How to Unplug


Here’s my followup post to “I Hate the Internet.” In that post, I lamented what technology has turned me into (as a writer and a person). This post is all about what I plan to do to solve some of the issues I brought up. These solutions might not work for everyone, and they might not even work for me. But when you’re trying to become a better person (or writer) then you do what you can to try to solve the problems.

It’s important to check your privilege from time to time. To look at all the things that you were entitled to simply by being you. Whether it’s because of luck or hard work, the things you have are the direct result.

As are the things you don’t have. Self-control, time, or clean laundry. At least some of it’s on us. We have the ability to say “no” to the things we don’t want to do, just as we have the ability to say “no” to the things we know we shouldn’t be doing. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of information coming at us, spending hours doing things we think fulfill us but don’t.

Have you ever been lying in bed, about ready to nod off, and then you hear a notification on your phone and you’re suddenly wide awake? You have to know what it is, right? I mean, someone could need you, someone could be dying. Then you get up and check it and find that it’s a junk text.

I started sleeping with my phone out of the bedroom a while ago. It helps to have a place to charge your phone in the living room or kitchen, so before you go to bed, you can make it a ritual to park it there and go to bed free of the beckoning call of that “rrrtt rrrtt” of your phone buzzing by your bedside. I know a lot of people already object to this idea because they use their phones as their alarm clock, and I used to as well. But my alarm clock app started glitching up and it made me late for work several times and I bought a real alarm clock. Just for fun, I put it across the room so I have to get up to snooze it, since I have a habit of hitting the snooze in my sleep if I’m tired enough.

The honest thing is, I don’t know how to fully unplug. I’ve heard the suggestion of just switching back to a dumbphone, because you don’t need all that technology in your pocket when you can just check your email when you get home. And sure, that’s a start. I still use my deactivated iPhone so I can use Facebook Messenger to message people without using text messages, though. The catch is I have to be on WiFi. But I can get rid of that, because I also have a Kindle Fire that does the same thing, but bigger.

There are some pieces of technology that I feel like I can’t live without, but for practical purposes. One is my Kindle, which for some reason is finally holding a charge again. I was using my Kindle Fire for a while, but I don’t like using a back-lit screen to read, because it bothers my eyes. With the e-ink feature of the Kindle, I can read any of my digital books comfortably. Even more importantly, I can send my works in progress to my Kindle so I can read them and take notes easily. There’s something just so satisfying about being able to view your novel as something you can see as real, especially if you’ve gotten used to reading novels on Kindle, which puts into context what a “real” novel looks like to you.

(I swear this isn’t a Kindle ad, by the way; I just really like my Kindle.)

The other piece of technology is my laptop. It’s not the laptop that’s important to me, though, but the programs. Google Docs is indescribably useful. Since one of my computers is a Chromebook, I have to use Docs instead of Word sometimes, but it’s not so bad when you realize that that just means I can access my documents from literally any computer with Internet access. There have been times when I forgot to print out a paper for class, but it was saved on Docs, so I printed it out on the school computer within minutes.

And of course I have to talk about Scrivener. It’s a powerful word processor that’s made for novelists and has a plethora of other uses if you’re creative about it. I might write more about it another time (or you can check out my Resources for Writers page) but for now, it should suffice to say that I don’t think I could live without it.

Everything else, though, is a distraction. Games, YouTube, Facebook. I don’t have to use them ever again if I really don’t want to.

You might wonder why I didn’t just decide to start writing longhand. That’s because I’ve tried it. When I have a good idea of what I’m writing, I can usually type 1,000 words or more in a half hour. And I’ve been writing on a computer so long that I’ve internalized the pacing I’m going for with relation to how quickly I’m writing the story. There’ve been times where I slowed down my typing and thought the scene was moving slowly in a meaningful way, like how you’d expect a scene reflecting on a character’s death to go, only to read it back and realize that it’s actually really fast and short. I do the same thing all the time (if not more so) when I write longhand.

I do keep notebooks, though. And I’ve changed over to planning my stories with pen and paper. It keeps me from getting ahead of myself and forces me to think more critically about the plan. On the computer I can jump around with my ideas and quickly get away from my intent. On paper, I have a plan and I do it.

The best method that ever worked for me to keep myself on track was leaving out one notebook with a to-do list on it. It could be one master list that I had to get to at some time, or one list that I planned to get done that day. Of course, things don’t always go to plan, but for the most part, having a visual list for my goals and chores helped. And I always started on the list in the morning. Sometimes I’d get through it by noon, and the rest of my day would be whatever I want it to be. It’s freeing to know what you have to get done and then knowing that it’s done. There’s no “Just one more YouTube video and I’ll get back to work.” Instead it’s “Just one more job to do and I can spend the rest of the day watching YouTube if I want.”

Finally, it’s helpful to write out what’s actually important in life. I have a list of the activities that are most important to me: reading, writing, drawing, keeping a clean home, and staying healthy. If I recognize that something I’m doing falls outside of those categories – particularly if I’m wasting my time doing them – then I can stop myself and redirect. This is why I listed the technologies I don’t think I can live without – because they’re important to me and my life. I also have a list of blogs I follow that are important to me. And a couple of YouTubers for whom I’ll drop everything whenever they post a new video, particularly TomSka, Linda Barsi, and my friend WhatAlanSays.

There’s one common theme throughout all of this that I’d like to reiterate just once more: You have to find what’s important to you, and what you can live without. Then you can feel good about everything you do, even when you’re goofing off.


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.

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