By Marsha Hunter
You are going to take a device-free vacation. It is only a matter of time. Why not be on the cutting edge and start planning yours now?
For weeks, my calendar had an entry “Grand Canyon Archaeological Corridor Survey.” I grew up near the Canyon, hiking in it and near it, flying over it both in commercial planes and piloting my own small aircraft. It is a center of power for me, and had captured my imagination by the age of ten. Retreating into the Canyon has always renewed my spirit. When I read that the Grand Canyon Field Institute would be offering a backpacking trip monitoring the major trails that cross from the North Rim to the South Rim, I signed up immediately.
One alluring aspect of descending deep into the Grand Canyon was the retreat from phones and the Internet. Hikers talk about it where I live in New Mexico. My house is a short drive from 1,000 miles of trails, most of which lead away from cell phone service. Some of us crave such disconnection, but day hikes are only a few hours long. When you get home, your phone is buzzing again. One good friend here actually manages to take device-free vacations. Emulating him, I thought I’d start by going where planet Earth would cut me off herself. Five days at the bottom of the Grand Canyon sounded like an enforced device-free vacation in the company of a few other people, sort of like The Martian but without traveling 34 million miles to the trailhead.
But dang it, I hurt myself while training and the possibility loomed that I would slow down the group, an idea I hated. Reluctantly, I canceled my Grand Canyon adventure, stopped training with my heavy backpack, and rehabbed myself.
Which brings me to my in-town device-free vacation. I had been looking forward to radio silence, so I did my best to replicate being in a deep, silent canyon. Seriously, it was not easy. But it was utterly great and I heartily recommend you do it. Here are the pitfalls, my advice, and some reading to inspire you.
First, though, I know what you are thinking, “I’m a lawyer, I can’t take a vacation at all, much less a device-free one! I’m always on call.” Bear with me. Start small, then work your way up to a real family trip without devices. Especially if you are a younger lawyer, aren’t you rewriting the rules? This can be managed. Be creative. Learn from experimenting.
Pitfalls and How It Works
You’ll think you are going device-free but that is the first problem. How many devices do you have? Does texting count? Talking on the phone? Are you going to watch TV? Skype or FaceTime? If you are headed to the bottom of the Grand Canyon or a remote island, that would be a good way to find out what true device freedom is. If you do go to one of those places, tell me about it when you get back.
What do you consider “device-free?” This is a tricky question, and everyone has a different answer. Does viewing Netflix count? If you know exactly what you want to watch and go straight to it, is that device-free? If you have to surf to find something to watch, are you “on a device?” Complicated, isn’t it?
You’ll think you can “get things done.” The week before, I made a list of how to spend my time during my vacation at home. Well, it wasn’t exactly a list, it was cute-ish drawing that included the following scrawls in no particular order:
- Play your piano (I bought a gorgeous piano two years ago, a lifelong ambition to own a real instrument. I’m not a great pianist but I adore playing for my own pleasure.)
- Listen to music
- Take long walks (part of my rehab)
- Draw (art for pleasure, though I’m not good at drawing)
- Write (for pleasure? for work? I ended up scratching out the “for work?” and wrote in my journal a few times.)
I scratched out the following once the vacation began and I realized how dumb they were:
- Read all those piles of stuff in your office
- Organize your clothes
- Take day trips down the Rio Grande (who wants to drive around all day?)
- Clean files
- Unpack boxes in garage
- Call B&H and buy a cassette to digital machine
Really? How much do I cling to making To-Do lists?
It took me three days to settle down, partly because my husband was traveling and we were talking and texting. He was living on the planet Earth. I was on Mars tending a beautiful garden.
Here was my routine: I got up and turned on music, mostly opera. I did not read or look at the news in any form. I took long walks. I listened to more music. I read two books, How Not To Be Wrong: The power of mathematical thinking by Jordan Ellenberg and The Vanishing Neighbor by Marc Dunkelman. I saw friends and walked around my charming town. Once I went to a new-to-me coffee shop that serves freshly made beignets with warm chocolate and/or berry sauce. I ate three of them, had a cup of first-rate coffee, and read my current book for a long time. Afterwards I went to a museum. I went home and played my piano. I have no idea which day that was. All the days were similar. I slept.
Think about that not-reading-the-news thing. You’ll be OK if you go for 36 or 48 or 72 or 168 hours without it. Whether you are exhilarated or depressed right now, depending on your politics, going for 24 hours or more without news gives you a rest and allows you to focus on yourself and your family. Turn off your news notifications, on Facebook and LinkedIn, and all other notifications. (But you are turning off your devices, right?) Clear your head, then turn them back on if you really want them. My husband recently sat down on an airplane and didn’t turn to his iPhone news feed. He just watched people board the plane. Then he looked out the window all the way to Chicago. He was amazed to be living in his own reality again, not some app’s manufactured world. He was alone with his thoughts.
You may not be able to take a device-free vacation because you are a lawyer. People depend on you. So take a day or twelve hours. Find someone who has your back and sink down into not checking any devices. Turn them off and see how it feels. Put them away. Do you put your kids’ devices away? You probably do. Think about this. Do you put your own devices away?
Once I realized I would not be hiking into the Grand Canyon, I also decided to take Jeena Cho’s 30 days of meditation workshop. In case you aren’t familiar with her, she is the co-author of The Anxious Lawyer and is an outstanding leader of the art. I’ve been a minor practitioner over the years, and I’m a big fan of Ms. Cho. Sometime during my device-free week I stood up from meditating and realized I didn’t care what came next or how long I’d been sitting down. It didn’t matter. Didn’t.
Final Philosophical Comments
In the reading list below, Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation states that a backlash against devices may already have begun. Devices are fantastic, enhancing our lives in so many ways. And they have a downside, with the potential to constantly harass us with an addictive pull towards our darker, if not plain stupid, impulses. We can choose. We can explore our options.
A device-free vacation is a golden opportunity to slow down in ways you may only have dreamed about. If you grew up with devices, you may never have even dreamed about it. Your own brain is a magical place. Slow down to catch up with yourself.
Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle
The Anxious Lawyer by Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford
“I Used to Be a Human Being” in New York Magazine by Andrew Sullivan