Well, folks, I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to pull the plug.
I was getting ready for bed last night, toothbrush in one hand, cell phone in the other, reading emails, smart watch on my wrist, buzzing with text and Facebook and Instagram notifications and I realized, this is madness. Unless I’m asleep – and even then, I sleep with my smart watch on because it serves as my alarm – I’m literally NEVER not connected to my devices, my screens, my technological tether. (I just stopped writing to check an email because the little envelope icon showed up on my desktop and I can’t resist its siren song.) All day, every day, I’m switching between programs on my computer and picking up my phone to respond to texts, wrist buzzing incessantly with the need to respond to whatever thought has passed into someone’s head, through their fingers, and to my phone.
Frankly, I’m tired of it.
I’m tired of being “on” all the time. I’m tired of everyone being able to access me at all hours of the day and night. I’m tired of feeling as though I’m being pulled in 14 directions, never able to concentrate on any one thing for more than three minutes without some sort of electronic interruption. (Just stopped again because someone IM’d me with a payroll question.) My hands go numb at night from holding my phone in bed. I vaguely remember what it was like to read, to write, to relax at night without the blue glow of a screen in my face. And I long for the days when I could get into a flow at work, when the words or the numbers or the strategy seemed to come easily, and I could work for an hour or two straight without stopping, and feel elated when I was done.
For eight years now, I’ve been available 24/7. In the beginning, when I was the entire company of Legion, I had to be. I needed to answer the phone when it rang, in case a customer or carrier had an emergency. Then, I had to be available to employees, in case they (Just stopped to respond to a text message from an employee who works remotely and needed an answer to a question.) (Came back to write again, then had to respond to THAT response on text.) had an emergency and needed me. Now, the 24/7 nature of my work has relented a bit, but I’m so conditioned to answer the minute someone pings me that I find myself unable to break the habit. I got my first smart watch a couple years ago, and since then, I feel the oppressive tug of connectedness more than ever.
The reality is, virtually none of the communication I get on my phone/email/IM is urgent. Certainly nothing on Facebook or Instagram is. I’m just Pavlovian in my response to dings, buzzes, icons, and alerts. And, if I’m being honest, I’m addicted to the feeling of being NEEDED. Getting those dings, buzzes, icons and alerts makes me feel essential. (Just stopped, OF MY OWN VOLITION, to look at Facebook, for no reason whatsoever except curiosity) If I don’t get all these notifications, who am I? If no one needs me, what is my purpose in life?
An even bigger problem is the anxiety I feel when I take my smart watch off and leave my phone on silent. What’s happening? What am I missing? What in the world is happening that I don’t know about? They call it FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. I’m so worried about what’s happening OUT THERE that I don’t focus on what’s happening right in front of me. It’s not healthy, and it’s not sustainable. The burnout that I feel right now, the vague sense of irritation and oppression that comes when my wrist vibrates or my phone dings, will only get worse. I know that I have to do something to reset my own (Just had to stop because my mom had texted me and because I didn’t respond in 30 seconds, she called me, too.) expectations, responses, habits and process. I can’t keep doing this.
To that end, I’m taking a break. In the eight years I’ve owned Legion, I’ve never fully unplugged on a vacation. I’ve always taken a laptop, checked my email, taken phone calls, responded to requests, etc. On one trip with my family, I spent at least half my beach vacation in a hotel room, negotiating a bank deal. There has been no such thing as a true vacation for me in nearly a decade. Which is ridiculous. (Just stopped to respond to three non-urgent emails) I’m not running the free world here. I’m running a company with a competent business partner and I should be able to go away for a week – or more! – and not feel like the world is ending.
Next week, I’m headed to California for a combination professional development/vacation trip. The professional development will not require me to be plugged in to Legion work, and of course the vacation won’t. So I’ve made a plan to break this terrible tech habit. I’m not taking my smart watch. I’m going to put my phone in airplane mode for as much of the vacation as I can. I’m going to take a laptop, but only so I can write, if I feel so compelled. I’m taking books and pens and a notebook. (Just got interrupted by five questions from three different people, in person at least this time. Plus responded to three emails.) I’m going to bathe in the forest and commune with nature and connect with my travel companion and really dig in to the professional development work that is the entire purpose of the trip. I’m going to set my auto-responder to say that I don’t have any access to email, and I’m going to disconnect from all the alerts and pings and buzzes and demands. I’m going to enjoy the physical world around me, instead of feeling the urge to post everything to Facebook and Instagram.
So, if you don’t hear from me for a week, this is why. I promise I still exist. I’m just existing in the physical world, instead of the electronic. I’m getting back to being real.
I’m pulling the plug.
by Lacy Starling, President & Fearless Leader