From time to time, it’s important to step away from the technology in your life and remember that you can live without it – but what is technology, and where do you draw the line? Do you turn off the clocks? Avoid electric microwaves? Unplug the thermostat? If any of those sound crazy, you may be more addicted than you think.
Every day, technology news tells us how it can improve our lives. Whether it’s making tasty meals, driving us to work, or building our homes in one day, just about everything we make is, or is possible because of, technology. When it’s time to unplug, though, things start to get murkier. Sure, you may be willing to turn your phone off for a day, but what if you need to turn it back on to call 911?
Totally unplugging isn’t as easy as it seems, and you may not need to totally unplug to get the benefits. With that in mind, let’s take a look at several levels of technology and how they factor into unplugging.
The Levels Of Technology
There are several levels of technology that factor into our daily life, and taking a closer look at them makes it easier to see what we can get rid of when we unplug.
Level 1: Life Support
The most important level of technology is Life Support – things that are necessary for you to live safely. This includes most medical devices – including all electronics – as well as technology designed to protect you from natural disasters and uncomfortable weather. If there’s a blizzard outside, it doesn’t matter if you’re using a fireplace or a stove to heat your home – you need to stay warm!
Some kind of telephone access is included in this level. Remember, any cell phone can call 911, even if you don’t have a plan. (This is one of the reasons people own a wireless phone in the first place.)
When To Unplug: This level should never be unplugged without good reason. Even if your phone is off, it’s okay to keep it close just in case you need to turn it on to report an emergency. Unplugging is important, but not so important that you should give up your safety for it.
Level 2: Daily Living
This level of technology includes things that most of us see as vital for daily life. Common elements include food storage (typically refrigerators and freezers), food preparation tools, washing machines, dryers, personal hygiene tools, lighting, cars, and so forth.
Now, it’s possible to reduce your dependence on technology in many of these areas. Room temperature food, cold showers, and washing clothes by hand can go a long way towards getting rid of technology for daily living tasks. That said, since most of us need to manage our appearance for work, it’s hard to go without this level of tech even when you want to unplug.
Like life support, this level of technology shouldn’t be casually unplugged. For example, there’s no real reason to turn off your freezer once a week – that might end up wasting more electricity than it would save. Similarly, no matter how much you want to get away from technology, you probably don’t want to head into work unkempt and dirty.
When To Unplug: Some things at this level of technology can be unplugged or go unused when you’re going on a longer camping trip. A few – such as food coolers – should remain active. With careful planning and purchases, you can minimize your need for technology at this level.
Level 3: Entertainment
Entertainment technology includes everything beyond life support and daily living, such as most uses of computers, televisions, home assistants, smartphones, and similar items. We may say that it’s hard to live without them, but the truth is, you can easily set them aside and start doing other things with your time.
In other words, this level includes everything you can set aside without hurting yourself or your ability to live your daily life.
But What If I Miss Something Important?
This is the big hangup for most people. You’re probably not going to miss anything significant while you’re unplugged – but that tiny chance you could creates the Fear Of Missing Out. If you’re waiting for some important news, you don’t need to unplug – but if you have no reason to believe important news is imminent, go ahead and set your technology aside.
Level X: The Personal Exemption
While most technology falls into the three categories described above, your personal situation may impact where a given piece of technology should fall. For example, if you need to frequently check the strength of your lungs for medical reasons, you may download an app that measures the sound and calculates things for you.
In situations like that, a smartphone moves from an entertainment device to, potentially, a life support tool. You shouldn’t look for excuses to move technology between the categories, but at the same time, don’t hesitate to do it if you need to.
The Levels Of Unplugging
Now that we’ve talked about the levels of technology let’s take a look at several ways you can unplug from things.
#1: The Toe Dip
This is the mildest form of disconnecting. In the Toe Dip, you’re going to shut off everything that has a screen (mainly phones, computers, and television, including home voice assistants) while everything else stays up and running. Stepping away from technology at this level is intended to get rid of the need to feel connected to the rest of the world all the time, and many people choose to do this once a week.
The name comes from the fact that you’re still going to be using plenty of technology – from the clocks on the walls to everything you use to prepare meals, tech is still a part of your life, but only as a tool instead of a way of communicating.
If you want to step a bit further away from technology, you can prepare your meals ahead of time or enjoy room-temperature food that doesn’t require touching the fridge or oven.
Unplug From: All entertainment devices.
#2: The Natural Life
With this level of unplugging, you’re going to stay at home, but you’re also going to minimize your use of technology. This is easiest when you’re on vacation or otherwise have few demands on your time. In addition to shutting off all entertainment devices, turn off or hide as many electronics and other devices as you can (excluding, of course, anything needed for Life Support).
This means covering your clocks, keeping your lights off, avoiding the use of microwaves in the kitchen, and washing your dishes by hand. (It’s okay to use lights in the bathroom, but try to minimize that.)
The goal here is to disconnect from the pressures of a time-oriented world. Instead, you can wake up when the sun rises and go to bed when it sets, eating and doing things on a schedule that doesn’t consider what time it is.
Unfortunately, this is a solitary type of unplugging – it’s hard to do when you have the pressures of a family. You may need to get creative – or unplug for part of the day instead of the whole time. We can’t analyze every possible situation here, so if you want to disconnect at this level, it’s up to you to figure out when it’s possible.
#3: The Cold Turkey
Finally, we have the most extreme version of unplugging – the Cold Turkey. The Natural Life allows you to stay at home, wander around in your backyard, and generally do things at your own pace… but technology is still there and ready to be resumed at a moment’s notice.
With the Cold Turkey, you’re going a step farther – literally. Put away all technology except Life Support and camping tools, then head out to your favorite campground and spend at least one night there. If you can, spend a whole week with minimal use of technology.
The sad truth is that most of us are addicted to technology, and it’s hard to start pulling away from that if we expect to grab our phones again as soon as it starts getting dark out. By spending some time wholly disconnected, you’ll be able to refocus your mind and learn how to live without screens.
Interestingly, this is easier to do as a family than the Natural Life. You can bring your spouse or kids along for the trip – just make sure they understand why you’re doing this. Most teens (in particular) will react poorly if you spring the trip as a surprise, but they’ll be much more accommodating if they know about the plans a few weeks ahead of time and have the chance to provide input on the trip.