It’s a lot easier to plug into the wired world of mobile devices than it is to unplug.
That’s not to say a lot of folks aren’t trying to help us lick the smartphone addictions wrecking our relationships, blurring the line between work and home, and messing with our sleep cycles. A whole cottage industry of moderation advocates wants to show us that happy place where your cellphone is a valuable tool, not a digital dominatrix.
Here’s a look at a handful of nonprofit groups, startups and lifestyle coaches bravely leading the charge.
The National Day of Unplugging
With its roots in the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath, a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, this annual event, which took place earlier this month, was launched by Reboot, a nonprofit that pushes people to take regular breaks from the digital trough. The idea: Reconnect with family and friends by putting down your smartphones, tablets and computers for 24 hours.
“The idea is to reclaim and reinvent the traditional ancient day of rest, but for a broader audience,” says Tanya Schevitz, Reboot’s program coordinator in San Francisco. “Tech tools have been with us for decades, but with the smartphone, the pace really picked up and now you can never get away from it. More and more people are feeling overwhelmed by this expectation that you must be constantly available.”
Touting its mission “to encourage a healthy, balanced lifestyle in a fast-paced, technological world,” this Petaluma apparel startup wants people to wear their digital liberation on their sleeves — literally.
With a line of T-shirts, sweatshirts and accessories available at PlugOut’s online store, each carrying a logo-message to unplug, founders Ray and Anna-Claire Decker wanted to help people find balance in their lives. The name, says spokeswoman Gilly Hegenbart, comes from something the Deckers’ 4-year-old daughter asked her dad after he’d finished vacuuming: “Did you plug out?”
“We’re not saying get rid of your iPhone, but so many people are on their phones at the dinner table and in line at the grocery store,” said Hegenbart. “Our clothes serve as a constant reminder to encourage people to put down their phones and tablets and keep things in balance.”
The Off Switch
Off in a cozy corner of the blogosphere, David Wyatt is keeping up a steady campaign to tame the Internet’s intrusion into our lives. The Off Switch blog is where Wyatt, owner of his own public-relations firm in Austin, Texas, has been inspiring readers to do what he did when his own smartphone addiction made it nearly impossible to “enjoy an unoccupied moment” — turn the darn things off.
“I love tech and I love social media, but I needed limits,” says Wyatt, 40. So he did things like “lobotomize” his cellphone by killing his data plan, which meant he could only access the Internet through Wi-Fi, and not at every red light.
“Now when I’m sitting at a railroad crossing, instead of being on my phone I look at the graffiti on the boxcars going by. It’s a form of mindful meditation.”
Health writer and life coach Thea O’Connor is a big believer in the power of naps as an antidote to our collective digital addiction. Based in Adelaide on Australia’s southern coast, the former dietitian is a tireless advocate for the healing power of unplugging, especially in one’s professional life. The motto on her website says it all: “NapNow is here to provide the education, strategy and culture shift required for people to feel permission to Stop, Unplug, Tune-in and Recharge, as part of a normal day’s work.”
“When we become joined at the hip with our mobile phones, quality of life can really start deteriorating,” O’Connor said in a recent email interview. “When we keep our office in our mobiles, and then we carry our mobiles in our pockets, it becomes impossible to switch off from work.”
She says that achieving a healthy balance in our digital diet, using mobile devices to empower but not to overtake our lives, “is vital to survival as well as performance at work.”
As part of its slate of unplugging activities, this Oakland-based nonprofit offers an adult summer camp in Mendocino County called Camp Grounded. Advertised as “four days of pure unadulterated fun out in the redwoods” and a place “where grown-ups go to unplug, get away and be kids again,” Camp Grounded offers an off-the-grid oasis where people can let go of all things digital.
Fresno native and tech-startup exile Levi Felix threw his first Digital Detox retreat in 2012 “after coming back to the States from backpacking through 14 countries for two years and discovering that everyone was on their phones. It was crazy.
People were using dating apps on the bus instead of turning to talk to the beautiful person sitting next to them.”