I was having…

… dinner the other night with my wife and son and two of his friends. They were in their own booth and my wife and I were in the next one.

We were in between bites of food and conversation and I was looking at the other people in the dining room. It’s a favorite thing of mine to do. I wonder what their stories are, where they’re from, what they love and hate, etc.

I noticed a young man sitting with a larger group of people. Maybe 10 of them gathered for a birthday. (which was, in fact, the case as we later discovered) Their conversation was still going strong but the young man was not involved. He was surfing the web on his phone. No one else at his table seemed to mind his lack of participation so I did my best to withhold judgement.

But it did get me wondering.  What could have been so important? Email or text from a girl? Sports scores? Wrench sale at Sears? The possibilities are overwhelming. I just ended up thinking, “Why not just plug all the way in to what was going on?” I get that it was probably not the most “happening” thing he could be doing, but on the other hand, if you made the effort to show up, why not “show up”?

My attention span sated for a minute, my eyes wandered the dining room and I saw that quite a few others were involved in phone conversations, hand-held games, MP3 players etc.

I now had a choice. I could start making assumptions and being a jerk or I could turn the attention on myself. So, in a blazing moment of generosity, I began examining myself. I began to track what I’d done that day. This is what I came up with…(by the way, this was a day off)

Slept late. Woke up and checked text messages and voice mail on cell phone. Grabbed cup of coffee and headed downstairs to the computer to check email. Spent an hour surfing. Spent an hour working on some music. Spent another hour playing an online game. Went upstairs and got another cup of coffee. Plugged in my earbuds while I did some dishes and listened to a favorite podcast. From there I turned on the tv and began the process of gathering the days news/catching up on “House” and finishing the “tear down” of the Christmas tree. Feeling justified in the amount of work I’d put forth for a day off, I went back downstairs and played for about 45 minutes. Having successfully removed the stain of effort from my hands I began surfing the net in earnest. You know, really digging in. From which I carried away these nuggets: Michael Jackson may or may not be dead, the American economy is in trouble and if you do a search on YouTube concerning “boogers”…well…you know.

I could really go on and on. The level of input was staggering when I stepped back to examine it. Could this really be the way I live my life every day? Oh my God, it was almost chilling. It more and more felt like I was simply being programmed by everything that I plugged into. It occurred to me that maybe I was simply plugged in too much. So to test my theory, I challenged myself to take the next day (another day off) and completely unplug. I would spend the day with no input whatsoever. Madness, you say? Perhaps, but life is to be lived blah, blah, blah.

I’ll make this comparison of that first day. There were days when I was quitting smoking that were more comfortable than that.

I really didn’t know what to do with myself. Literally. The TV was off. The radio was off. The computer was off. The cell phones were off. I didn’t read the paper, etc. It was also my wife and sons day off as well so I found myself talking to them at length over the course of the day. My wife and I laid on opposite ends of the couch and talked for probably over two hours. My son (who I’ve accused of having no imagination) and I spent hours in the land of “Blarth”. Our own little world where the rules of reality changed and shifted on an almost minute-to-minute basis to suit our whims. We only came up for air when we needed orange juice and goldfish crackers. (Unfortunately, Blarth has neither. Something we swore to fix the next time we visited).

My wife and I then spent an hour and a half cooking an experimental dinner together. (turned out great!)

I ended the day by repealing a rule for the day. I read. We all read. And by the time we’d had our fill of that, it was time for bed so that’s what we did.

It was a great day.

Granted, there was a “birthing” process that had to happen early on in the day and I don’t know if I could survive being unplugged all the time (just ask my Mac). But I do know this… I remember that day. And the subsequent unplugged days after. They’re not at all like the other days of my life which seem a little more generic by comparison. They feel a little more “real”.

And don’t misunderstand me, I’m not one of those, “Get off the Grid!” evangelists. I don’t believe unplugging is the answer to a life out of whack. But I am a rabid believer in balance and that’s what this experiment seemed to be step toward.

I don’t generally reach far enough to suggest advice to anyone (dangerous proposition at best) but this was so “bending” I thought it was worth taking the chance. So go ahead and turn on your Nintendo DS and by all means keep your iPod charged, but try and take that challenge yourself once and see what it feels like. I guarantee it’ll be an eye opener.

It’s been six months since I tried my little experiment and I’ve had maybe four of those unplugged days since then. I’m here to say that it’s been a positive experience all around. My family is a little closer. We have a little more fun together and we do different things.

Let me know what happens with you.

P.S. Blarth now has OJ.

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~ by trendof1 on March 3, 2010.

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