My Forthcoming Digital Sabbatical

In twenty four hours I leave for vacation with my family in rural western Kentucky. Every year we visit my grandparents and extended family. It’s a week filled of delicious Southern food, fishing, reading, and laying by the pool.

In the past it has also been a week where technology took a backseat in my life. When I didn’t have a cell phone the only technology I regularly interfaced with was the occasional movie or television show. Once I got a cell phone I still wasn’t able to use it very much because the reception used to be terrible out there. However, in the past couple years our trip to Kentucky hasn’t been much different from being at home. My grandparents have cable television, my cousins who live next door have wireless internet and a computer, the campground my grandparents have a permanent camper at has wireless internet and proper cell reception now, too. If I want to, I can bring my computer and not really experience anything very different from life at home. In the past, I’ve done exactly that.

This year, however, I'm leaving my computer at home. I just deleted all the social apps on my iPhone and disconnected my email account from it. I’m taking a long overdue proper digital sabbatical.

I’ve covered both extremes of connectivity in the last year. For approximately eight months I did not have home internet service or an iPhone. If I wanted to use the internet I had to go to Starbucks, the library, or somewhere with public wi-fi. It was probably one of the most productive times of my life. However, I eventually got to the point where I constantly had my iPod Touch with me so I could check my email or check Twitter if I happened to come across some wi-fi in my daily travels. I didn’t like the feeling of being constantly on the lookout for my next “internet fix.”

In January I happened to land a long term substitute teaching job so I decided I’d get internet service in my apartment. I didn’t want to be relegated to planning my lessons only at school or the library (in hindsight, I probably should have). After months of not having any internet service I was like a starving person at a buffet. I gorged myself on information.

Then I got an iPhone. It was essentially a free upgrade from my previous cell phone so I decided to jump on the bandwagon approximately three years late. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone. I also hate it. It’s a complex relationship.

Lately, I’ve realized that I spend way too much time and attention checking email, Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc. It’s a cyclical struggle that I’m currently in the midst of losing. The problem is that my email account brings me good information (e-book sales!), bad information (mean people), opportunities (contribute to my project!) and entertainment (lol that kitten tripped). Much the same could be said for Facebook or any of the other social networks I engage with.

That’s not going to fly much longer though. I’m deadest on developing my ability to focus effectively. I’m not going to let my lack of focus effect how well I do in grad school. I’m not going to become like the vast majority of the people in my generation and lose the ability to focus intently on one project or task for a long period of time. I don’t need the crutch of an iPhone and constant connectivity to bring interest to my life. I can be the source of entertainment, intrigue, and engagement. I don’t need external forces to push me along through life.

So, spending a week without any of that is good for me. I’m concentrating on reconnecting with myself and not the internet. I love you guys and the work you do, but when I try to take all of it in it starts to feel the same. I need to step back and reconsider my relationship with information.

For the next week I’m going to have my Kindle, a couple regular books, my journal, and my pen. I’m going to read silly fantasy books, write about whatever catches my attention and be ok with the fact that my inbox is filling up with good news, bad news, and indifferent news. I’m going to be ok with the fact that you guys are tweeting without me, sharing awesome things, and generally carrying on just fine.

If you've thought about taking a digital sabbatical before maybe it's time you bit the bullet and make it happen. It seems scary. When I get back I'll write a complete reflection on how my digital sabbatical went.

If previous experience is any measure I think I'm going to be wondering what took me so long to finally do this again.