It's been just over a month since I conducted my "off the grid" social experiment. I told you all about my evolution during those eleven days--but how did it continue to impact my daily life after the experiment ended? Did I go back to being totally engrossed in technology? Did I lose out on any opportunities if I stuck to my decreased time online (the result of my August experiment)? Hopefully, the answers will get you thinking a little bit harder about limiting your time on the grid.
The transition back to the grid was tougher than I expected. After learning what life could be like off the grid, I resented having to re-engage in what I now thought of as a black hole of energy, effort and time--all of which is precious to our quality of life. Yes, technology makes many things possible--like working with other writers from all over the world to bring an important anthology to life. I've edited and contributed to about ten anthologies, including two encyclopedias--and of those ten books, I've met only a handful of the 100+ authors and editors I've worked with. That's pretty miraculous. And it wouldn't be possible without technology. Another positive for technology as a writer is that I can easily send paperless queries and proposals to publishers, agents, literary magazines, and editors. As a working author and editor, people from places like the Huffington Post, Woman's World magazine, Inside Higher Ed, In Media Res (a media journal), Redbook magazine, the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester Review, and Marie Claire have all communicated with me through technology for interviews or article requests. Every book review I've ever written has been requested and delivered via technology. Come to think of it, without technology, I wouldn't even have a writing career at all!
That said, it is still too easy to get "swallowed up" into the black hole that is technology. Part of the reason is exactly what I describe above--opportunity exists through technology and if you're even remotely ambitious, you know you have to find those opportunities to take advantage of them...hopefully, moving closer toward increasing your income. Dollars and cents, my friends. But that's not all of the appeal. Social interaction, even if only in cyberspace, is a big part of it, too.
My student family includes thousands but on a weekly basis, just over 300 regularly keep in touch through mediums like Facebook and Twitter. I have students living all over the world, including Dubai, China, Malaysia, Kuwait, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and the list goes on and on. I have other students living all over North America including San Francisco, Seattle, North Carolina, Colorado. Massachusetts, Alabama, Washington DC, Chicago, British Columbia, Toronto, Detroit, South Carolina...and how could even begin to keep in touch with everyone outside of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter...even LinkedIn provides opportunities. My Doctorate was earned at the University of New South Wales in Sydney; I keep in touch with people from there on social networking sites. I keep in touch with all of my far-flung family and friends through social networking sites. I even touch base with local friends that way, too. So while technology appears to suck your time and energy like some kind of cyber-vampire, it does have more rewards than just dollars and cents. I can CONNECT with the world in a way that would be nearly impossible without the help of technology.
But even with all the positives, I now find technology to be a drag on my existence. I walk away from the computer feeling drained of energy. Because, of course, our bodies are not meant to sit in one spot and stare at a computer screen for hours. You begin to produce less seratonin and dopamine--the feel-good chemicals necessary for feeling healthy, balanced and not feeling depressed. You also sleep better if you have good dopamine and seratonin production. During my time off the grid, I spent a great deal of my daylight hours outside doing a variety of activitites--including just sitting and observing the world. And guess what? I became addicted to the high I felt after connecting with nature more than I connected with technology. I can't wait to go outside now--I feel a bit like I did when I was a child; my whole focus was getting outdoors as soon as possible. How long has it been since you felt that way?
If I have a lot of computer work ahead of me on a given day, my mood becomes more depressed knowing I can't spend as much time outdoors.
Recent studies have found that being outside in a natural setting reduces stress levels. Even taking a ten-minute walk on a nature trail or in a park can do the trick. And of course, we need to be in the sun for at least 15 minutes a day to help our bodies produce necessary vitamin D, without which, are bones would be greatly weakened. And, you can't get enough from food sources alone. Vitamin D has also been the subject of recent studies concerning weight loss. If you're outside, your stress levels decrease, helping you sleep better--which also increases your metabolism. Too much cortisal, a stress hormone, can signal the body to produce more abdominal fat--thought to be an evolutionary residual affect from our fight-or-flight instincts. Spending time in nature, in the sunshine, is an imperative for good physical and mental health. But most of us spend the majority of our daylight hours in front of computer screens, in cubicles or sitting at desks--indoors.
My caveat with going off the grid is this: Be careful--because you may not want to go back after you're done. But life requires us all to do so. The result may be increased anxiety surrounding the required usage of technology which can increase your stress--the opposite of what the experiment was meant to accomplish. Of course, the flip side is you'll hopefully walk away from your time off the grid addicted to the outdoors and all the benefits therein--providing a counter-balance to what I call the "black hole effect" technology tends to have on our lives (despite the positives it provides).
Have I lost out on any potential opportunities since limiting my time on the grid? The short answer is no. One of my essays will be available exclusively on Amazon for people buying True Blood & Philosophy--this happens in October. I'll also be editing a number of essays that will join mine on Amazon for True Blood fans. My interview with Woman's World will be published in their October issue. And I've been able to stay connected with my friends, student-family and other family members--though I'm no longer having FB chats for hours at a time. I've submitted five book proposals in the last month. I've started two different novels. AND, I've still been able to spend time outside each day...admittedly, a day like yesterday was only 30 minutes. But I have days where, by working early in the morning or later in the evening, I can spend more time outdoors during daylight hours. And my time outdoors does not include technology. I've made the outdoors a technology-free zone. No laptops, iPhone, netbook, Nook--nothing.
One of my good friends, finishing her Masters this year, read my essay on going off the grid and wrote to me with some great thoughts on how people like her, whose school and work keep her connected to technology, can limit their daily time on the grid. Her main suggestion was making home a tech-free zone. Yes, you have to do homework at home as a student--but keep the internet research at the school library. Tell your classmates and teachers that you cannot get email at home--only through your school account--so not to expect you'll receive class emails any other time except during the school week before say 5:00pm, when it's reasonable that you would no longer have access to email. Take the "text" service off your cell phone. Trade in your iPhone, Droid or Blackberry for a model that can't access email or the internet. You think this will make your life harder but you're wrong--you'll be relieved from the constant nagging of technology. You'll no longer feel obligated to constantly check for email or other technological communications. Go off the grid every weekend--without exception.
Reclaim your life, an your time, and your energy. You can do this! You have to. Especially if you want to feel better and live better. And who doesn't want that?