Pulling the plug from underneath me: #unplug

Systemagic’s MD James recently took part in #unplug, the National Day of Unplugging – he explains why and how a devoted tech head managed for 24 hours…

Those of you who know me will probably be shocked to learn I took part in 24 hours without technology entirely voluntarily – my wife was convinced I wouldn’t manage it and a couple people even said it goes against everything I promote in business.   I first heard about the #unplug concept last year through twitter and vowed to take part in 2015, interested in the concept for a few reasons:
1. I was interested to find out exactly how deep a role technology and being connected plays in my day to day life
2. I wanted to remember what life was like without carrying around an internet connection, without having instant access to information or contact with friends
3. I didn’t know what it might teach me about the advice I give to others through my business

So, at 10pm on Friday 6th March I switched off my phone, iPad, computer and laptop and embarked on a slice of life the way it used to be.   Now despite my youthful good looks I’m actually old enough to remember life without Internet and certainly life without mobile phones.  Even when I got my first mobile phone in 1998, text messages were a rarity (mainly because few people I knew had phones) and the Internet was still something I did now and then rather than regularly (despite studying Business IT at Uni at the time, our labs still weren’t internet-connected).

So how did it go?

Just to disappoint all of you (my wife included) who thought I wouldn’t last 12, let alone 24, hours, I actually loved the experience.   Far from itching to pick up my phone or tablet I found that it took all of an hour in the morning to realise I actually don’t need to know what everyone else is up to on social media or who might be trying to contact me.   Admittedly it felt odd not waking up and reaching for my morning routine of emails, twitter, Sky News and internet forums but it didn’t feel at all like an itch that needed scratching.  Probably because this particular day was a novelty, and it also helped that I had an 8 week old daughter who is always happy to receive extra attention and a new motorbike in the garage that I’d collected the evening before which was dying to be ridden in the spring sunshine.

There were a couple times during the day when I did have an “oh yeh, I can’t use the internet” moment – but for practical reasons rather than anything else.   A car tax letter arrived in the post but of course that needs the internet to purchase (I’m not daft enough to visit the post office on a Saturday morning – queues out the door), and later in the day I wanted to check Sunday’s weather forecast which now needed to involve figuring out the BBC’s complicated red button service on TV instead of loading up the Met Office app.   Oh, and I suppose I half-cheated when organising to meet some friends for lunch because Mrs E did the honours via text message.

Before I knew it we were in to Sunday and the devices got switched back on.   My phone immediately lit up with missed text messages and notifications but nothing significant had happened that I’d missed.   I’m quite clear on what the whole #unplug experience has taught me, and in fact I’m currently considering making it a weekly occurrence such was the noticeable reduction in stress I felt. So my final thoughts on the exercise:

1. Once I was back in touch with the world, it took at most 10 minutes to flick through social media to catch up on everything.   I had a realisation that 99% of it didn’t matter in the slightest despite being information I would usually lap up.  I was happy that Fear of Missing Out syndrome didn’t affect me at all – I was convinced it would, and frankly if anyone needed me that badly they’d find a way of getting in touch.  There’s simply no need for me to be checking social media, emails, forums multiple times each day – it’s a habit I have formed and one which adds little to my day.

2. It dawned on me just how much time I must waste every day keeping up to date with twitter, emails, Facebook – valuable time that we don’t get to relive.   I’m going to experiment next Saturday with an app that logs exactly how much time I do waste on my phone and tablet during the day, so watch this space, but I immediately noticed that the day seemed longer and I had time to do things I usually would say I was too busy for, like reading a magazine as well as some chores I “hadn’t had time for” for weeks.

3. Technology is brilliant my latest blog post.   The fact I can load the Met Office app and find tomorrow’s weather in seconds without moving from my chair, the fact I can communicate with my friends in a plethora of ways with instant response, the way my business moves with me in my pocket – I love technology and am lucky to have built my career around it.   However it mustn’t become habit. It should enrich our lives, not dictate it.  We should apply it when it benefits us, not when it distracts us or overcomplicates our lives.   I’m fairly confident that in my work I don’t ever recommend technology for technology’s sake, but this exercise has cemented by belief that it should be a driver for growth, an enabler and a tool, not a noose or a hassle.   I can immediately think of at least 2 clients who I will be suggesting undertake a process of simplification.

I’d love to hear whether anyone else took part in this year’s #unplug and if so, what they took away from the experience.   As always I can be contacted via this website, on twitter @jameseades and on LinkedIn – and if I don’t respond straight away you may have caught me on another unplugged day!

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