The Importance of Checking Out

Brooke Dilling | @brookefrances

One of my closest college friends lives in Kansas. Like, the middle-of-nowhere Kansas. Tracey lives on a farm six hours east of Denver. The kids and I know we’re almost to her place when we hit the stretch of road where the blacktop ends. The last several miles to the farm are unpaved, gravel roads. And where the pavement ends, my cell service ends, too.

We’re a wired society. Technology is at our fingertips the majority of our waking hours.  I’m painfully aware I’m a little too connected to my wireless devices and a little too disconnected from what really matters: my kids, my family members, my friends. Several years ago I got rid of my home land-line. I also ditched the alarm clock. Now my mobile phone rarely leaves my side. And yet, I rarely talk to people from it. It’s a vehicle for text messages and social media posts. It’s even by my bedside and serves as my alarm clock.  But for all the ability it gives me to “stay connected” I feel more disconnected and lonelier than ever.

Over-Connection 

And I’m not alone in this feeling. A 2013 article published by Forbes indicates over-connection to technology leads to increased stress. Our brains need time to relax and prepare for the next day. We can’t reduce our stress levels if we’re always plugged in.

The kids look forward to a few days on Tracey’s farm because they get to play with their friends--Tracey’s kids, get filthy in the dirt, hug farm cats, go hiking on country trails, ride tractors and all sorts of “farm activities.” I look forward to our farm visits for a different reason. My technology doesn’t work and I focus on what’s important, like relaxing and playing with my kids, and face-to-face, technology-free conversations with one of my oldest friends. Conversations across a kitchen counter while we drink coffee (or wine), and feed our constantly hungry children.

 
Field of Cows: The author (right), with her friend Tracey on the farm in Kansas. 

Field of Cows: The author (right), with her friend Tracey on the farm in Kansas. 

 

The Forbes article also shares technology is a distraction preventing the ability to connect earnestly with others, and I can relate to this, too. I need to do a better job of face-to-face connections with friends or picking up the phone for a real conversation, instead of  connections happening through text messages or social media. Or even more important, giving my kids 100% of my attention instead of hearing them say “Mom” repeatedly in order for me to pull my head out of my computer or smartphone (case in point: as I type this, my oldest is begging for me to show him what a water dragon looks like. Doesn’t he know I’m on deadline?)

I have a feeling another reason my kids love heading to the Kansas farm is because my phone doesn’t leave my purse and I’m actually present in their lives. There isn’t a reason to check my phone, or Facebook. I’m forced to re-connect to what’s real and engage in the fun right in front of me.

I sleep better in Kansas, too. Sure, it could be due to all the farm-fresh air, or because we’re running and playing all day. But, it could also be because technology use before bedtime has been associated with problems sleeping.

Disconnect to Reconnect--My Experiment 

It’s become clear I need to make a few small changes regarding my dependence on technology. So here’s my social experiment  for the next month; I’ve decided to implement some new rules for myself.

  • Create technology-free hours at home. From dinner until bedtime, I will put my phone and computer away and I will focus on spending quality time with my kids.

  • Make time--and actual plans--to get together with friends face-to-face.  

  • Answer the phone when friends call. Say “yes” to invitations to get together.

  • Limit my time on social media to 2 hours per week. In place of social media time, I will read actual books and magazines instead of Facebook updates and news.

  • Limit the kids’ access to technology; less screen time and more time with books, games, and outside activities.

To keep myself honest, I’ll journal about my progress. I want to know: can I stick to my rules or do I slip up? What changes do I notice in my own life and how my kids respond to these changes?

Stay tuned to my follow-up article on the results of these changes. And feel free to join me and chime in. Let’s experiment and learn who we can be when the pavement ends. . . .