digital sabbatical

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.

Why I'm Taking a Digital Semi-Sabbatical

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen that I announced a 1-week Twitter sabbatical last night. That’s the type of thing that’ll cause eyebrows to raise so I thought it’d be a good time to articulate why I felt this step was necessary. I mean, as a blogger it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for me to ditch my #1 platform for connecting with readers, right?

First of all, a smidge of background. Since January 4th I’ve been working full-time as a high school economics and government teacher. I have the tendency to throw myself into endeavors to the point where everything else gets pushed to the back burner. I was working 10+ hour days trying to be an awesome teacher and that resulted in me doing nothing else other than teaching, planning to teach, or grading. All of my blogging duties and responsibilities have been seriously neglected over the past three months.

However, I happen to be fairly sweet at GTD (Getting Things Done). I read David Allen’s book several years ago and since then have implemented a fairly robust productivity system that usually serves me quite well (and also read the book twice more). My GTD system allows me to capture incoming thoughts and ideas fairly seamlessly and for the last three months I’ve been absolutely dominating the “collect” aspect of GTD.

On Friday I basically finished my teaching assignment and began to turn my attention back to my writing and blogging. However, three months of collecting information and ideas but not acting on them has left me feeling absolutely swamped and overrun. I have so much that I think I might want to do, but maybe not, but then again maybe I do.

I decided that I need to take a week to work through all my information, clarify what it means to me, and align it with my goals and values. To that end, the last thing I need is even MORE information to add to the pile. So, I decided that taking a break from Twitter, Google Reader, mindless net surfing, and awesome-blog reading was in order. I need to spend some time alone with my thoughts, and only MY thoughts, in order to prepare myself for the coming months.

In a nutshell, here’s what’s going on.

WHY I’M TAKING A SEMI-DIGITAL SABBATICAL

  1. I’m way too good at GTD (well, the “collecting” aspect of it)
  2. I’ve had some major life changes that need to be addressed (upcoming article about that later this week)
  3. I need to spend some time with my own thoughts. I find myself getting sucked into the awesomeness that you all create and sometimes it depresses me because I don’t think I can do that. This is bullshit but sometimes I need to give myself a break from all the amazing stuff my friends produce and see if I can do something that warrants my association with them.

WHAT I WILL NOT BE DOING DURING MY SEMI-DIGITAL SABBATICAL

  1. Checking or posting on Twitter (except for initially tweeting out new articles by using the button on my blog)
  2. Checking my RSS feeds
  3. Browsing reddit or any other news aggregation site
  4. Checking email more than twice a day

WHAT I WILL BE DOING FOR THE NEXT WEEK

  1. Running
  2. Writing for the website
  3. Writing for myself
  4. Writing for a freelance project
  5. Cooking good food
  6. Meditating
  7. Reading Making it All Work (again)
  8. Realigning my daily action with my overall goals

WHAT'S THE ULTIMATE GOAL?

  1. Come back with a clearer focus for my website.
  2. Come back with a clearer vision of what I’m trying to do with my life
  3. Come back with a healthier relationship with Twitter, email and other online information sources
  4. Come back with a renewed vigor for my own creative output

Whew. That’s a lot of writing to essentially say, “I’m peace-ing out for a little bit but I’ll be back soon.” I like the idea of digital sabbaticals and writers better than I have explored the idea in more detail, if you’re interested. I think the idea of stepping back from the internet, unplugging and focusing on the self is going to become much, much more commonplace in the future. It’s only when your goals, values, and purpose are crystal clear in your mind that you can productively harness the information deluge that the internet provides. As soon as those higher level ideas become a little murky the internet shifts from an entity full of endless possibility to one of oppressive weight.

I’ll be getting my head together, creating some excellent content, and coming back with a new attitude after this break. Thanks for sticking around during the last three months and I’ll do my best to make it worth your while.

To wrap things up, I'd love to hear about your experiences with digital sabbaticals in the comments!

 

 

Why I'm Deleting My Facebook Account

I decided to start the New Year with a metaphorical bang. I've neglected to share the details of my life over the past couple months and I think it has made my writing quite dry. I know you aren't here to read about the intimate details of my life, but let's face it, anybody can write "how to" posts about living simpler. The interest lies when people add their own twists to run-of-the-mill information and when they share how it is affecting their life.

I will be posting this on Facebook, and then deleting (or locking down) my account.

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I'M DELETING MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT BECAUSE I AM WEAK.

I allowed it to trick me into thinking 1,000 Facebook friendships are suitable replacements for 10 real relationships. I've been lulled into the false sense of security that tells me because I can instantly communicate with all the people in my life, I don't need to right now. Not talking to you right now, even though I could, has turned into not talking to you for 6 months. And then a year. And then two years.

Facebook has become much less about communicating meaningfully with people and much more about knowing what everyone is doing. And it's not you, it's me. I like scrolling through my updates and seeing what you did yesterday, how your finals are going, or whether it's snowing where you are. I don't know why I do this, but I've come to terms with the fact that none of this matters. What you're actually doing, thinking, feeling, and fearing right now is not being portrayed by the lyrics in your status update.

I care about you as a person and for me, Facebook is becoming extremely adept at removing your humanity. Instead, you are just another line of information in an endlessly updating stream flowing in front of my eyes as cheap entertainment. I don't want that and you don't want that.

This isn't about you, it's about my own inability to filter the information that comes into my life. I face too much of it on a day to day basis and it dilutes and distracts me from the things that really matter. Deleting my Facebook account is only the first step in a larger movement toward becoming more conscious of how I spend my time and attention.

It's about being okay with less. With less information and less distraction. About eliminating the low-impact streams of information in favor of making time for what truly matters.

No, I won't be checking your status or updating my own anymore, but I will be calling you and asking if you want to grab a coffee sometime soon. I won't "like" that funny video you posted on somebody's wall but I will be writing you an email or a letter. I won't be able to play Farmville with you, but I will want to get together and play some video games sometime. All I know is that I need more face to face, and less text to text, time with the important people in my life.

I've got a list of people that aren't going to really be affected by whether I have a Facebook account. We're still going to talk and see each other and the world will continue to spin.

I have another list of people that I'm going to make a more conscious effort to contact more often. These are the people who I need to make a concerted effort to make a larger part of my life. If I'm a part of that second list for you, I'd love if you'd send me an email or give me a call sometime. If you don't know me particularly well but think that you'd like to, please, please, please contact me via email, Skype, Twitter, or phone.

Our technological world is becoming more and more impersonal. This is my small act of defiance, of rebellion, toward a world of more personal connections. I see the irony that a service meant to draw people closer together has not done that for me and yet, I'm okay with it.

In fact, I feel better already.

Is Facebook replacing heartfelt and personal relationships for you?