Unplugged

I’m not sure people are really aware of just how much we rely on technology today.

As a former and future outdoor professional, I already knew how liberating a week without technology could be. After all, you can’t take your iPad on a backpacking trip through the Arizona canyons or Virginia wilderness. You can take your phone, but it won’t work in the backcountry anyway. Even a satellite phone is spotty and expensive. That’s reason enough to only use it for emergencies. Some of my fondest college memories came when I was unplugged in the wilderness. I was alone with my co-leads, my trip mates, and nature. Who needs a movie when you can lay in a sleeping bag on slick rock looking up at stars so bright and vast that it brings you to tears?

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Who needs a TV when you have this? (Arizona)

I didn’t make the decision to unplug for a week in a day. It was over the course of several weeks that it dawned on me I was relying FAR too heavily on technology. My main enemy, ironically, was the Olympic Games.

Once every four years (two years, really, but it sounds a lot cooler saying ever four years) I splurge for the outrageous installation fees and first-time payments so that I can have cable and DVR during the two-week-long Olympic Games.

To many people (my parents, probably) that is an absurd reason to spend $200. But for an Olympic hopeful, it’s completely logical. Actors, after all, will attend other shows to fine-tune their craft. Film stars, I assume, go to the movies to support their fellows and to gain knowledge. It’s no different with athletes. The Olympics are our endgame, and so there is nothing that will keep us from watching them. I went so far during London 2012 as to schedule time off of work so I could watch the quarterfinals, semifinals and Olympic final of the women’s soccer tournament. It’s a good thing I did, too. I neglected to take the day off after the women’s skeleton races during Sochi, and I was emotionally affected by it five hours later at the start of my shift that I had trouble concentrating on my tables.

But I digress.

After two straight weeks of almost 24-hour television (seriously, it was on almost straight through the night), I was burnt out. Actually, after only a week and a half of the Games, I realized I just was not enjoying having cable at all. I love the Olympics. I love television (I’m a hard-core fan for a few shows, I’ll admit). But (and I know many of my former English teachers will shudder for my using ‘but’ as the beginning of a sentence) after two years straight of no cable, the sudden intrusion of it in my life was overwhelming. I couldn’t take it.

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My last photo before unplugging

The final straw was the Oscars. I’m a big film buff. I didn’t used to be, but I’ve developed some friendships that have lead me to this point. As an intelligent adult, I’m able to see deeper into a film than when I was a child, when my movie-going experiences was pretty much, “Oh! [Insert actor's name] is in it! Shiny colors! Pretty locations! Good story!”]. Now, I enjoy watching the films nominated for the major awards: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Supporting, etc, and because I watch a majority of films being honored, I become invested in how they get recognized.

So there I sat, watching the Oscar telecast while scrolling through Twitter on my phone to track what other people were saying about Ellen’s pizza deliveries and John Travolta’s second straight year of butchering a name. At the same time, I was texting two or three different people. I also was on my iPad, browsing through a few websites. All at the same time.

My generation has excellent multi-tasking skills online…but that’s overkill, folks, and I knew it.

A week earlier, I had made a statement on Facebook that I was “…seriously considering a week (at least) away from technology, excepting emergency and personal phone calls, and maybe once-a-day email checks. This will come post-Oscars, but I’m thinking it’s 95% inevitable.” I stuck with that decision, and unplugged first thing Monday morning.

Little did I know how difficult it would be that first few days. As a regular user of the website tumblr, where a person can “track” a tag of something they like (the Olympics, USWNT, Frozen, Jessica Chastain, Veronica Mars are some of my tracked tags), to give up technology the day after the Oscars meant not seeing a million adorable posts, “gifsets”, and pictures from the event itself that make me go “awwwwww!” I do that frequently on tumblr, and to suddenly be stripped of that was difficult.

It is human nature to wonder what it is like to be someone else, and I’m no different. I like tracking celebrities, actors, athletes. It’s a guilty pleasure, and I have no qualms in saying here that I enjoy it (to an extent…I don’t support people or their children being harassed for a paparazzi photo, for instance, and I have been inspired by actress Kristen Bell and her crusade to introduce a No Kids policy with entertainment media). As early as Monday afternoon, I actually caught myself going on Safari and pulling up tumblr (having temporarily deleted the actual app from my phone and iPad to avoid that exact thing). It was ridiculous, and happened so fast that I was actually scrolling the page before I realized I had done it.

That was it. I shut down my iPad and stowed it in a clothes drawer. I switched my phone to airplane mode and shoved it into my purse. I knew I’d bring my phone with me if I drove anywhere, in case of emergencies, but that was all. I didn’t even take it to work.

What happened throughout the following week was rather remarkable, in that it was such an ordinary week that it was extraordinary. It’ll make sense, I promise.

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The stack of books that accompanied me through the week. At the time of this blog, I’ve read three of them.

I ended up jotting down some thoughts in a notebook throughout the week, and I’ll share them now, exactly how I wrote them (retyped, because my handwriting was illegible).

Day 1:

Bored, listless. Cheated already.

1 episode of TV

Started and read cover-to-cover The Book Thief

Day 3: Caught myself peeking on FB/Twitter, but found I was actually wholly uninterested in statuses.

Day 4: Caught myself thinking as Facebook statuses & tweets. Literally would shape thoughts to tailor to a Facebook status. Who cares? –>The thoughts were forgotten and deemed unimportant within a few hours.

Day 5: Want to look at headlines.

“Miss” family and friends but knowing how easy it would be to get in touch with family, if I needed to, helps.

Self-importance:

Things that happen in my day aren’t important to broadcast.

Not really looking to get back on FB-Twitter full-time. Maybe 1-a-day scan?

Cleaning out e-mail spam…unsubscribed from at least 12 mailings in the first 3 days (I checked e-mail once a day until about Thursday, when I did it every other day.)

Day 6: Found myself more occupied at work than I am with my phone nearby (shocker)

Spent less $ than when I had internet constantly

Forgot about taking my phone places

Falling asleep earlier, waking up earlier.

Yesterday, when I rejoined the world of technology, I immediately wrote the following Facebook status:

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I was immediately hit with seven messages (and two texts) saying that I shouldn’t delete my accounts, that my posts would be missed, and that people are interested in seeing what I’m doing. First off: I’m flattered, you guys, and I understand that in this day and age, technology and social media are how acquaintances, friends, family stay in touch.

After a week of not sharing every detail of my life, however, I realized that I’m actually a private person. I enjoyed having my anonymity for a week, and I could logically see myself phasing myself away from social media; specifically, Facebook. I am by no means a public figure. I don’t have paparazzi following me everywhere, but there are enough people who are interested in how I live my life that I feel the need to protect the private parts of my life. I don’t mind sharing things with my family. Really, though, even my family doesn’t care what I’m eating for breakfast or what my political views are.

I have an unofficial athlete page that I’ve tried to promote. It is my ultimate goal to delete my personal Facebook account and use my athlete page to share my journey towards a possible Olympic bid. I’ll still have a twitter account, as it seems to be the best way to promote my athletic goals and do a tiny bit of fandom gushing, but that’s all I’ll keep public.

I don’t mean to climb up on a soap box or anything. I just had no idea a simple week away would change my opinions of social media so powerfully. I had an idea that I would start to lean towards less social media usage, but I didn’t know it would be so drastic. Perhaps I should have known. The worst part of a backpacking trip (other than the ascent out of a canyon after a week of 10-mile days with a 7- pound pack) is the return to technology. Except showers. The first shower back is the best part of a backpacking trip (am I right, PRM?).

I urge you to try unplugging for a week. Jot down your thoughts throughout the week on a notepad. Be aware of what you think and how you think it. Perhaps you’ll find, as I did, thoughts forming in 140 characters. Perhaps you’ll catch yourself online before you are even aware that you’re doing it.

Hopefully, you’ll find that the new episode of TV you’ve been waiting for really wasn’t as important as you thought it was, or that not knowing how Jennifer Lawrence spent her Oscar night won’t kill you. Maybe you’ll discover, or rediscover, that books are just as engrossing as the Internet (I read four books through the course of the week. Actual books, mind you. Not Kindle books and they were all incredible). You’ll probably find that not being in constant communication with your friends via text will give you more to talk about when you see them face-to-face. You’ll definitely become aware of people around you using technology instead of talking to each other, even at the dinner table.

The most important thing to discover, though, is how important you

That’s the biggest lesson I took from unplugging last week. Yes, I learned that I don’t need technology to survive. But I learned what technology was doing to my self-image, and I learned that, though it’s not a glaring thing, social media and constant electronic use was actually self-destructive. I’m an introvert, and I’m extremely hard on myself, and a major part of that is society-implemented. Cutting off my contact with such stereotypes and societal expectations, I got in touch with my own thoughts again.

I’m important, and I forgot that when I was too busy trying to see what my actor idols or sports heroes were up to. I spend so much time trying to prove myself to other people, trying to impress other people, that I completely forgot that there’s only one person I really need to prove myself to and impress: me.

Support my journey towards the 2018 Olympic Games here!

The “O-Word”

In case you all missed it, or weren’t paying attention, I was recently honored with the opportunity to kick off the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation’s athlete blog with a post of my own. I considered this a great compliment to my writing, which I almost thought no one was paying attention to!

Of course, immediately after agreeing to do it, I was struck with terror and my brain went crazy. This thing was going to be on the front page of the USBSF website. People were going to read it! Lots of people! Maybe even important people! I must write something profound! No! I must be extremely witty! But if I try too hard, I’ll come off like I’m an idiot because I’m trying too hard!

What ultimately came out on paper was the explanation of a phrase that is used a lot in the “world” in which I live. The “O-Word”, or “Olympic”. For instance, when a fellow server might notice a grumpy-looking table at Dancing Bears, they’d tell me, “Just mention The “O-Word” and they’ll cheer right up!”

I’ve found this to be 100% foolproof, even in an Olympic-history-heavy town like Lake Placid. It’s astonishing how The O-Word actually demonstrates the ideal of the Games: world harmony. EVERYONE is excited to talk about the Olympics. At least, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t been excited about it. EVERYONE tells about their favorite memory, or earliest memory, or even their most painful memory in regards to the Games. Never have I mentioned the Olympics to someone only to get a confused, “Sorry? What’s that?” back (Thank goodness. I might have a heart attack the day that happens).

And so, I sat down at my iPad and keyboard and began to write. Amazingly, I didn’t do what I normally do, which is write one paragraph, stop, pace around for a bit to figure out if it was actually a good idea to start, and then sit again and write the next paragraph. I stayed at it for a good three hours, letting my mind take my pen (keyboard? fingers?) wherever it would go. There was definite “bird walking” and tangents, random anecdotes and odd facts. I even started writing about a completely new topic about 3/4 in.

Lucky for all of us, not all of it made the final draft. There was a paragraph detailing my admiration for American Sweetheart and US Swimming phenom Missy Franklin’s humility and normalcy. There was disgust over how Marion Jones let me down as a young girl with her decisions regarding steroids. There was even a mention of demon ants taking over the world. Oh, wait…

I was pleasantly surprised how easily my thoughts flowed when I wrote the article. Then again, I tend to feel much more creative when I’m writing about my passions: the Olympics, soccer, theater, film to name a few.

I took a night to sleep on the piece, then came back and made some major changes to the layout before deeming it worthy. I have never sent in an important piece of writing without having it proofread by my editors (aka my Dad the infamous Red Pen Wielder, or my eldest brother David, no slouch in writing himself) so I surprised myself when I checked my own work and sent it in without anyone else reading it.

I am very happy with how it came out. I’m so happy that it seems to have been received with positive reviews, and I’m so humbled by the amount of praise I received from my teammates, family and friends. I truly enjoyed writing it (shout out to @mcguire_bobsled for the help deciphering huge numbers) and I love that you love it!

Click here to read The “O-Word” in all its original glory on the USBSF home page!

Oh! And I guess you’ve noticed that I actually have a WEBSITE now! That’s thanks to my super awesome roommate and training partner Haley Sive. She’s a genius. It looks incredible and it’s not even finished! I bow before her. I am not worthy. I still don’t think I know what a widget is…

Cheers, you lovely people you!

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