in a niche community on Twitter, blogs (reading and writing), and Instagram. I made friends, went to conferences, traveled, and shared. It was amazing, until it started to make me weary. I eventually quit Facebook when I was able to name the feeling – in this piece on quitting Twitter (http://adambrault.com/post/37201680402/i-quit-twitter-for-a-month-and-it-completely-changed-my), Adam Brault said “I have a couple hundred voices I have consensually agreed to allow residence inside my brain.” I wanted my time to be for MY voice, and for the voices of those I truly love and actively choose to engage with…not just idly scrolling or passively ‘listening in,’ or doing it because it’s the done thing. It’s not an exact science, of course, but leaving FB, thinking long and hard about who I follow on Twitter, stopping blogging when I realized I was only doing it to not feel left out, and ditching Google Reader has changed so much about my internet habits and daily life. It’s a work in progress, but what I figure is, I want to share my life by being fully present with my partner, my work, my volunteering, and my family…not by clicking (at least not as the majority of my time spent, which it felt like).

    I’m so fascinated by how quickly we’ve become saturated with digital platforms, and how quickly in the big picture people are having to renegotiate their relationships with those platforms. Great discussion!

    • meg

      I think this comment nails something I was trying to hit on in the piece. I’m not anti internet, I *love* the internet. But I needed to dial back my consumption to get to the point where I could enjoy the internet again. I want to have the time to thoughtfully read the stuff I care about. For me that means really limiting how much I’m letting constantly updating feeds inside my head to create NOISE, and knocking off reading stuff I don’t give a shit about.

      It’s also been shaping the way we approach content at APW. (We’ve always been this way, but we’re more consciously focused on it than ever right now.) I don’t want to post things just to post them. I want to post them because I think there is a real REASON to post them. Because I think they are good, or thought provoking, or helpful, or for another good reason. I assume not ever piece is going to be important to every reader, so there are different things for different people, which is fine and good. But there are a lot of websites just creating content for content’s sake, and I’m not on that bandwagon.

      I think the internet is going to start moving away from that model (thank the good lord), for a lot of business reasons, but that’s a whole other conversation.

    • meg

      Updating to say that this is a GREAT article. I love this bit:

      “If someone I know is going through a very rough personal time, I want to be there for them in a way that’s useful to them. Exposing myself to their pain all day is not useful for me or them in the same way it helps no one to watch TV news all day. Yes, now I’m aware of all the things that are wrong with the world, but I’m now overwhelmed and, as a result, ever more powerless to do anything about the things I *can*.”

      Sometimes I think that’s where some internet mean-ness can come from. If we all spend time swimming in each others bad news, when someone has good news, we’re overwhelmed and tired, and can’t respond in a helpful way.

      And this:

      “I also have a tendency to listen carefully to any criticism or disagreement I hear, internalize it, reflect on it, and evaluate it, then conclude some thought on it. Until I do that, it just sort of hangs there in my head. The degree to which it dominates my headspace is largely a question of how much it impacts me. It’s very possible for me to read one line in an email or a tweet and have it completely retrack my brain with questions and thoughts that have to be resolved before I can move on—or at least accept being unresolved about, which requires a conscious decision.”

      And holy shit this:

      “I used to believe that time was the most important thing I have, but I’ve come to believe differently. The single most valuable resource I have is uninterrupted thought.”

      • M.E.

        Oh how I longed for a “HOLY SHIT THIS” button on that article. Just all of it.

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          All of what Meg said. M.E., thanks for sharing that post. And the video to Chris William’s silent presentation at the end. EXACTLY my concerns. Who do my actions benefit? How do they transform the world?

    • http://lgcmachine.wordpress.com/ elle

      “stopping blogging when I realized I was only doing it to not feel left out”

      Yes. This this this this. Exactly times A THOUSAND. THANK YOU for articulating what I always sensed, but could never put into words myself.

      That? That is why I am not a blogger. I’ve made peace with leaving it to the pros ;)

      • M.E.

        Oh this makes me so happy! I can’t tell you how hard it was to accept that maybe daily-ish lifestyle blogging just wasn’t my passion. I was good at it, I had readers and a community, why didn’t I like it more?!?! Because I just didn’t, and that’s OK.

        ETA: I felt an incredible amount of pressure every day, and guilt when I wasn’t posting. It was, in a word, Not Good. Okay, two words.

  • Smitty

    There is something that annoys me about these posts on unplugging and that is the way they assume it’s a universal need (at least for this blog’s readers). Which, ironically, is contradictory to some of the other ideas in the post, like needing to refer to this as an addiction or a mental disorder. Personally I don’t have a problem with constantly needing to be on the internet. I have wifi at home but usually don’t take my computer home and would rather leisurely cook dinner with my husband than do anything online. Then again, I’m not on pinterest, instagram, twitter, all those other things you assume are central to our lives.

    • http://teastrumpets.wordpress.com/ kyley

      Huh, I don’t see where this response is coming from. I do not get the impression that Meg is assuming that all those apps/pages are central to everyone’s lives, nor do I think she’s saying everyone is required to adopt the lifestyle changes she’s made. Considering that her entire career is based on the internet, I don’t think she’s suggesting we all go back to 1983. She’s identified a problem in her life, noticed other people struggling with it, and is writing about how she tries to tackle that problem, which is basically the whole approach of APW since the very beginning.

      It sounds like you have a good balance between enjoying everything that is great about the internet, and also spending your time meaningfully outside of technology. That’s great! Some other people struggle with that balance, and a conversation about how to achieve more peace and how to resist the need to constantly be on the internet is a welcome and helpful one.

      • Cleo

        I see where Smitty is coming from. The post reads like a rather universal take on unplugging and internet “addiction” (which rubbed me the wrong way due to some close family currently struggling with drug addiction and the fact that researching jeggings one too many times is not the same thing. I know it was a joke, so whatever).

        I was disappointed in this post because I am more interested in Meg’s personal story in unplugging than I am in a scholarly article about its positive affects. (What projects were undertaken, for example?)

        Also: “I have wifi at home but usually don’t take my computer home and would rather leisurely cook dinner with my husband than do anything online.”

        This for me too. Except, unlike Smitty, I am on all the social media sites. I generally ignore them once I get home because I’ve been on the computer all day at work.

        • JEM

          I think the point Meg may be trying to make by linking to scholarly articles is to provide context. This is on the radar for many people now and many are trying to learn and understand the impacts Many others may not care, which is entirely your prerogative! “Too much” means entirely different things to different people, but I think a broader sense of awareness that this sort of thing is happening to some people, is never bad thing. Understanding often breeds compassion.

    • http://fancystephanie.wordpress.com Stephanie

      I totally get this. I don’t feel like I have a problem with being “unplugged”… My iPhone is a tool, not my entire life. I actually get bored surfing the internet. I go on Pinterest a couple times a week, usually to work on a project or party that WILL happen. My Facebook friends list is carefully cultivated, and I only keep people on there that I like (ultra conservative gay bashing friends? GONE). And I don’t have a problem being “present”… I take a picture of what’s happening, save it for later, and move on. On the way home, I’ll Instagram/Facebook the picture.

      But maybe that’s because I have hobbies (like sewing and baking) that demand much of my time. Maybe that’s because I get any “internet time” done while at work or on my commute (I take public transit, and there is NOTHING else to do!!). I have so much real world stuff that demands my time, so wasting that time browsing the internets isn’t constructive.

      • Lindsey d.

        Well, good job. Then you and the other posters “have it.” You don’t need this article, just like someone who plans to have a traditional Catholic Mass wedding doesn’t need the previous post about how to write a wedding ceremony. This blog covers a lot of topics and every. single. one. might not relate to you…

    • meg

      What Kyley and Jem said nailed it. This article clearly doesn’t speak to you, which is cool. I read lots of stuff that doesn’t speak to me. It’s designed to be an ongoing conversation between me and the (vast) numbers of other people wrestling with the same questions. It’s excellent that it’s not a problem you share.

      This is mostly me musing on my experiences, and siting some articles that have been important to me shaping how I think about this, to give it some broader context. Also, starting a conversation with other people dealing with similar questions.

      And Cleo, I talked about some projects, but I don’t write tell-alls, so I don’t feel a need to go into great detail. The addiction question is a bit of an open one, research wise. Over use of the internet is CLEARLY not an addiction like drug abuse is an addiction, but it does seem to be more than simply a behavioral choice. It seems to be something that’s actually having an effect on our brains, and for some of us, it’s taking on some addictive properties that appear to be linked to dopamine. It will be interesting to see how this question gets looked at and adressed by researchers over time.

      • Cleo

        Thanks for the reply. I’ve read enough to know not to expect a tell-all. :)

        My comment comes from the place that I’m someone who understands the world better through synthesizing personal stories than through reading more formal articles. Different strokes, of course.

        And yeah, I’m currently a little touchy about all things addiction because it’s caused some turmoil in my heretofore very Leave It To Beaver family. It’s a scary place to be…

        It will be interesting to see research on how the brain works in the internet age versus before. I often wonder if it will help…make our species more self-reliant in ways (maybe you don’t need a plumber, maybe you just need to Google how to fix a pipe).

        • http://teastrumpets.wordpress.com/ kyley

          Good luck with the family and addiction stuff. That’s not easy territory. Sending supportive vibes your way.

          • Cleo

            thank you!

        • meg

          I’m playing around with different types of writing this year, because it was time to push myself (and no book to write or baby to make this year). This is something of a mash up of personal stories and more formal article, so.

          They’re starting to look at the way the internet is changing the brain, and they know it’s not good. It’s just too early to tell how it’s going to play out, really.

          And yes, substance abuse is dark and scary and, all the best.

  • http://www.alessprocessedlife.com Susan

    Love this. And now I am going to (ironically?) share this post on Facebook.

  • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

    I have been making a conscious effort recently to unplug for part of the evening, part of my weekend, etc. Not necessarily away from the TV (though this weekend we did exactly that. I don’t think our TV got turned on at all Sunday afternoon), but away from my phone, computer, etc. The house is cleaner when I/we are home and not online. We go for more walks together when we put our phones down (or stuff them in our pockets with the goal to walk an hour). I read more, and ironically, I write more – just on paper.

    Your time with David in the hammock sounds lovely. I love hammocks and have since I helped my uncle string one up at my aunt and uncle’s cabin near Tahoe. There’s something magically peaceful about them.

    OH, and ETA: A lot of our unplugged time has been spent, amusingly enough, playing MTG (Magic: The Gathering) and catching up on Game of Thrones.

  • AshleyMeredith

    You wrote: “But that short-term rush takes prescience over the harder work of building long-term happiness.” I think you meant “precedence,” since “prescience,” as I’m sure you know, means “knowledge of events or actions before they occur.”

    Sorry, I can’t help myself. It was distracting. I will now go and finish the post.

  • San Diego

    Your quest to unplug is inspirational! I too have tried to initiate an unplugged set of time in my own home. after dinner, we have ‘family time’ where me and my husband will turn off the tv, put down our phones, and just play with our 9 month old. We are creating memories by getting rid of the outside distraction and just focusing on us as a family. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, that 15 minutes goes a long way!

  • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

    Hey Meg, ever since your last blog post on unplugging, I set a goal to check Facebook only once per day (before, it had felt like a compulsion, and I checked it regularly whenever I was bored).

    That goal has been PRETTY successful. Some days I’ve checked it twice, but my time spent on the site has been limited — I tend to not scroll down too much or click on people’s links as often as I did before.

    Setting this limit forced me to consider, “Is it REALLY necessary for me to share this on Facebook?” when encountered with a great song, idea, experience. And if I’ve already gone on once that day, I just have to accept that the wonderful song, idea, etc does not ABSOLUTELY need to be shared IMMEDIATELY.

    (Really, what in life is that important, immediate or necessary that it needs to be shared with 250 of my closest “friends” right away? Pretty much, like, three things.)

    I love that line about “wallowing in inanity like a pig in the mud”. That’s pretty much what Facebook feels like now, most of the time.

    One more point: I love the idea of équilibre. But let’s take care to not romanticize the French. Their society has troubles and contradictions, like all of ours ;)

    • Class of 1980

      The French WIN at life balance and it’s healthier, but yeah, their economy is the worst in Europe. Doesn’t help that they make new businesses pay taxes BEFORE they open their doors and make any income.

      I also read that French web sites tend to be extremely user unfriendly, but maybe that helps with their life balance!!!

      They have little reason to go online, so they live life. ;)

    • meg

      Yeah, no kidding their society has it’s own problems.

      As mentioned in the piece, because I’m a weirdo, I don’t (thus far) like France very much, so I’m not going to be the one to idealize it. However, their socialism and work life balance is pretty enviable.

      • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

        I’m an American who lived in western Europe for two years. Not France, but neighboring countries. The work-life balance there was admirable. Everyone totally left my office at 5 or 6pm. It was wierd if you wanted to work later — there was basically the opposite social pressure as here.

        There was also absolutely no expectation that anyone would work on the weekend. And stores were closed on Sundays and evenings. As mentioned above, this was both great and annoying :) You kinda couldn’t do anything else but hang out with friends and family, go to the park or a bar and chill all day.

        It was, however, not the best set-up for working families, where all the adults in a household work during the week.

        Some of my American friends romanticize Europe. But there is some sh*tty stuff there, related to the economy, immigration and racism (ie, opportunities for people in “other” groups to get those great unionized 35-hour/week jobs), that can actually be better and more flexible in the US.

        • Class of 1980

          So far, I’m not a socialist.

          But if I was, from my reading it sounds like Sweden does socialism right and France doesn’t.

          Sweden attracts business and France repels it for starters. All forms of socialism are not created equal. France can’t sustain the trajectory it’s on for much longer without profound change. You still need successful businesses to run a socialist country because money has to come from somewhere.

          As for racism, yeah. I was on a rampage of reading interesting blogs by Americans living in France – most of them for years. They are not as racist towards Muslims there as the U.S., but they are way more racist towards Asians. Who knew?

          • http://www.teastrumpets.wordpress.com kyley

            The racism towards Muslims is pretty intense in Europe. Its the combination of immigration anxieities and fear about terrorism; imagine the “build a wall” hatred and the “sharia law is taking over” rhetoric, all directed at one group of people.

  • http://www.asafemooring.blogspot.com Kirsty

    You had me at legging jeans. Or, as they’re known here, “jeggings.” “Treggings” are also available. I do love a good portmanteau.

    I got very excited by your last unplugging post, hatched all sorts of wild plans, and then made precisely no changes whatsoever. Must try harder, and/or buy a hammock. Hammocks are clearly the answer (to everything).

  • Class of 1980

    I think about this subject a lot. Our business is online. We do need to spend time in front of the computer and answer phone calls, but we really don’t need to spend as much time tied to the computer as we do. It doesn’t help that both of us are information junkies.

    I’ve gotten into the habit of doing some work and then surfing the Internet for mental relief from whatever is boring me at work. I could just as easily get up and do something – or stare at the sky – or go for a walk.

    I live in a scenic nature paradise. Yet I find myself looking at all the scenery flying by when I drive around doing errands and wishing I could get out into it more. How dumb is that?

    The Internet can be helpful and inspirational, but how to shut out the inanity of the rest of it? Plus, we have become a nation of narcissists addicted to having an online audience pat us on the head constantly.

    The American way of unbalanced excess is only a national characteristic because enough individuals buy into it to perpetuate it. It would change accordingly if enough people changed themselves first.

    • http://theblogwhisperer.tumblr.net Heather G

      Yes to the online audience. Love this point.

  • Kess

    I love the idea of unplugging for a certain portion of each week, and sometimes I think we should do it. My fiance and I are both way too addicted to our phones, and it seems like so much of our time together is spent while we’re each distracted by the internet. The only thing that holds me back is the fear is being left out of our social group – all event planning is done through facebook, and I mean all of it. Some of them don’t even have phones. So if you’re not there to get the little notification in our private facebook group saying that people are heading out to the park or what have you, you just won’t know. I’m still wrestling with what to do, because I feel like an unplugging that lets me still check facebook wouldn’t be much of one at all!

  • http://www.meanestlook.com Sara

    That’s why I texted you on Sunday instead of email! It’s a baby step, Meg. I promise this weekend to take all electronic devices away from the boy and myself for at least one day. The anxiety attack is already setting in.

    • Not Sarah

      Yep, I’ve been texting so much more this month than usual because I’ve been turning off wi-fi even on my phone and walking away from the computer. I’ve even been texting people for last minute hangouts! I’ve spent more time reading books and hanging out with friends.

      • http://www.meanestlook.com Sara

        I love that. I started a neighborhood weekend hangout for all the moms and kids I know in the neighborhood. Hanging out is the best! And I just ordered a book to read. Work-related, but it is a start!

  • Moe

    “We’re reading blogs because we crave smart conversation and connection. We’re pinning things to remind us of what our lives could be. We’re finding places online that we fit, to remind us of who we are. But at some point you have to stop pinning, and start doing.”

    Ugh. This.

    For a long time I’ve been painfully aware of our culture’s obsession with Things. Boy do we love to accumulate stuff!! As I’ve been shopping estate sales I get to go inside some really beautiful homes where the contents of the owner are up for sale and piled in boxes you see the accumulation of a lifetime: china, silver, linens, candles that sometimes never got used. Did they get to enjoy these things with people they loved? Will I? I better!! So now I burn the fancy scented candles. I pour cheap wine in the fancy glasses. I use the fancy napkins with ho-hum Tuesday dinner.

    Since I’ve been consciously going about the business of decluttering my life and making it simpler. It spilled over into relationships and where I invest my time. Why am I working so hard to maintain casual aquaintences with people I (if I’m painfully honest) don’t really care for all that much. Getting married and planning a wedding only amplified this. Is this friendship something I want to influence my marriage? No? Ok, then it’s time to move on and invest time into those relationships that are mutually beneficial, healthy, and enrich life.

    Then this spills over into my online presence and Facebook. Why do I need to wake up first thing in the morning to read about what that chick from high school I haven’t seen in 20 years had for dinner last night? How is my life served by this information? It’s not that I dislike this person, I accepted their friend request…but why? We never forged a deeper more meaningful friendship because of FB.

    So I applaud the unplugging. May it bring a richer more meaningful life with good conversation over dinner and cheap wine with fancy china on pretty linens on Tuesday nights.

    • Class of 1980

      I’m not on Facebook, but I am on a national forum that is really interesting and informative. I use it as an information resource.

      It always cracks me up when one of the members likes a post I’ve written, and they request to be “friends”. I always agree to be friends, but for the life of me, I can’t see what the purpose is.

      Other members can look up your profile and see who you’re “friends” with, but it doesn’t translate into anything real or practical.

      • Moe

        Before the popularity of Facebook I was a member of a message board community that revolved around health and fitness. Some of those people turned into real-life friends. We became part of each other’s lves when we moved, had babies, got married.

        Now if I could get that kind of quality friendships from FB that would be a different story. If anything I think it can be counter-productive to building friendship. There’s no need to meet up for coffee or go to the movies because I already know what’s up with most people.

    • meg

      “Why do I need to wake up first thing in the morning to read about what that chick from high school I haven’t seen in 20 years had for dinner last night? How is my life served by this information? It’s not that I dislike this person, I accepted their friend request…but why? We never forged a deeper more meaningful friendship because of FB.”

      Indeed. Let me preface this by saying that I feel like I’ve never understood the culture of FB really well. But. People I used to know and like (or hey, really love) request me as a friend on FB and I get excited because I had no idea where they were and now we can reconnect! But I’d say more than half the time they clearly have no interest in actually interacting. Messages or wall posts are barely replied to. So, ok. Why on earth did they “friend” me on FB in the first place??

      • Class of 1980

        Facebook is a million miles wide and one inch deep. ;)

      • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

        I’m not normally a FB defender, but here’s my two cents, which is not so much a defense of the network itself.

        In discussions about FB use- as a time-suck, as too mainstream, as the least of the social networks, as a great social tool- I rarely hear from 23-27 year olds, the ages I *think* most first wave users are by now. Though I have my eyes wide open about how FB works, it has evolved so much since its first iteration that I think users who signed up once it expanded outside universities have a much different relationship with the site, and thus use it in different ways.

        Whether a twenty-something (who had FB in college) chose to stay with the network or not, I think first wave users have a different perspective on it- not a better or worse one, mind you, just different. Maybe that’s because it worked so differently at that time, maybe it’s because it helped forge social connections at college, maybe it’s because the network was still restricted to college age people, I don’t really know. I don’t presume to speak for anyone but myself, but the whole cultural phenomenon of FB happened like lightening, then just as speedily kept evolving, that I wonder if those inside the first “cultural moment” had a vastly different experience, despite the network’s current ubiquity.

        • meg

          That theory doesn’t play out in our household, I’m afraid. David was… just out of Stanford (I looked it up, I thought it was his senior year) when FB launched, and Stanford was in the second wave of schools to have it after Harvard. So he’s about as first wave as you get. (Your age range is a little off. Us first wavers are 28-33ish.) I wasn’t on FB then (because I didn’t keep my .edu email) but I was on EVERYTHING else. Most importantly, Friendster, which was first (2002), and we all used pretty interchangeably.

          Anyway, so we definitely have that experience. We came home from the Social Network and were like, “Well. That was interesting that they tried to spin FB as a genius idea, when it was one of many, and it’s just the one that ended up dominating, at least for now…” Anyway, it doesn’t make me like Facebook more. Though once upon a time there were fewer people on the networks, and less inanity. (WHO remembers Friendster “Testimonials.”? I LOVED those.)

          But I’m curious what your perspective on it is, which I didn’t quite get from the comment. Spill, spill.

          • Audrey

            Oh man, I totally remember Friendster Testimonials now that you mention it. Those were great!

          • Liz

            I hear your perspective, Meg, but I don’t know if that was quite the point that Sarah was making. As a 26-year-old, Facebook came out my senior year of high school and was used all through college in a different way than people use it now. It was a much smaller community back then, a way to meet new people at your school and share posts and photos within a smaller group. I don’t know that I have a larger opinion about the utility or effects of Facebook overall, but I do think Sarah makes a good point by differentiating people in my generation who went through college alongside facebooks’s development, from people in your generation or older who didn’t join Facebook until some time post-college.

          • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

            So I brought this up with my partner last night and we got into a debate about it. Some of the other commenters on this thread definitely have the same or similar ideas to what I was saying (yay! company!)

            To be clear, I know I’m not using “first wave” correctly here. Partner suggested “early adopter” is probably the better phrase to mean those who joined fb while it was still restricted to college kids. Sandy and Sheryl both touched on what I tried to get at: early adopters used fb differently, and I think still use fb differently than those who joined after the site went universal. I argued this strongly at home last night- I’m not a purist, but I do think the types of relationships forged and/or supplemented by fb during early adoption phase used fb as a social utility for a specific group of friends. Now that it’s open to everyone and their mother (literally), it connects people less, because you have one utility for endless types of relationships (cumbersome privacy settings aside, where I realize you can pick and choose who sees your updates).

            Personally, I use facebook for specific information. I un-friend people that I don’t want to hear about. I rarely if ever go searching to find information about people I don’t care about, and I’m not fb (or real life) friends with very many HS classmates at all. I use for particular purposes (info from local businesses or events, inviting people to a get-together, chatting with one or two particular friends, staying up to date with local friends in my partner’s grad program, reading interesting articles said grad students share). Rarely do I use it to keep up with old friends or reconnect with old friends. I can think of two or three exceptions, where I sent a direct message with specific purpose (not just “hey, what’s up?”), or where fb chat is my primary mode of communication with a far-away friend.

            In light of this opinion, I would be curious how David’s experience with it would be different if he were still at Stanford, or in the middle of his undergrad when FB reached him, rather than past undergrad and on to the next phase of his life.

            I also recognize FB currently works much differently than it did in its first stages, and has purposely changed user experience. Some changes are still useful to me (I love following local business’ pages), but I think a lot of the other junk gets in the way of utility, especially for those who may not know it any differently.

        • http://forcause.wordpress.com Sandy

          I think you are on to something, Sarah E. I’m a first waver who started using Facebook as a a sophomore in college and it was a huge part of my college experience in a way that is probably very different from college students who use it now. There was no “news feed” for example,and friend groups were tiny, so it was less about following strangers and more like connecting with the kids in your dorm in a new way and crafting an identity. Hell, I met my husband on Facebook. I find that when I’m using the site the way I originally used it (looking up a new friend, sending a message to someone directly), I love it. The trick is not to succomb to all the new features designed to keep you on the site at all times.

        • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

          I think you might be on to something here. I’m 28 and got FB halfway through university (though I held out for the first two years or so that I knew about the site) and at the time FB was a huge social connector. It was a much smaller network and was a tool that was used to facilitate real life communication and socialization.

          There’s something about the connection that works when you consider the environment of a university, and the fact that most of one’s FB friends at that time are part of the same physical environment. Now that it’s the everyone connector I think it’s lost some of that charm and ability to assist people to connect in real life.

          • k

            Interesting. I’m 46, and there WAS no internet when I was in college, and I have no interest in being on FB, but I was a fairly early user of message boards centered on my main outdoor activity, which similarly is a small community, a way to connect with real people to get out and do something IRL, and tends to be people in the same subculture/geographical area. I’m not on as much as I used to be, but if it weren’t for the above, I wouldn’t be on it at all any more.

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

      My mom pulled out the silver when I went home earlier this month. She’s decided to stop saving for occassions and start recognizing the ready-made occasions. (My phrasing.)

      I love it. Also, Saturday morning smoothies get served in (cheap) wine glasses because they’re more fun. Yes for a richer life!

  • KateM

    So much for me to unpack… I love this post. At 9 month pregnant, I literally day dream about laying the hammock with my baby while I sit here at work in from of my computer. I know what we want our lives to look like, and it is very much what you have described here. I have been tossing around the idea of starting my own business the last few months, in order to be able to shape my work life to fit into the rest of it, rather than than fitting our life around work. I am so tired of not feeling present in my own life. It is time for some changes.

  • http://www.karinajean.com karinajean

    last night my husband and I each got home at 7:30 last night after a full 12 hour day away from the house and each other (thanks to work and commuting) and as we met in the driveway and walked into the house to make dinner and hang with our little dudes, he looked around and sighed. I thought he was worried the grass was getting to long but he just said: “It’s so nice out tonight. What a great evening, and we’re just walking into the house at 7:30 PM to do dishes and make dinner and clean things.”

    clearly we need a hammock.

  • Rachelle

    I love Parenthood! I thought I was the only person that watched it. I cry pretty much every episode, and my fiance makes fun of me, but it’s just SOOO good.

    • meg

      We finished all that they have on Netflix last night. Fun fact, I went to college with Jason Ritter (I knew him, but not well), but it’s sort of funny to watch him on TV.

      • Rebekah

        I don’t know how much is available on Netflix, but you can borrow my DVDs of Season 4 if you want. My best friend and I buy them for each other (which actually means buying them for ourselves and texting each other “thank you” when they arrive).

    • http://thankyouredball.com Alyssa

      My husband is the crier when we watch Parenthood. It is the cutest thing.

  • Rachel

    Someone mentioned this above, but as an information junkie, unplugging is hard for me. I was that kid who always had her nose in a book, and I’m not much different as an adult. Sometimes what I’m doing is mindless, but, like you said, a lot of the time I’m seeking smart conversations. And I do so much creation all day that in the evenings, I really just want to consume (especially because this makes me a better creator). So I’ve really been thinking about WHY I am reading what I’m reading or doing what I’m doing, and now I cut myself off when it’s just leaving me feeling gross.

    That said, I know that all the technology isn’t great for my body (the light interferes with sleep patterns, the hunched position in which we read texts is all kinds of destructive) so I’ve started listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I still get the information I’m craving, but in a way that forces me to focus (you really cannot multitask when listening to an audiobook because 1. your phone is engaged and 2. you will totally lose your place) and it doesn’t ever leave me feeling physically uncomfortable. And since Eric likes to watch TV to fall asleep (something I can’t stand), it’s a good compromise.

    I also do yoga, which has helped a lot; even though some days it’s SO hard to shut my brain off, about 20 minutes in, my brain does it for me. So usually a yoga podcast and some chill time in bed with Eric + the dogs before we go to sleep are the times each day I unplug. Though I know I could be doing more, it’s a start! Weekends are the next frontier for me.

    • http://teastrumpets.wordpress.com/ kyley

      I love podcasts so much, for exactly that reason! They are among my favorite things to workout to, because it is the most enriching form of multitasking!

    • Caroline

      Nose in a book kid here too. What disturbs me is how much more nose in the phone and less nose in a book I am. Who am I if my nose isn’t in a book? What does that say about my identity? I’m still reading constantly but it is different.

      I actually love podcasts because you can multitask in a different way. I put on savage lovecast, Dan Savage’s podcast so I get off the computer and clean the house instead of sitting around all day on the computer. That way I can still consume media/information while getting stuff done.
      (Alas, my lifelong pursuit of a paperback which was sufficiently waterproofed that I could take it into the shower has not yet happened. I’ve always loved to consume media while I do physical stuff. It’s just harder on the computer.)

  • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

    There are a few things this post touches on for me. In general, I’m all for intentional, mindful use of time.

    I can understand the potential time-suck of social networks. For me, I interpret Instagram a little differently than the others. I check it often because the people I follow capture really captivating (totally filtered) moments or scenes, and it reminds me to keep a sharp eye for the beautiful details in my own life. And yes, I sometimes snap a picture and share- not that all one dozen followers of mine will see it and be jealous– but to remind myself I have these beautiful moments, too.

    The other thing unplugging constantly makes me turn over in my head is how differently it can be interpreted for people with different interests and lifestyles. My partner loves to play online games and it takes a lot of his time. But who am I to say that one form of entertainment is better than another? He dislikes reading about unplugging when a writer is clearly coming from a place that’s judging online hobbyists, and I agree judgment has no place in the conversation. However, I’ve yet to find a good in-road to hash out with him how he feels about spending his time intentionally. Part of that is that I don’t understand his hobby at all. It just doesn’t seem like that much fun to me– or that much fun for that _long_ I should say. I think the heart of it is that I value more outside time, more making things with my hands. He finds value in those things, too, but I think I prioritize them higher.

    That’s a bit of round-about way to say that I constantly turn this issue of unplugging over in my head, thinking about how much of my opinions are influenced by what my dream lifestyle looks like, and how much other people’s dream lifestyles may differ from that. I’d be interested to hear other gamers’ perspectives, too- when gaming is to you what hammock-gazing may be to others.

    • meg

      I think this whole comment is super interesting. I have no answers, since gaming is something I really don’t understand on any level, but it’s interesting.

      And to be clear, this blog was started as an online hobby, so GOD knows I’m not against online hobbyists. For me it’s all about figuring out intentional use of my time, and balancing online life with real world life. (The sun does not shine and there are not trees online, much as I wish their were.)

      • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

        Still working on answers myself. But I start thinking about how much I enjoy some of the things you mentioned: parties with friends, garden time, writing longhand– but some people hate gardening. Some people have allergies and therefore don’t spend much time outside. Some people would rather play a game online. Often there’s this notion that playing video games is “wasting time” moreso than another form of entertainment, but what if someone is really intentional with their time. . . in order to have time for more games, which they love? Isn’t that just as valid as being intentional so you have time for happy hour every week or jigsaw puzzles with your buds?

        These are the questions that keep me pondering. And keep me bugging my partner when he’s trying to beat the next boss in his game.

        • Rebekah

          SarahE, here’s my 2 cents from a similar side of things.

          My personal stress relievers/relaxation techniques are spending time cooking or baking and reading. I love mildly outdoorsy things, intentional time with good friends, and crappy tv shows in excess.

          My fiance, though, is in medical school. He spends a large portion of his day each day concentrating on pulling from his fund of knowledge to help treat the multiple patients he juggles in his head. His stress relievers are video games and online reading (anything from tweets to articles to forum posts) about his 2 favorite sports teams. Supposedly it’s been proven that video games help to train fine motor skills, which is a fair argument, but it doesn’t mean I understand the appeal. I’ve had to learn that what seems wasteful to me is actually almost necessary for him to unwind.

          Admittedly, he also uses these things as procrastination, but that’s a different discussion.

          I don’t know if he’ll ever *want* to unplug, let alone be able to. I know it’s something I’d like to put rough boundaries on in our household, but given our different approaches to being “plugged in” and how it affects us, I don’t think it will be as straightforward as many of the articles seem to make it. Relationships involve balance, so I’m sure we’ll figure out our own, and hopefully you will too.

          • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

            Right- sounds like we have similar household goals, even if the details shake out differently. My partner and I each consume completely different types of online media. It’s one thing to procrastinate (which can be done online, reading a book, or baking three kinds of cookies), and another to take time devoted to your hobby/fave activities.

            I’m less concerned with the benefits/harms of an individual activity than why I’m doing it. It’s a strange thing for me to think about- my partner will gladly pay attention to me or do something together if I ask, but I’m almost resentful sometimes that he has this default activity to do, when I’m sometimes at a loss when I’m bored. That being said, I wonder if spending a whole day gaming is ideal (sometimes a whole day reading my book is ideal!) or it’s just a fill-in when not thinking about how to intentionally spend time (ex: I should sign up for that class, go buy those craft supplies, wander through that part of town I’ve been meaning to. . .)

    • Audrey

      As a pretty avid video game player, I’ll chime in here.

      For me, spending a weekend “unplugged” could very well look like NOT checking email/using Facebook/etcetera but still playing a video game for a few hours. I can definitely play video games “intentionally”, especially when my friends and I get together and voice chat and play.

      One thing that can happen with some video games, at least for me, is that they become a “default” activity – similar to how Meg talks about checking Facebook after being bored for a few minutes on the couch. One of the ways I try (don’t always succeed) to keep my balance is to avoid having video games be a default activity for me. If it’s a choice “I could read on the couch or play video games – it’s been a busy day and I need something mindless, so I’m going to play this game” it’s a lot healthier for me than just coming home and automatically getting on the computer to play.

      I also specifically have some hobbies that actually get me out of the house, given that I use my computer really heavily for work and play I do need time away from the screen.

      Full disclosure: I love these posts but I haven’t tried to put them in practice at all except for the idea of keeping my computer use “intentional”. And I’m still pretty bad at that.

      • meg

        Exactly. I went into my personal rules above, but I still do some plugged in things. I just stay away from things that ARE my problem and can never be intentionally used for me (email).

    • Caroline

      Video games (actual video games and not just casual games) are definitely different for me. My fiancé and I love gaming. We met via a video game. It will always be a big part of our life. For us, however, we finis it is important to do it mindfully. If we’re both sitting next to eachother with headphones on playing our own games, maybe we should play one of the games we play together. For me, I don’t have to worry too much about my video game consumption the way I find my Internet consumption brings stress. I play video games deeply and immersively for long sprints at a time (2-6hours) but very sporadically (every few weeks). Both of us find it can be hard to start playing a game to say, yes, I have time and I will get off Facebook/blogs/forums and play a game which be much more rewarding than this mindless consumption of media.

      I do totally unplug from the computer, video games included, one day a week, for religious reasons, which I enjoy. He often does play games on that day while I’m out at services, but he doesn’t dither his time away online. I’m not totally sure what your question is, but I think video games can be very intentional, and awesome. I love video games. I don’t ind them to have the same problems with addiction and mindless consuming that the Internet has. (So many people are ever so concerned about video game addiction and less about Internet addiction while I don’t believe in the former and I think the later is rampant.)

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    I justify spending a lot of time online here because now that we’re overseas, it’s how I connect with people back home. And now that I do 90% of the cooking, I genuinely do use Pinterest to find recipes. I blog and read a lot of interesting and informative things online. But I also know that a lot of it is looking for a quick hit of dopamine and choosing to mindlessly consume rather than put in the effort to create. I’m going to be starting grad school soon and am going to have to teach myself to focus again without the frequent check email/Facebook/Pinterest/Twitter breaks.

    A month ago, I commented that I was committing to turn off the computer every night when my husband goes to bed and choose going with him over more mindless Internet. I’m happy to say that I’ve done exactly that. He’ll deploy next week and it’s going to suck going to bed alone every night for the next few months, but at least I can feel good about knowing that I took advantage of being able to kiss him goodnight and fall asleep with his arm around me for a whole month before he left. (Except tonight, when I did kiss him goodnight and then lay awake with his arm around me before tossing and turning for a couple of hours before giving up and coming back downstairs so I wouldn’t keep him awake.)

    • Amy*

      I just wanted to send you good vibes on your husband’s upcoming deployment. Before my husband’s first deployment in 2011, I was told this little nugget, “it doesn’t get easier, but you do get used to it.” I found that to be true. Best wishes!

      • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

        Thank you, Amy!

  • Sara

    Babies in those jumpers (I recently bought a johnny jump-up for my cousin’s baby) are always worth stopping to watch. Babies and jumping – who knew it was such a joyous combo?

    I’m still struggling with the idea of unplugging but the really random weather we’ve been having in Chicagoland is kinda helping. Its been raining so much that anytime its a little nice, all I want to do is be outside. But those days where it rains, I try not to sit in front of the tv or computer all night and fail a lot of the time. I also have very little self control. Its something else I’m working on.

    • meg

      Johnny jump-up, man. Friends come over and watch him and every time they say it’s the best thing that’s happened all week.

      The internet has nothing on babies and jumping. Nothing.

      • KateM

        Where did you find a Johnny-Jump up? I thought they stopped making them!!

        • Sara

          ….internet…. :)

          I think I got mine off Amazon.

        • meg

          Target! $19.99. Best $20 I ever spent.

      • Sara

        My cousin’s baby basically does ballet and then sling shots himself. Its awesome. The internet is really missing out on that one.

  • theemilyann

    Beautiful, amazing, articles like this keep me totally amazed with Meg and all of Team APW.

    Two things really stood out to me:

    “I’m writing this without other tabs open to distract me, for the first time in a long time.”
    I read this line, and my eyes guiltily flicked up to the top of the browser to find 10 – count ‘em – TEN tabs open. I immediately closed most of the many tabs, which included: Gmail, two APW screens, the event I’m going to tonight, the event I’m coordinating this weekend, my car insurance site which I logged into this morning at 6:30 am and never closed, and 4 others that I can’t even remember, basically moments after closing them. If that’s not a cry for help, I don’t know what is!

    “If your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.”
    This is accurate, and hilarious, and ironically immediatly went up on facebook.
    Because, you know, I’m so awesome and read cool things on the internet.

    *sigh*

    • Caroline

      10? That’s small potatoes. I frequently have 30+ tabs open. It’s stressful and overwhelming and kind of a compulsion to follow every interesting link in the web. It is not uncommon for me to have so many tabs open the only thing visible of the tab is the x to close it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu CarolynM

    Unplugging has been going fairly well for me. I slip up sometimes, but I’ve been pretty much able to keep at least Saturday Internet free.

    It’s a huge relief. I’m not very social as a person and I’m definitely an introvert. I get so exhausted and overwhelmed from the demands I feel on me from people when I’m online. Taking a breather from that is huge.

    I also took a vacation for a week and did not bring a computer. I checked in on my phone occasionally, but mostly enjoyed a technology free week at the beach!

  • Melissa

    I experienced some forced unplugging recently–I was in Pittsburgh for a conference and then in Connecticut for my bridal shower, and I spent much of my time running without much break. When I did have a break, I did the important things–spending time checking in with my fiance, chatting with my maid of honor about laws in Massachusetts, just sitting with my mom and cousins. I only looked at my phone briefly, and I barely checked my usual internet time-sucks. I’ve been home since Sunday, and late last night was the first time I even turned my computer on in about a week. In between, we rearranged the living room and kitchen, discussed picking up furniture from Queens, and discussed our ceremony (because the first thing I looked at when I turned my computer on was APW). And you know what? It’s been damn beautiful.

  • Meghan

    Wonderful post Meg – I’m so glad you’re finding some success with unplugging! What a great thing you’re doing for yourself and your family and inspiring us to do too.

    On a side note, you inspired me to check out Bringing Up Bebe from the library. I had been sort of afraid to, what with all the ideas/assumptions/questions regarding parenthood floating around me simply due to the fact that I’m about to get married. However, I had a little bit of a “baskets!” moment when I realized I don’t need to be a mom or be interested in becoming one in order to find out more about how some humans on this planet are raising their little humans – I just need to be interested! So anyway thanks. :)

  • http://myminimalistwedding.wordpress.com Alyssa

    “What do you DO with your time?” And my response would always be, “When do you have time to watch TV? I don’t get it.”

    This is totally me. All of my coworkers talk about Game of Thrones nonstop but we don’t even have cable (much less HBO) and I’m fine with that. I figure it like this, after getting home from work at 5:30 or 6pm, I only have 4 hours to do what I want. So I workout, do yoga, cook dinner, play with my fiance, read books, read magazines, write letters, hike, bike, skateboard, and keep up with chores. I ain’t got no time to follow Game of Thrones and American Horror Story and Modern Family and NCIS and Once Upon a Time and whatever other TV shows everyone tells me I’m missing. I literally have no clue how people can follow even a single TV show, let alone multiple shows.

    • Moe

      Jersey Shore, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Real Housewives of…, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Toddlers in Tiaras, never seen an episode of any of them.

      #proud

      (I do miss Mad Men though)

    • Rachel

      YES, same here! I just said to Eric after that epic Game of Thrones was making my Facebook feed explode last week, “When do people watch TV?” I like…don’t get it. On the other hand, Eric loves TV and would probably watch it every night for a few hours if I weren’t so baffled by it.

      • meg

        Ha. Growing up without a TV, I’m not particularly seduced by the romance of not having (or watching) one.

        We currently watch an hour (or two, depending if we watch one or two) of our shows after the kid is in bed. It’s nice. It’s adult time, and these days I’m frankly too tired to do much else.

    • Brenda

      If you are a person (like me) for whom working out and cleaning are not important aspects of life because you find these things to be hard and not fun, you’ve got a lot more time to watch TV. We like to go outdoors of a weekend, go for a big hike or bicycle ride, but when it’s a rainy Sunday sometimes it’s nice to curl up on the couch in our pajamas and watch a Game of Thrones marathon.

      I think the intentionality discussion above applies to TV too – I do a lot more intentional TV watching these days, with shows that I find fill the same need in me that novels do (Game of Thrones, the Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc) and a lot less mindless TV watching (endless house renovation shows, Say Yes to the Dress, reality shows). Watching TV this way becomes a way to spend quality time together, and I engage with my co-workers on a more personal level when we can talk about what we thought of the show’s events.

  • Sara

    I acknowledge your statement that editing posts matters less to you than other things, but I am still going to submit an Editz: But that short-term rush takes prescience . . . I believe the word you meant to use here is precedence. Apologies if I completely misunderstood.

  • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

    Today’s XKCD seems very appropriate to this discussion, including (and especially) the hover text.

    http://xkcd.com/1227/

  • Hope

    Thank you for this, Meg. This is the very best of APW, and why I read. Thoughtfulness.

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