How to “Unplug” Without Being Annoying About It
07.21.17
Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi

The Verge once paid a guy to “take off” from the internet for an entire year so he could write about it. Short version is that it was great at first; he caught up with friends, rode his bike, wrote a book, looked at the clouds. He embraced the purity of his pitch for a little while, then being human got the better of him and he developed vices to replace his social media habits. It was kind of a depressing read, but I understand the impetus. Our digital world is overwhelming.

About a month ago, at a pitch meeting, Matt Little, Director of Operations, told our team that he does this thing to unplug where he puts his phone on airplane mode when he doesn’t need to use it. It seemed simple, obvious and revolutionary.

Of all the twisted fantasies an online writer could have, escaping the internet is number one. Every week there seems to be a new story along the lines of, “I gave up social media/email/texting and here’s what happened.” Readers of the web harbor similar desires; at the very least, there has to be hunger for this particular brand of voyeurism. Why else would publishers keep hitting publish on the same headline? We know we’re addicted to our phones, that screens are ruining our sleep, that we can’t focus, that emojis are ruining grammar. The majority of us can’t “unplug” — but we all want to know what that alternate universe is like.

I’m no different. I am constantly thinking of creative ways to extricate email from my work life and texting from my social one. There was a week where I was so overwhelmed by incessant pinging information, my iPhone covered in a rash of notification acne, I very seriously considered trading in my 7 Plus for a flip phone. I didn’t do it because you can’t do this job without a handheld computer. I also knew that I’d miss Instagram and Google maps too much. I’ve always secretly felt that should I reach emotional break, I could “pull a Pinterest” (quit my job, buy a plane ticket, move to the beach with no service, never return). Realizing this was not actually a thing solidified my dependence on tech and cemented me into reality. I was stuck with all of it — the red reminders of people whose attention I was neglecting, unread to-do lists, podcasts I’d never catch up with — forever.

Airplane Mode, the idea that I could just flip a digital switch and turn all the noise off momentarily, never occurred to me. I guess this isn’t strange; my inclination is toward the extreme (“NO PHONE, MOTHERFUCKER. SEND AN OWL!”), never the simple solution. I’ve tried Do Not Disturb but it never helps. I can still see the texts coming in, watch the numbers on my inbox rise. Do Not Disturb makes it way too easy to dive back in and disturb myself. Yes, I could just turn my phone off but no, I’m never going to. It takes too long. You have to hold the sleep button down forever until it shuts off, then wait forever until it turns back on. I’m pretty sure my mom, dad and maybe yours are the only people who do this. Airplane Mode, meanwhile, is like turning your phone off for millennials.

Once the Airplane Mode was put in my head, I put Matt’s theory into action. I switched Airplane Mode on at the office, during dinners, before bed. I kept it on through movies, dates and while working out. It is not, as you know, a big deal. When you swipe Airplane Mode off, there your life is. No one wonders if you’re dead or mad at them. Emails, as I’m sure you’ve heard, do not spontaneously combust when left unanswered for half an hour.

It’s the same spiel you’ve read a million times: Everything is fine when you go offline. The internet and your group chats hardly know you’re gone. What Airplane Mode does is allow you to slip in and out the back door. I like that it’s not radical nor a production. I like that it saves battery and that I don’t have to be annoying about it, no explanations needed as to why I won’t be writing back for a week, no briefs to my parents explaining why I can’t call them. Airplane Mode is just something that I do now — sometimes, when I feel like it. Our digital world is overwhelming. I like that this makes it easy to unplug.

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