Connect by Disconnecting


A friend sent me an article last week titled, “The Rise of the Toilet Texter” with a note saying, “I don’t want to know where you’ll be reading this.”

Needless to say, I was curious, and somewhat amused.

According to The New York Times, 75 percent of Americans and a staggering 91 percent of young Americans (ages 28 to 35) are using the “loo” to catch up on calls, tweet and browse the Internet. Not only are we hooked to our devices, but approximately 25 percent of people surveyed wouldn’t even go to the bathroom without their phone.

More interesting than the article itself were the comments it attracted: people admitted to getting work done in the bathtub, readers offered advice on how not to let the sounds of the bathroom penetrate phone calls and how best to sneak away from your desk for a “bathroom break.”

Thankfully, I read all this sitting at my desk, nowhere near the bathroom, laughing endlessly at the puns, side jokes and silly comments. But, seriously, we can’t spend 20 minutes without fretting about a missed call or just simply relaxing our minds?

A couple weeks back, Pico Iyer, a noted travel writer, wrote a short essay for the Times headlined “The Joy of Quiet” in which he discussed our obsession with connectivity. It was, ironically, one of the most-read articles on the site and widely circulated on social media platforms. But, the message was simple — learn to disconnect.

Having read countless books by Iyer, I could see where he was coming from; he’s a writer, and a thoughtful one, who grew up partly in Santa Barbara and partly in England where he did his studies. His writing is lyrical, insightful and intensely reflective.

But, I wondered how can that emphasis on contemplation be applied to other professions, ones that don’t necessarily require so much soul searching on a daily basis.

What I realized was that disconnecting has little do with what profession you’re in. In fact, a friend of mine who runs a successful tech-based startup in the Bay Area shared that he recently unplugged for about two weeks on vacation; completely unplugged meaning no emails, texts, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

And, not only was he less cranky when he returned, but he felt like he had a surge of new ideas come his way. Things he wouldn’t have realized if he’d been browsing the Web on his iPhone.

Yes, we need technology to be able to get our work done, to communicate with family and friends around the world, and even educate ourselves (through articles, videos, etc.). But do we need it all the time?

Recently, a friend called and scolded me for being hard to reach; he’d been trying for a day and hadn’t been able to get through. I laughed. One day, really? I asked him. He realized how silly he sounded.

But, it’s true. Should we be available at nearly all hours of the day; the only exception being the few odd hours we get to sleep ’til we hear the alarm programmed on our phone?

But why disconnect? Don’t good ideas come from a spark — something you see, read, experience. That gets you thinking. So, in that case, constant stimulation would help. Especially in a society that prizes creativity and innovation?

Some, like Iyer, are suggesting otherwise, and rightfully so. For ages, creativity has come from solitude and quiet. It’s in that silence when your mind gets to leisurely wonder, connect the dots, revisit experiences, go beyond the surface, and delve deeper into the significance of those experiences.

But disconnecting from the digital world doesn’t mean disconnecting from the real world. Cafes around the world thrive as meeting points because they spur conversation, when you’re just focused on what the other person’s saying.

In some countries, cafe tables are notoriously small and round; it’s like they’re telling you to engage.

But then, buzz — you get a call. You say, “Excuse me, let me answer this.” And that conversation is disrupted. The art of a meaningful conversation is sidetracked by modern convenience.

What does all this mean? That we leave our gizmos at home? Not necessarily. But maybe we can sink ourselves into a long essay, a book (even on the Kindle), or a lengthy conversation without any disruptions.

Because, ultimately, it’s that insightful simulation that brings a sense of contentment and, possibly, a good idea.

Turning off enables us to turn on our other senses. And really answer the question, what do you think? Honestly, I’m asked that question so many times these days and in such haste, that I just answer what comes to mind.

A little extra time and some silence would probably procure a different response. But, we live in an instant world.

For me, the late hours of the night when the world is still is my escape; a time to revisit the day, a time free from phone calls and messages, a time in which I can genuinely hear the silence.

Of course, to each his own. And this can all be done in the comfort of your bathroom also, if you please. Simply, leave behind the phone.

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