Sans technology

A few days before I left for New Zealand, a friend suggested I leave my iPhone at home.  What?  Three weeks without email?  For the past seven years, I have always remained in email contact with work, even on vacation.  Three weeks without texting?  Outrageous.  My iPhone rarely leaves my side, even in “off” hours.  (Admit it…you’re out with your family; you’ve promised to be good and give all of your focus to your family, but you sneak in a peek in the restaurant bathroom…I know I am not the only one…Kevin tells me young men text at the urinal…)

So it took me a few days to process this suggestion.  I trust my staff tremendously to handle anything while I’m away, and it is Christmas after all, so everyone is pretty focused on family and friends, so the office would be quiet.  Kevin and the kids thought it was the best idea ever, and everyone I mentioned it to agreed. No iPhone. No laptop. For three weeks.

The first day was hell.  I had made all of the travel arrangements and asked Kevin to print everything before leaving.  He saved the various links to our reservations and said printing was old fashioned.

Our first snag was at the Toronto airport when he couldn’t find the flight details and they insisted we needed an Australian visa (we didn’t).  Then in Australia we had trouble when he couldn’t access the internet (and the Air Canada website) and had to prove we were leaving New Zealand.  I admit that Kevin got a few ‘I told you so’ looks. Okay… more than a few and a few words as well…

In the first few days, I had technology withdrawal.  There were times when I thought – and dreamt – of work. Rather than send a quick email, I would write things down – silly things like remember to do this or call that person.  During the rest of the trip, at the oddest of times, I would have work things pop into my head, like when I was trying to decide on which brand of Sauvignon Blanc to buy. (I couldn’t believe the mark-downs on good wine at the grocery store – Save $12!  Kim Crawford was often on sale for $8!).

Eventually, my mind relaxed.  We had some long drives, when the radio didn’t work and we got bored of our four CDs and there was no hook up to iTunes.  For the first time in a long while, I would have hours of nothingness.  The kids had their iPhones so they were preoccupied in the back seat, which left us to long conversations or sometimes hours of uninterrupted sheep watching.  (New Zealand is home to 4 million people and 40 million sheep.)  I would get the kids to unplug too, and more than once, Kathleen fell asleep with her head out the window.

When I got home and looked through my journal, I realized that the ideas that came to me when I was not thinking about work – when I was totally preoccupied with vacationing – were actually some of my best ideas.  That first week back, I had a renewed energy for work and our team came up with some of our best ideas ever.  (We are pretty excited about our new CAIS Top 12).

How often do we let our minds relax? How long does it take for a mind to really let go and wander?  Is it different for kids?  How did we become so enrapt in our Smart Phones, that we forget how to take a break?

I’ve been talking to and emailing others about this idea, and so far, my favorite response comes from Graham Hookey, Head of Kempenfelt Bay, who wrote:

“As society and schools have become technology ‘mad’, I do believe we have crossed a line of moderation and may be conducting the largest social and educational experiment ever on our children, with little insight into how it might turn out…If you haven’t yet read Nicholas Carr’s, The Shallows, it will offer some sobering thoughts in the moments when your phone and computer are shut off!”

I’ve ordered the book.


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