A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

On September 1, 2010, I started The Off Switch blog to help me understand, chronicle, and share my quest to control the digital distractions in my life. As the intervening posts explain, I have made several adjustments to the role of technology in my life, perhaps most significantly for me where lobotomizing my smartphone by dropping the data plan (and most apps including mail), getting rid of my laptop, largely not checking work email after hours or on weekends, and most recently by cutting out social media away from my desk and even then only a handful of times during the workday.

The effects of these changes and the things I have reclaimed as a result have been nothing short of life changing. I am not a motivational speaker and do not intend to proselytize the merits of unplugging because 1) what you do is your problem and 2) your mileage may vary. But for me, I can report that it has changed my outlook, given me back peace of mind, and brought balance and quiet to what had become a frazzled and perpetually distracted existence. Before I started this pursuit, I had come to feel like my company owned me and that my phone had become an extension of me. It was not good.

I’d started realizing a change was in order, and daydreaming how that might work, and researching the possibilities… then I just started. And the change was immediate. Sure, maybe there was 48 hours of cold sweats and a period of adjustment (no GPS?!), but the rewards were plenty. I suppose I thought is was going to be slightly better than worse, but it was way better than worse. I really didn’t miss it.

About a month ago, I stopped doing social media outside of work hours, so no evenings, early mornings, or weekends. I honestly don’t know what took me so long. What a gift! I hadn’t realized how much time I was wasting scrolling through it, or sharing things, or checking back for comments. Now, I see it when I get back to my desk and it’s great. Much like I’d discovered by not getting email or the web on the go, by being off of Facebook and Twitter in my “off hours,” I have no longer been psychologically dragged into debates, trivial news, and brain numbing distractions. I haven’t missed it.

After two years, you might wonder: what’s the point? Is the experiment over? Well, I’m not looking back. This has been an immensely positive experience to swim against the current and to set my own boundaries. And the point? Personally, it is about consciously and purposefully designing the role of technology in my life. I blog about it as an exercise to stay aware of it and to work it out. If others get something out of it, that’s great. In some small way, I also hope The Off Switch has made you think about the problems technology creates in your life and how you might make changes.

Thanks for following along—and please share any realizations, changes, or feedback on this project in the comments. Thanks!

Comments on: "2 Years In and No Looking Back" (3)

  1. People make fun of me for my old little phone that has no apps, no camera and no internet connection, but I’m never upgrading. Living in NY, it’s obvious on every sidewalk how distracted everyone is, as they’re all talking to little pads with their fingers and never to one another. I’m your biggest fan. Keep up the good work.

  2. I concur. I actually get the most peer pressure I’ve experienced since junior high when people see my tiny little Nokia phone. I have never adopted the smart phone and, while I see it’s value, most of the time, it just seems like a large monthly expense for something I can do if I just take the time up front to figure out where I’m going or what I’m doing.

    • True that, Josh. Up front, people gave me a lot of shit about this blog/effort. I think the reason is that it threatens them, implying that they are doing something they might examine. Bottom line, it is a matter of discipline – as you said. Not to say that everyone with a smartphone is undisciplined, but it makes it easy to just wander out of your house with no plan – then rather than following your nose, you use the thing as a crutch.

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