February 07, 2015

Unplug from this. Plug back in to that #28daysofwriting

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This is Saturday's #28daysofwriting, written on Saturday February 7th, but not typed up until Monday February 9th. Why? At the weekend I make every attempt to unplug from technology. Most of my best ideas do not happen while staring at a screen, small or large, but from doing the opposite: experiencing life around me.

Stating this will annoy some of the 28 people awaiting a pitch, programme, plan, project proposal or reply. Some of them will have waited a week, as last week's trip to Canada was so intense I didn't have the energy to give them the quality of thinking and time they deserve. 

But unplugging on a regular basis, and not just splurging on an "analogue August" or "wifi-less winter" is something we should all aspire to do. Less little and often, more significant time offline and regular.

I know my own team tend to take their weekends for getting down to the beach, into a restaurant or two, or heading for brisk walks through English woods or Scottish coasts. As such, I'd never expect an email reply from them, from about midday on Friday through to mid-morning on Monday (leaving them time to prioritise first thing).

Quartz reports on an entire Connecticut-based marketing firm who had a whole-organisation offline, no device day. To be honest, I was surprised that one day offline for a team was able to make the news n the first place. But then I thought a little harder, and realised that for a whole team to decide in advance to go native (and not digitally so) was still a rare thing, even if just for one day.

The story reveals some of the reasons it might be important to take more frequent time off instead of these newsworthy splurges:

  1. Thinking benefits, not features
    “I’m having second thoughts,” a latecomer said. “I’m supposed to build a Powerpoint deck today.”

    This reveals so much. She's not supposed to be building a Powerpoint deck - it's just that this has become the usual means of trying achieve a multitude of other goals. In the creative industries it has become commonplace, mistakenly I believe, to write ideas down as Powerpoint decks. We write prose in a document, presentations on a deck. It is unlikely the Powerpoint deck was really the best way for this account director to communicate her figures, or for a creative to convey a risky idea. What else might people do in a tech-free day? I'm reminded of the gloriously analogue presentation given by Drew Buddie at one of the first London-based TeachMeets, where he extolled the virtues of stone-stacking through the use of an entire ream of 1980s printer paper.

  2. Digital snobbery
    "Disconnected from their usual feeds, two communications people walk to a bookstore to get the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Cincinnati Enquirer, documenting the three-block journey with an old-school Hi8 camcorder. On the elevator as they returned, a freelancer was arriving for the day and told the unplugged: “I’m holding. Are you jealous?”"

    This is the equivalent of the "how big / new / shiny is yours" that festoons technology use, everywhere. School systems are amongst the worst offenders. No-one outside education understands BYOD or one-to-one. No-one talks with pride of how many computers and devices their insurance company has, as a means, no less, of stating how good that company must be. And yet, that's exactly the kind of lame discussion I hear tech directors having at most meetups. I'd be more proud to come from the school that has a regular tech-free day, placing an accent on thinking first, no excuses.

  3. You're not connected. You're bored
    "In a meeting-induced boredom reflex, I pulled out my phone to check my notifications (there were very few, and none of any importance whatsoever) and immediately felt like a cad for doing so. “Our whole point was to make people feel like assholes,” Chief Creative Officer Nathan Hendricks later joked."

    Most technology use, if we were honest with ourselves (and not actually trading eight hours solid at the LSE), staves boredom, or makes more of 'down time'. Surely the oxymoron is enough - downtime is there to step your brain down for a brief moment. Boredom is there to act as the space between your ears where you can idly just think and reflect.

  4. Can you not just be present?
    "The device room wasn’t supposed to reopen until 4pm, but I am notified on a walkie-talkie that the doors have opened early because some people had to leave. This causes a bit of a reconfiguration of plans."

    If you really want to get under my skin, if you really want to have a good chance of a public shaming, leave a meeting or workshop before the due time. There are always other, more important things to do than think deeply, plan better for the future or reflect on where you've come from in your learning. Because you leave early, you will always be firefighting, coping with the latest unexpected thing. And technology is the key reason you do it. Tech can lead to everything becoming urgent and important, unless you know how to master it. And that involves taking some time out, often.

The pic on the post is mine, from Soho, London - the one place where you might get away with being both plugged in and unplugged at the same time. 

Comments

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These are the two statements that resonate most with me:

"Most of my best ideas do not happen while staring at a screen, small or large, but from doing the opposite: experiencing life around me."

I find that the big ideas, the ones that really change things happen away from the screen (usually in the shower, actually). But, it is at the screen that I am able to connect disparate pieces and build the thing that needs to be. I understand when people say that they need to get the idea out in a slide deck. If they are doing it right, they just mean that they need to see it to fully understand its implications. I can no longer flesh out an on paper. I can start it there, but the real work is when I come back to a connected place. I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is the time away that lets me value the connections best, but the connections never really leave me. I am considering them always.

"Boredom is there to act as the space between your ears where you can idly just think and reflect."

I love the ways in which we interpret and use boredom now, if we can just sit with it long enough for it to become useful. But, the phone is so everpresent that it makes boredom into an enemy. If boredom is an enemy, then activity is a virtue. And activity can be anything, from checking notifications to aimlessly wandering through the web. This kind of activity is why it has become so hard to actually recognize true growth.

Thank you for stating these things so clearly and making the case for regular and significant offline time.

P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here: https://bit.ly/C4C15

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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