I woke up, went to the window, saw the new blanket of snow, and knew exactly what I wanted to do next:

Tweet.

If this had been Saturday, or Monday, I wouldn’t have hesitated. I would’ve dashed to the office, woken my charging phone, surveyed the yard for an ideal snapshot and sent it, as soon as possible, to the Facebook/Twitterverse. There it would have joined a digital dance that was no doubt gaining momentum that very instant all across the city, as people ooooh’d and aaaah’d and worried at another heap of the fluffy white stuff that never fails to drive Seattle crazy.

Instead, I stayed at the window, watching the flakes fall while my phone snored in its cradle. That day, I was on my own. That day was No-Tech Sunday. It’s not a holiday or movement you would know about, like that day Wikipedia went dark to protest SOPA. It’s my own thing, meant to address my own need for digital awareness.

And it’s working.

Before I tell you why, and how, let’s get one thing clear. I am not, nor am I becoming, a tech hater. They’re out there. I’ve spent a good part of the last few years taking them on, and it’s been fun. I can go on for days about the superpowers tech is giving us. Making us more informed. Productive. Social. And connected — that’s the incredible part. Because just about anything you can do with technology you can do anywhere, as long as you have a trusty smartphone around. I don’t have to tell you this. You’re reading GeekWire. You live and breathe this stuff.

If I’m honest, the Monica of 2010 would look at the Monica of 2012, see “No-Tech Sunday” pop up weekly on her calendar alerts, and go, WTF?

On no-tech Sundays I don’t touch email, Facebook, Twitter, the Web, or connected technologies of any kind — not even my phone, which, initially, huuurt. The idea started brewing when I decided to leave my iPhone at home over vacation last summer, and found its spark when I met Tiffany Shlain, director of the documentary “Connected,” in the fall and learned about her Tech Shabbats.

There are a few reasons I’m doing it. They start with the idea of relevance.

Everyone who creates content and everyone who creates products or services that deliver content is obsessed with facilitating relevance, for one very good reason: giving us what matters to us is the best way to win us over. They’ve done good work. Whether it’s sports scores, photos from friends or the latest buzz on our favorite thing, the ease with which we can customize our apps and devices to give us only what want — combined with the vast quantity of information that floats around us every second — means that each of us is never more than a tap away from learning something very interesting. Goodbye, idle moments. We won’t miss you.

Or will we?

There’s an inertia to the stream of information that flows through my apps. After I stop checking, the stream keeps moving, pushing its way into my brain until I can’t stand another moment without checking … something. I used to check only when I needed to look up info, when there was nothing else to do, when it was safe, when I was alone. But at some point a little voice in my head chirped, why not check while you’re looking for cereal at the grocery store? While you’re stopped at a red light? While you’re walking to the coffee shop? While you’re talking with friends and there’s a lull in the conversation? Heck, why not just excuse yourself and say you have to go to the bathroom, so you can catch up with all those new tweets? After all, if you pit the world you carry in your pocket against the world around you, the former wins on relevance, just about every time.

Sometime in the last few months, this started to feel … wrong.

I couldn’t put a finger on exactly why, or what part. I still can’t. Nor can I say that it should also feel wrong for you, or you, or anyone. But I sensed it one night in November when I saw a photo of a beautiful Seattle sunset on Twitter, and realized I could have seen it myself that evening, if I had just bothered to look around.

So on Sundays, I do. For all the idle moments, the wait times, the transitions, it’s just me, the world around me, and the people in it. Period. It’s peaceful, noticing how quickly the clouds move, how the bus driver tips his hat at boarding passengers, how a seagull lands on a rooftop, how rain-soaked downtowners step off the curb to cross the street, feeling only my keys, gloves and wallet in my pockets. When the itch comes to check my filtered, digital world for something more “relevant,” I’m left wondering if it really would be. That’s perspective. I think it’s done me good.

But it’s not been all smiles and musings. Those superpowers tech gives us — they’re tough to switch off. This Sunday I had an appointment I’d forgotten to locate while I was tech-able. When my husband found it was far from a familiar area, I almost stayed home. How was I going to drive there without my iPhone’s trusty blue dot to guide me? No phone means no calls, no texts. How do I tell my friend that I’m running late to meet her? How does she tell me? I need a refresher: How did we live before cell phones again? And why oh why would we want to? I guess that’s perspective, too.

Bottom line, no-tech Sundays are helping me notice all the things that connected tech is changing about the ways we behave. It’s not about rejecting tech, or recovering a life without it. It’s about taking this power that’s appeared in our world and slowing it down just enough to look at it, understand it, and maybe, just maybe, take control.

Twitter can wait. I’ll watch the snow.

Comments

  • http://www.duncanhaley.com John Haley

    Monica, I like your approach!  I accidentally left my crackberry in the office over the weekend – IT WAS WONDERFUL.  Monday morning I felt more mentally rested and ready to attack my week than I have in a long time.  Other than not being plugged in over the weekend, nothing else was different than normal.  The affect was pretty suprising.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I’m noticing that too, that taking a day off tech is helping me focus better when I do use tech the rest of the week. Ah, the benefits of rest …

  • http://twitter.com/SpicyOwl KA

    Great article, Monica. I also saw Connected and I have thought about the idea of unplugging a lot. My biggest issue is before cell phones and the internet, we had home phones. I don’t want to give up my life and my friends for 1/7th of my life. If I had a phone where I could call them, and hear their voice instead of just reading a text, I’d be on board. How do you deal with this? I wish there was a button on cell phones that would shut off all the “smart” properties so all it would do is call another number….

  • http://www.weskim.com weskimcom

    We used to have “screen-free Sundays” in our house (although the ban was lifted at 5pm), but we’ve fallen off the wagon. Thinking about reinstating it for a couple reasons:

    – NY Times piece on digital vs. physical memory (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/magazine/what-happens-when-data-disappears.html ) and what’s happening to the act of remembering when all our personal artifacts become digital.

    – Univ. of Notre Dame study showing that walking through a doorway creates a cognitive “event boundary” that can cause you to forget things from one room to another. (You can Google articles about this or read the original research report if so inclined.) If walking through a doorway can have that effect, what of switching your focus to/from a digital screen or even between apps on the same screen? It certainly hints at a scientific basis for how multitasking compromises our productivity.

    Remember that Microsoft vision-of-the-future video you blogged about before (http://www.geekwire.com/2011/video-utopia )? You mentioned having a weird feeling about seeing everyone so blasé about omnipresent screens crammed with information. My impression on seeing that video was that those screens seemed so information-dense that I could barely imagine how those future users could process it all, but then I think of what my computer and mobile screens look like now and how baffling they would have looked to my former selves 10 or even five years ago. No doubt, as technology advances, our ability to process and navigate increasingly dense information displays will only increase.

    But…isn’t this a race we must necessarily lose at some point? I already find myself experiencing the flickers of what I’m sure will one day be age-related memory failure. I can’t say whether it’s a function of my current age, or if technology is evolving so fast that it will inevitably leave people behind as each new generation of users pushes the envelope further. What kind of technology will my children, who have already grown up with computers, smartphones, tablets, and videogames, be using when they’re adults? I’m sure I can’t imagine.

    What I do know is that on some level, being constantly plugged in and “outsourcing” our memories to the cloud is changing the human experience in subtle yet profound ways. For all the benefits it brings, it’s important to consider what we may be losing in the process. Perhaps unplugging from time to time can be a good reality check – to reassure ourselves that we haven’t constructed our identities so firmly upon virtual connections with one another that we experience a disconcerting emptiness when all the screens are turned off. Previous generations created rich tapestries of memory and explored fulfilling lives of the mind in the absence of the Internet, and I fear the atrophy of those capabilities as we careen towards an intellectual and emotional existence based increasingly on the digital to the exclusion of the real world.

    I think our generation has embraced the idea that “no one on their deathbed wishes they spent more time at the office.” But I would hate to be on my deathbed thinking, “I wish I had spent less time online.” Or to borrow from Clay Shirky, “I wish I had spent less of my cognitive surplus on Farmville.”

  • http://www.weskim.com weskimcom

    We used to have “screen-free Sundays” in our house (although the ban was lifted at 5pm), but we’ve fallen off the wagon. Thinking about reinstating it for a couple reasons:

    – NY Times piece on digital vs. physical memory (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/magazine/what-happens-when-data-disappears.html ) and what’s happening to the act of remembering when all our personal artifacts become digital.

    – Univ. of Notre Dame study showing that walking through a doorway creates a cognitive “event boundary” that can cause you to forget things from one room to another. (You can Google articles about this or read the original research report if so inclined.) If walking through a doorway can have that effect, what of switching your focus to/from a digital screen or even between apps on the same screen? It certainly hints at a scientific basis for how multitasking compromises our productivity.

    Remember that Microsoft vision-of-the-future video you blogged about before (http://www.geekwire.com/2011/video-utopia )? You mentioned having a weird feeling about seeing everyone so blasé about omnipresent screens crammed with information. My impression on seeing that video was that those screens seemed so information-dense that I could barely imagine how those future users could process it all, but then I think of what my computer and mobile screens look like now and how baffling they would have looked to my former selves 10 or even five years ago. No doubt, as technology advances, our ability to process and navigate increasingly dense information displays will only increase.

    But…isn’t this a race we must necessarily lose at some point? I already find myself experiencing the flickers of what I’m sure will one day be age-related memory failure. I can’t say whether it’s a function of my current age, or if technology is evolving so fast that it will inevitably leave people behind as each new generation of users pushes the envelope further. What kind of technology will my children, who have already grown up with computers, smartphones, tablets, and videogames, be using when they’re adults? I’m sure I can’t imagine.

    What I do know is that on some level, being constantly plugged in and “outsourcing” our memories to the cloud is changing the human experience in subtle yet profound ways. For all the benefits it brings, it’s important to consider what we may be losing in the process. Perhaps unplugging from time to time can be a good reality check – to reassure ourselves that we haven’t constructed our identities so firmly upon virtual connections with one another that we experience a disconcerting emptiness when all the screens are turned off. Previous generations created rich tapestries of memory and explored fulfilling lives of the mind in the absence of the Internet, and I fear the atrophy of those capabilities as we careen towards an intellectual and emotional existence based increasingly on the digital to the exclusion of the real world.

    I think our generation has embraced the idea that “no one on their deathbed wishes they spent more time at the office.” But I would hate to be on my deathbed thinking, “I wish I had spent less time online.” Or to borrow from Clay Shirky, “I wish I had spent less of my cognitive surplus on Farmville.”

  • http://twitter.com/kadeeirene kadeeirene

    I love it – it’s way to easy to get burned out when you’re dealing with online/tech in your daily life. I’ve always left the weekends (subconsciously) open and mainly offline by way of social media, blogs and reading up on industry news – it makes the weekend go by a lot slower. Good post, glad to hear I’m not the only one :)

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      “It makes the weekend go by a lot slower.” So true! It’s just a different pace, more active on multiple senses, with multiple stimuli of all kinds. And you move more, look around, get spontaneous. You’re DEFINITELY not the only one!

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