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Getting Off The Plug

This is your brain without digital enhancement

I KNEW THERE WAS A PROBLEM when I started feeling the vibration of my iPhone in my sleep. I woke one night and found myself patting the place where my jacket pocket would have been … had I been wearing a jacket. I had been awakened by a phantom buzz. I knew then that I was hooked, but that was not the problem. The problem was that the institution for which I work does not view digital addiction as a liability.

Just as we were encouraged to get bombed at lunch during the 1980s, we are now encouraged to keep our digital implements implanted in our wetware. It's the way we roll. And those who do not roll get rolled over.

Then one too many weekends decayed into dust. What kind of person had I become? The kind who walks, head down, furiously typing with his thumbs, from a beach in paradise? Who answers his cellphone in the middle of a romantic dinner? Who sits like lichen on a stump while everybody else gambols and frolics in Nature, listening to a conference call from the office because he doesn't want to miss anything?

No! I said to myself. I would have to unplug. And it would not be easy.

I now stand before you on the brink of a whole new weekend. My pockets are empty. No hardware, none at all. I am shaky. But I feel good. Here is how I did it. You can do it too, I bet. 

First, I admitted that I was a digiholic. That I was powerless over the iPhone and iPad, and that as a result my life had become unmanageable.

I then came to accept that there was a power that was greater than my own, and that that power lay in the simple, physical reality of the world around me. Trees. Stars. Turkey sandwiches made from genuine white meat. The sound of analog laughter. And also, perhaps most important of all … silence. Remember silence?

I made a decision to turn my awareness over to these real things and to be present as I walk through each day. That's harder than it sounds. Try it sometime. Go by yourself to a diner. Order something you like. Sit and eat it without e-mailing, text-messaging, or calling anybody. You will find that you are face to face with something gigantic and scary.

But hang with it. There is life on the other side of it.

To get there I had to look inside myself, honestly and without earbuds. For a while I found nothing. Imagine a tundra stretching as far as the eye can see. After a time, however, a flower sprouted. Weeks later I noticed a hot-dog stand at a very great distance. Now, after a month or so, I have the equivalent of a mega-mall going on in there. It's quite entertaining, except for the food court, which is pretty terrible. 

There was more. I had to face every individual from whom I had emotionally strayed during the years of my affliction and beg his or her pardon. I didn't like it much at first. You have to listen to a lot of weird stuff when you start focusing. But a sincere apology and the obvious intention to do better go a long way.

There are so many people I lost touch with over the years. I didn't even know it. I had more than 200 e-mails a day and a whole bunch of virtual "friends" on social networks. I twittered and texted and kept myself busy indeed, my mind occupied with junk.

That brings us to now.

This morning I'm going to take a walk without my implements. As I said, I'm a little nervous. But hopeful, too. I see the terrain before me as it exists, not through a haze of interactive chatter. As I go, I know I will find suffering people poking away at their wireless devices. I will refrain from commenting to them, making them feel bad about themselves. If they show interest in my lack of digital business, though, I will talk with them, perhaps try to help them. Maybe that's the next phase of my recovery.

For the first time in a great while, I'm at peace with myself, looking forward to each new day as a journey of joy and discovery.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to check in with Larry, my assistant, before I leave the house. Yeah, he hates it when I call him on weekends, but if I miss any calls I'm going to hold him personally responsible.   

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