No Ifs or Buts About It: Why We Have to Disconnect


“A week without your computer, are you going to be okay?”

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head; sometimes people just don’t get it. Yes, I was about to take off and leave my computer sitting right where it deserved to sit: on my desk. No, I was not going to live-tweet about my trip or post pictures on Facebook. I was going to take six whole days off from the technical world, not even my cell phone was going to get turned on, and I was going to be just fine.

A New York Times article that I read almost a year ago has stuck with me, and I’ve cited it in several conversations regarding our inability to truly disconnect. Titled “On Vacation and Looking For WiFi,” the central topic hits a little too close to home, but raises an important point: we have created a society where we are so connected that we have practically made it impossible to ever truly pull ourselves away.

Five years ago, in Barbados, none of us consulted a computer. Three years ago, in Costa Rica, a few family members walked to an Internet cafe and checked our e-mail one afternoon just for the novelty of being online in a faraway place.

This year I stood in a long line in the lobby of this resort in the Dominican Republic, to wait my turn to sign up for 25 hours of Internet service for $25. Several family members brought laptops and we checked our work email daily.

It’s not about keeping in touch with what’s going on; no matter where you are in the world you probably have access to a newspaper, even if it’s a few days old. The fear of disconnecting stems from our need to be in control. What if an important email comes in while we’re out and we don’t get to it? What if the person needs an immediate response?

Well, what if? We’ve somehow traded our ability to trust that other people can handle themselves, answer their own questions, and even learn to wait if they can’t get an immediate response for the false sense of security that comes from thinking that we can always be in control.

Two days into a week-long stay in Mexico and those questions seemed very far away. Insignificant even.

Little did I know that while I was contemplating how unimportant all the stuff I had left really was, the document I had diligently prepared for my business partner and emailed to her at 1 a.m. – a document which included all that needed to be done while I was out – was in fact the wrong one. An attempt at making myself feel in control, yet slightly failing in the process. But, like any sound, intelligent human being, she called my neighbor, got let into my apartment and sent the document to herself from my computer. Smart woman.

Meanwhile – my everyday virtual duties switched for overlooking the ocean – I wrote in my journal:

Disconnecting. A whole week of it. And what does it remind me? That most of what we do isn’t that important. The constant updates, the information overload. In the end, we can turn it all off. In fact, it’s easier than we lead ourselves to believe.

So what can’t we turn off? Feelings, emotions, creativity… those the the things that are always there, often impended by our everyday routine that we deem necessary.

It’s easy to overlook the things that make us feel alive, to quickly get out of balance. But in taking time to slow down, we remember how to find that balance.

We can’t give up our jobs and we can’t give up email. To be an active citizen, we have to be educated, so we can’t give up consuming information. I would never argue for any of the above. But we can take time to assess how much of all of these things is healthy.

We can take time to focus on the slower activities that cultivate our friendships, our emotions and our creativity. Drawing, writing, traveling, walking, cooking, talking, sitting, thinking – all those good things that we often put into the “quality of life” category.

And as for that creative inspiration that only comes when I myself truly disconnect? Here are some Mexico photos.

Images: Anna Brones

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.