These pandemic times have the world using devices at record numbers and for long periods of time. I now average at least one zoom or google hangout or Skype every day, and some days I have three or more. And I only work part time. Early in the pandemic, I signed up for a lot of webinars because I was eager to learn new things, and most webinars are free or reasonably priced. Now I am much more selective, as I have a full library of recordings, some of which I have not watched yet. I have ever before in my life used my phone and Kindle and laptop this much, and this isn’t counting the hours I spend on Netflix or watching other programs. And there are zooms with family and friends, which I enjoy, but it is more screen time. Then there are the conferences and meetings I must attend. All of this means A LOT of time spent in front of a screen.
It has taken me awhile, but I’ve learned to recognize zoom and other screen fatigue, and I’ve developed some practices that help me unplug from technology. I do not use any devices before 8 am or after 8 pm, unless absolutely necessary. I think I broke this rule when I was binge watching The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit. I take frequent stretch breaks in between and during calls and meetings. I rearrange things in my office to bring in pieces of nature – my favorite pinecones, rocks from recent hikes, and different pictures from past trips. I recently redid my office with new lighter colored bookcases and accents to make the room brighter. I take more walks if I know I have a lot of meetings. I turn and face my office window at certain times of the day to take in the light and watch the sun change angles. I make sure to have one of my three cats in my lap or nearby so I can hear them purring, which immediately calms me down.
Technology has made it more difficult to have any boundaries around our lives. We may feel the need to always be on or always be productive. Working from home most of the time has its challenges, work is always there, waiting for us. We may expect more of ourselves and try to cram more in. When I first started unplugging intentionally, I felt guilty that I wasn’t being productive or useful.
My simple practices of unplugging help me open myself up to God and to others. We all have the tendency to compulsively check our email or cell phones or other devices in the fear we are missing something. We may be missing rest and reflection and relaxation. On a beautiful spring day not long ago, I saw through my window three people walking in my neighborhood. One with a stroller, one with a dog, one by themselves. These three had one thing in common – they were all on their cell phones!
Rest and reflection and relaxation are intentional practices, and how we do these practices are different for every person. Intentionality helps us draw in the presence of God. Unproductive times may be times of deep productivity as we learn something new about ourselves, each other, and God. We may regain a connection with the quieter and more subtle experiences of God when we unplug. Spiritual longings may stir within us, leading us to someplace new. This place could be a new relationship, looking at a challenge in a different way, enjoying something in our routine in a deeper way.
Lord, help us to unplug in ways that lead us into a deeper awareness of you. Help us to be like Moses, who turned aside to see why the bush was not burned up, who did not continue to look straight in front of him. May our turning aside give us moments of rest and relaxation and reflection. May our unplugging create new sacred rhythms within is and around us, so we can continue to be your faithful people. AMEN