We’re unplugged from sundown today to sundown tomorrow!
All too often in recent months I’ve found myself pulled into a vortex of emails, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and just plain mindless internet surfing sessions. Let’s face it, the screens in our lives are highly addictive and who among us actually feels better after an info-crack bender?
Published in 2010, William Power’s Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, is a reasonable, balanced and practical guide to navigating our hyper-connected age (and how ironic it is that the fast pace of technological change makes “BlackBerry” a quaint reference in 2013–the book, however is more relevant than it was in 2010).
Powers does not take a finger waving “eat your Brussels sprouts” approach. Rather, he acknowledges the immense potential and usefulness of computers and smart phones while offering sage advice on using them intelligently. He draws on an unlikely set of philosophers, inventors and writers: Socrates, Seneca, Johannes Gutenberg, William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau and Marshall McCluhan, each of whom dealt with sweeping change in communication technology in their own times. Powers earns extra points for mentioning my favorite architect, Christopher Alexander.
Using these sources, Powers offers the following suggestions for avoiding technological overload:
- Distance: it’s good periodically, to take a walk and leave all screens at home.
- Developing inner peace: make time for meditation practices, working in the garden, working on your bike etc. Powers advocates something I’ve experimented with over the past few years–cutting off national news and letting conversations with friends and relatives fill me in on what’s going on.
- Read books made out of paper! Even e-book technology can encourage mindless surfing. Reading an old fashioned book can help develop powers of concentration and focus.
- Use old tools: Powers gives the example of note taking with paper and pen. Sometimes older tools can help reduce distractions–your paper notebook, after all, is not going to chime in with an incoming email.
- Rituals: As Powers puts it, “Vow to finish all screen tasks by a given time, with a reward if you make it.” Don’t check email first thing in the morning–get some work or exercise done first. I have a disclaimer at the bottom of my emails stating that I check email at noon and sunset. I’ve found this works for me and I’ve trained people to call me if there is something important.
- The Walden Zone: set up a screen-free area of your house, but don’t get puritanical about it. Your Walden Zone does not need to be quiet. In addition to a peaceful space you might want a fun, loud, party room (minus the screens). And don’t forget about the backyard–most Americans are so addicted to screens that they don’t ever go out there! Powers turns off his modem for the entire weekend. Powers claims that his internet “Sabbaths” have been very successful even with a teenage son in the household.
- Use technology intelligently: Powers is not Amish! He acknowledges that the internet and cell phones are incredible tools. Understand how technology works and harness it for useful tasks while reducing unnecessary chatter.
Powers acknowledges that what works for one individual or family may not work for another. We have to be flexible in our approach to working with technology. Some of us may be able to ditch our smartphones (I’ve never had one and don’t plan on getting one) but others may need that connectivity for work. But the more important point is that we need to avoid becoming, as Thoreau put it, “the tool of the tool.” We need to use our new powers of connection with mindfulness: to build community, to educate and to inspire.
On a recent pilgrimage to Ikea, I ended up staring at a large display of fake plants while Mrs. Root Simple found a replacement for our kitten-shredded drapes. Viewed from a distance Ikea’s plastic plants were realistic, though seemingly outside of any known plant genus. I found myself pondering the question of what permacultural context in which these plastic plants would be an appropriate design solution. I couldn’t answer my own question. More plastic and less living things in our lives is probably not a good idea. But I am willing to consider a very limited use of artificial turf–neighbor Anne Hars once showed me Home Depot’s astonishing selection of fake grass–some that even has fake dead grass mixed in for realism. Perhaps in some ironic post-modern house this artificial turf could fit in.
It did remind me of the time a neighbor, who is a Hollywood art director, grabbed me late one evening to help her fake a vegetable garden for a movie. From her I that learned that their are businesses in Hollywood that do nothing other than provide fake plants. Not just flowers, but everything from corn to . . . hemp.
Having a bad year with your tomatoes? Green Set Inc. will set you up with some fake ones:
They even have a very large (and suspiciously shiny) fake zucchini:
But I think my favorite fake plants come from a company called New Image Plants, providers of “The World’s Best Artificial Marijuana.” Customers? Marijuana dispensaries, the set decorator for Weeds and law enforcement! From their website:
Across the world law enforcement finds itself with the continuous dilemma of having to train new recruits to identify and find illegal marijuana plants . . . Our plants are used by many police departments across the world, the US Military and the Royal Mountain Police in Canada to name just a few.
Be forewarned that the bush above, complete with realistic buds, is a $325 gag gift for the gardener in your life. For some reason I would love to sneak one of these into my dentist’s waiting room.
I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on “unplugging” in the last issue of Sunset Magazine, “The Unplugged Home.” That the article features a family in the San Francisco Bay area (the capital of plugging in) isn’t surprising. When I was a video editor many years ago the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of another TV when I got home. I suspect many tech workers feel the same about computers.
We got rid of our TV a long time ago and have never missed it. But the interwebs are a different matter. I think we humans are hardwired to be attracted to novelty and the interwebs are a crack cocaine pipe full of informational novelty. Sometimes I’m using the internet wisely to, say, find the optimal planting times for rhubarb. But other times I’m reading nonsense about the Bavarian Illuminati hand signals Beyonce allegedly deployed during her Superbowl appearance.
Reboot, a Jewish arts organization is sponsoring a National Day of Unplugging from sundown to sundown March 1st to 2nd. I think this is a great idea and I plan on participating–I especially like their Sabbath Manifesto.
But the problem for me is not disconnecting from the internet–that’s easy–since I don’t have a smart phone I do that every time I leave the house. No, the problem is reconnecting responsibly, i.e. using the internet productively. The internet is, after all, a fantastic research and connectivity tool.
Ahead of the National Day of Unplugging I’d like to hear from readers about how you manage technology in your household–your strategies for disconnecting and connecting responsibly. If I get enough responses I’ll feature them in a follow up post on March 4th.
I thought I’d chime in on the subject of this year’s garden failures. Before I do, I’d like to thank you all for your kind advice and commiseration that you left on Erik’s post.
First, I will agree that it really, truly has been a terrible year in the garden. Sometimes Erik gets a little melodramatic when it comes to the crop failure (e.g. the Squash Baby adventure) but the truth is we’ve never, ever had such a sorry string off disasters and non-starters since we began gardening.
And I think that’s something to keep in mind. This is unusual. When things are going wrong, it’s easy to forget how often they go right. That’s why it’s good to keep a garden journal, or a blog, or even just a photo collection to look back on, so you can track your progress more objectively.
So when I look back on this blog, and through our old photos, I can see the successes far outweigh the failures. Disasters are inevitable when gardening–that’s part of the game– but they are usually balanced by good times. This year, though, it seemed nothing went right.
What went wrong?