Before I barely understood English, I loved The Pussycat Dolls: Don’t Cha, Beep, Buttons, Stickwitu were my jam, as I attempted dance moves that were far too advanced and inappropriate for a young girl. Of cours, there is nothing more aspirational for a young teenage girl than a super hot all-American girl group, and so I listened carefully when The Pussycat Dolls sang, be careful what you wish for/ ’cause you just might get it/ ’cause you just might get it in When I Grow Up. It became the soundtrack to my formative years.
This past Saturday, I was on the street car on my way to meet a friend. Enjoying a crisp, sunny October afternoon engrossed in my thoughts, it occurred to me I was happy with my life-tech balance. My phone was on dumb-mode, I have spent the morning commuting, reading, and sweating in a FitPop class, and I was now on my way to spend time with a human being, in real time, face to face, and I knew I’d throughly enjoy our time spent together. As I reflected on my day up until that point, which was only 2:00 in the afternoon by then, it felt good how I was effortlessly offline. I felt freed from the years of fight I have put up to take my time, attention, and energy back from the digital noise.
In 2016, many lifetimes ago, I resolved to put up a good fight against the attention economy. Back then, I didn’t know what the attention economy was, I didn’t have much exposure to all the books, articles, videos warning us of the negative side-effects of our increasingly digital lives, and so I spent a ridiculous amount of time hooked on endless scrolling and tapping, drankin’ the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid!- hook, line, and sinker. (I like mixing up my sayings) But I knew deep down, just like I knew back in 2011 when I deleted my Facebook account, that Twitter took too much of my time, I was emotionally too dependent on digital escapes, and that the offline world was better for me.
Equipped with youth’s blissful delusion, angst, and the endless possibilities the early 20s embody, I went full revolutionary mode. I did not pause for a second to consider how quitting social media, refusing to have data on my phone, carrying phones that barely worked, and all the other changes I implemented would have their own negative consequences. What will I miss out on? How did this impact my social life? What about my professional career? I did not care to consider those questions because I simply loathed feeling like a big sucker for Big Data; I wished for something else, something better; a different living. Blessed are the young, brave, and stupid.
It has been a very long six years; hello, the world almost ended not that long ago. And, if you were to tell me back in 2016 that it would take me this long, this many years, and this much effort, with a side of debilitating self-loathing and despair, for me to get to this point where I feel good about my digital life, I would have laughed, then kept my social media accounts, downloaded all the apps my 16GB iPhone can handle, and blissfully continued my digitally-caffeinated existence; ain’t nobody got time for that. I had to learn many lessons, both insightful and painful, about myself, about life, about disconnecting. I got what I wished for, but I had to give up many misconceptions I had about the perfect digital minimalist lifstyle. I used to be obsessed with productivity, now I adore my private but full emotional life.
But, as I plugged away (hehe) at each of those six years, you were to tell me that I will figure it out in due time, that all my efforts would add up to something worthwhile, that I will find my way through all the self-loathing and despair, that I would learn and grow so much from all my failures and come out of the other side better than what I had wished for, hoped for- I wouldn’t have believed you for a second. There were many times I felt inadequate, scared, stupid as fuck. But hope is a funny thing. I had a conviction. I knew if I wanted it enough, wished for it enough, tried just one more month and another 30-day challenge, I might one day just get what I want. I had to learn many lessons, about myself, about life, about disconnecting. What I thought would happen happened, but very different from what I wished for and hoped for. I used to be obsessed with productivity, but now I am obsessed with my private but full emotional life.
The lessons in unplugging are the same as other lessons in life: It takes time, it does get easier, it does get better, but you better make sure you want what you say you want, you better wish for exactly what really want, because you just might get it. And when you do get it, it might be even better than what you have wished for, far better than your wildest dreams.
So on that crisp, sunny afternoon, lost in my thoughts and looking forward to trying Vietnamese egg coffee with a friend and our seriously long chats about life and other things, I knew I have gotten exactly what I have wished for.
Until next time,
Sign up for my curated weekly newsletter, time spent offline, on spending less time online and (re)discovering the pleasures of the offline world. Five ideas delivered right to your inbox. Every Tuesday.
Leave a Reply