Going Unplugged…

When was the last time you basked in the warm glow of an evening sunset? The last time you watched a bird gather building materials for its nest? The last time you stood on the beach and listened to the waves break along the shore?

I imagine that you are as pleased as I am to watch the sun emerge from winter hibernation and cast its friendly rays across our river valley. I have to admit that every day of blue sky and sunshine makes me anxious to get out and breathe in the fresh air. Soon, I’ll begin another year of golf lessons, and while my swing remains a work in progress, the allure of being outdoors, relaxed and focused on “just hitting the ball” attracts me more each year. The one thing I won’t be bringing with me? My BlackBerry.

The results of a recent study entitled “Unplugged” only reinforce that decision. Researchers at the University of Maryland asked students at 10 universities to go for 24 hours without any media—no internet, no phone, no email. In an age of constant connection, the study set out to examine our dependence on technology and how it has changed the way we think about the world, our communities and our relationships.

I bet you can guess at the results. Nearly four out of five participants felt “significant mental and physical distress, panic, confusion and extreme isolation when forced to unplug from technology for an entire day.” A clear majority were unable to even make it the full 24 hours without succumbing to the magnetic pull of their devices! Perhaps most distressing: just one out of five said that they could feel the benefits of going “unplugged.”

And therein lies the double-edged sword of these productivity devices. Sure, when I’m out on the golf course, I sometimes catch myself wondering who’s trying to get a hold of me, but in the end, I’m content to know that my messages will be right there waiting...when I have time get to them. Today’s young people, however, having spent their entire lives “plugged in,” feel adrift without a device in hand.

And that’s really a tragedy, for breaking away from the 24/7 media grid can lead to some of life’s most rewarding experiences. The ability to unplug and live in the present isn’t a skill taught in school, but it may well be critical to maintaining a sense of balance in today’s fast-paced world.

Nature can be your best friend on this journey, something Stella O’Hanlon knew quite well. I met her in the late 1990s, when my late husband was facing a cancer diagnosis, and she encouraged me to try different relaxation techniques to get through the difficult time. While Stella is no longer with us, her work lives on…at the Cancer Center for Healthy Living and on Stella’s Path, the interpretative walking trail at Forest Park Nature Center.

There is too much natural beauty here in central Illinois to stay tethered to your device—no matter how mobile it is! And so, as the weather warms up, make it a goal to unplug once in awhile and really listen to the world outside. There is wisdom there—the kind that can’t be blogged or tweeted. a&s

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