A Day Without Devices

On my walk this morning I found a nub of purple chalk a child had used to scribble on the pavement. I picked it up, an opportunity in my hand. What would I write? I thought hard about it, and then knelt on the walkway and wrote, “Love The World As Much As You Can.”

I know it is difficult to love the world, but the truth is, it has always been difficult, and it always will be, yet one thing I think we can all do in order to love the world a little more deeply is unplug more often.

Last week I stepped out of my house with no tablet or laptop or phone. I had in my backpack a book, some money, my journal and some pens and that was it besides my keys. I took myself out to lunch. It was unseasonably warm and I sat outside and had a salad and read. Then I walked to a coffee shop for a brew and some journaling. No one knew where I was. No one could get hold of me. I couldn’t check my messages or my Facebook status or my email. I had nothing with me but the very things I used to always have when I stepped out of my house – keys, money, book, notebook, pens.

What surprised me was how unbelievably naked and light I felt without any devices. I hadn’t fully realized the weight of all that contact and potential contact. The thing is, during those pre-device days I hadn’t felt naked and light, nor had I felt weighty. To be unavailable was a way of life. I wandered the world with nothing but reading and writing material. It’s how I grew up, and once grown I didn’t change. I often made a sandwich and grabbed a Thermos of tea and went into the woods alone. I wrote beside streams and lakes, and beneath trees on university campuses. I wrote in fast-food restaurants. I wrote on land I didn’t own and never would. I wrote in my car, which I did own. But somehow when devices came into my life, this changed.

I’m not the only writer who feels this. Creatives everywhere bemoan the lack of solitude, and the fact that even the solitude we do manage to carve out feels different now, not as solid, less contiguous with other kinds of solitude. What has become of the transition between writing and chopping an onion for this night’s dinner in the quiet of the kitchen? Sandwiched between the two now is checking my status, however I am defining that in the moment.

There was a time when my conscious self and my subconscious self worked pretty well in tandem. Granted one was always driving while the other navigated, or visa versa, but at least they were both in the same car. Now I have to work hard to get the quiet needed to hear my intuitive voice. I have to recognize that it is missing in a particular project, and I have to make myself step out into the world without devices. Sometimes I have to limit social media time severely before my intuition is willing to dance with me again.

Lately a picture of a remote cabin has been circulating on Facebook, with a question posed. “Would you be willing to spend a month here without internet access, without cell phone, and without contact with the outside world? You will be provided plenty of food, and when the month is over you will be handed $100,000.” Post after post I see of this picture and every one of us says, Yes. “Yes, I would do that.” “Yes, I could write with pen and paper. I could read.” “What’s the catch?” a friend asked.

We are all so hungry for the world it seems to me. And here’s the deal. The world is hungry for you too, and being in it, without a screen, is a necessary part of creative life, of developing intuition, of listening to quiet voices. Writing is not just about spelling and grammar and thinking things up.


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9 Responses to A Day Without Devices

  1. Sue Schwarz says:

    Hi Nancy, I met you at Silvia Heyden’s home a few years ago, and promptly found some of your books, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I love this post. We are all being intruded upon by this electronic world.

    LOL. I remember my cousin telling me that she thought email was too intrusive to her. Those were the good old days.

    • Nancy says:

      Hi Sue – I remember meeting you. I still weave when I need a break from the words. It always feeds my soul. All Best – Nancy

  2. Julie says:

    When I was much younger I would have jumped at the chance. I used to go on solitary retreats and walk in the woods. I actually went several years without a television.

    I answered No to that post. I might say yes if a) it was in warm weather and b) I could bring my cat and lots of books.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  3. Julie says:

    When I was much younger I would have jumped at the chance. I used to go on solitary retreats and walk in the woods. I actually went several years without a television.

    I answered No to that post. I might say yes if a) it was in warm weather and b) I could bring my cat and lots of books.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about.

    • Nancy says:

      Hi Julie – I’ve gone many years without a television too. Sometimes I think I may as well not have one now, as I refuse to subscribe to cable. Hope you’re well and staying warm. Nancy

  4. Hari Berzins says:

    I resonate deeply with this, Nancy. It’s a tricky balance. Sharing with the world/Being in the world. We are the lucky ones who get to figure it out. I love the image of you writing in the woods. Happy New Year!

    • Nancy says:

      Hi Hari – Thanks for the comment. You know about the public life, the benefits and the challenges. I am very grateful to you and your family for taking on the public life with your tiny house. I know it was intrusive sometimes. To me, balance between public and private always seems to be a moving target. Stay warm. Nancy

  5. Anne says:

    My first reaction to your post: Yes! Yes! Yes!

    But another voice popped in my head (these voice can be so terribly annoying,) that said, “But, but, but…you love seeing those places on Instagram that you will likely never travel to in your lifetime. You love hearing from your father’s family in Budapest. You love texting your husband during the work day to make him laugh when he’s pounded by office politics. And what of the lovely essays & stories you’ve discovered since you created a FB account last Summer, how would you find them all on your own?

    I’ve struggled with the noise of electronics — never answered my phone when it rang years before cell phones existed. But now I take it upstairs to my bedroom just in case it rings to inform me that my mother’s fallen or ill or worst yet, has passed in the night.

    On second (or is it third?) thought, I really do crave quiet.

    • Nancy says:

      Hi Anne – There’s no doubt about it, electronics are here to stay (unless the infrastructure fails) and I have personally benefited a great deal from social media, for all the reasons you mention.

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