Thursday, August 16, 2012

Exploring the Off Switch

I'm sure y'all heard about the recent blackouts in India. Basically, massive failures of the power grid left over 600 million people in the dark for several days. People have been calling it the worst blackout in global history.

Yanno.... I felt a funny thing when I heard about it... I felt a twinge of jealousy.

Now, in truth, it would really suck to be caught in a situation like that. I'd probably lose a good chunk of the food in the freezer, since my stove is electric I'd be reduced to using the solar oven and camp stove to cook with, I'd be out of touch with people I care about, and that doesn't even touch on the topic of heating & cooling or, heaven forbid, the water supply.

But just think of the upsides... It would be quiet. There would be no incessant electronic voices, or beepers, or ringers wrangling for your attention.You could go to bed as early as you wanted to because there would be no lights, or television, or internet to keep you up.

And best of all, nobody could expect things from you.

That last one is huge for me. Here I am, six years post-employment, and I still suffer from feeling like the whole world wants something from me.

I know it's ridiculous and self-imposed, but there are parts of me that just feel like I should be keeping in touch with people, and I should be staying up to date on what's happening in the world, and I should be spending more time with my parents, and the worst one of all: I should be "being productive." OY!

And the worst part about being "productive" is that it can mean ANYTHING! I should be cooking, or vacuuming, or preserving, or repairing, or organizing, or working on my web sites, or blogging, or all of the myriad of other things that can be made into chores.

But somehow, if the power were to go out, I feel like I'd be "off the hook." After all, how can anybody expect anything of me if the power's off?

It's totally absurd, because the truth is, I'm the only person who is placing all of those expectations on myself. In reality, NOBODY CARES whether I'm a model of human efficiency or a total and complete slob.

So, with that realization tucked away nicely in my psyche, I've been exploring the off switch this week... creating my own selective blackouts if you will.

I don't have to live with the incessant voices telling my to purchase certain items, or vote a certain way, or care about a certain event... I can just turn off the television.

I don't have to live in a state of constant information overload... I can just turn off the computer.

I don't have to be "on call" for the world... I can take the telephone off the hook.

And I don't have to stay up late trying to "be productive" I can turn off the lights, enjoy the quiet solitude, look at the stars, and go to bed!

I'm not sure why this is such a revelation for me... and the truth is, I've had this same revelation many, MANY times before. But somehow the busyness of the world seems to keep creeping up on me, and I find that I have to keep reminding myself that I have control of the off switches in my life.

How about you? Does anybody else out there have trouble remembering to turn off the craziness?


  1. So much for me keeping up on things. I hadn't heard about the black outs in India.

    Four years ago, the power was knocked out to an entire section of the area I was living in at the time by workers redoing the streets. Since this was a rural area, the decision was made not to restore the electric since they could knock it out again. In all we were without electricity for 5 days. The landlord had a generator that he moved from apartment to apartment to run our fridges to try and save our food. Being on a well, we had no water so we had to go in town and get water. We all were very thrifty with what water we had and shared amongst each other when one forgot to bring some home.

    It may seem strange, but I enjoyed those 5 days. I did resort to going out for food by the 4th day tired of fending for myself and with and electric stove couldn't cook at all. The only part I worried about were the dishes which I rinsed in a small pan of water but left them sitting until power was restored.

    More recently we've been without power for up to 24 hours a few times. Again I find it liberating, just hate when the power goes out in the evening after it's dark and I'm not ready to retire.

    1. Ooooo, that sounds like the near-perfect scenario! All the fun of a power outage without letting the food go bad! I actually LOVE night without lights, since I have a "thing" for candles and oil lamps. They're not exactly the safest option with 4 rambunctious cats, but there's nothing quite as calming as candlelight.

  2. I'm pretty achey and sleepy tonight after a fun day at the beach- walking on deep, loose sand- ouch! I really just need to eat something and go to sleep...but my 'be productive' brain is trying to tell me that I need to get on with some cleaning, organising, mending first. It will all be there in the morning, so actually I'd be better off going to bed, having a good sleep and doing it then.

    I don't know how to stop the 'be productive' guilt...perhaps I am scared that if I let things slip I will become a crazy messy person in the style of Horders...

    1. I'm right with you in terms of the fear of letting things get out of control. But in a funny way I find that the harder I try to be "productive" the more out of control things seem to get!

      I think for me, a big chunk of the desire to "be productive" is really a desire to "stay busy" so that I don't have to deal with some unpleasant emotional thing that's nagging at me. But the more it nags at me, the more out of control I feel.

      If I can find a way to force myself to deal with whatever it is that I'm avoiding, I generally feel much, MUCH better, regardless of what has or hasn't gotten "done."

  3. It's funny because as soon as I turn off the distractions, I'm oddly hyper-productive. I'm a doer, so my down time is my screen time lol. I don't know what I'd do if the house were immaculate and the power was out. I'd still probably go for a walk lol!

    1. Actually, a walk sounds like a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy some quiet time!

  4. I must be under a really big rock called work and school, because I didn't know about that blackout either :(

    Congrats to you for creating your own disconnect/off switch. I really feel it is important to periodically unplug. Our lives are so "noisy" these days with so much info overload. I do a Sunday of "no screens" (TV, iPod Touch, computer)periodically, but I suffer from the same problem as Minimalist Mommi - I find tons of things to do. I'm starting to realize why meditation is so hard for me - I have a hard time just "being". (SERENITY NOW! LOL)

    I do remember - fondly - when we moved in 2006 and we missed our cable installation because we were out having lunch with a friend and reconnecting (no regrets, obviously!). They couldn't reschedule us for 3 weeks, so we spent that time totally TV channels (no reception), no phone and no internet. We had one cell phone between us and we kept forgetting to turn it on. I can tell you what I remember most about those 3 weeks - I slept like a rock; being on the computer too much/too late is something that really kicks my brain into overdrive and gives me major insomnia at the worst or poor sleep quality at the best. I didn't think I could sleep that hard or that long anymore - it was a good lesson for me.

    I find it's harder and harder to totally unplug, though - and that really aggravates me. Anyone else get frustrated by the extent you have to disconnect these days to dial down the electrical hum to attain peace and quiet? Kudos to you, Cat, for marching to your own drum. I can totally appreciate that :)

    1. Three weeks with no TV, phone or internet... it sounds like vacation to me! I read somewhere that before the widespread use of electric lighting, most adults slept for an average of 9 hours per night. Somehow, I just don't think that our brains were meant to live in a state of constant distraction.

      I hear you on the meditation thing... it's really hard for me too. I find that I do much better with yoga because it actually gives me something to "do" while I'm relaxing... if that makes any sense at all.

      Don't know if you're at all into science fiction movies, but there's a great scene in film "The Matrix" where a child is bending a spoon with his thoughts - this is all happening in a computer generated world that isn't real. Anyhow the main character asks the kid how he did it and the kid says basically that you don't try to bend to spoon, you only try to realize that there is no spoon:

      Sooooo... back when I was still working full time and felt stressed beyond belief, sometimes I'd lay in bed at night with all sorts of thoughts racing through my mind, and I'd just say to myself over and over "there is no spoon, there is no spoon, there is no spoon." Oh my!

  5. Yes, I have major problems turning off the craziness, but for me, that craziness is work. And since I don't work for myself I don't feel like I can turn it off, not if I want to keep my job.

    And...I despise power outages. I live in the middle of the city but still spend several evenings to days powerless a year. I HATE it because if it's night it's hard to do anything, even read.

    But kudos for finding what works for you!

    1. I used to have a really hard time "turning off" work too (see my comment above.) But I finally came to the realization that ruminating on it all the time made me much less productive rather than more.

      I feel for you though... So many employers these days expect their employees to be available 24/7 - it all strikes me much more like indentured servitude rather than employment! I saw something on the news recently about a software company that includes as part of it's benefits package a $7000 vacation allowance. But in order to get the money, you actually have to go away on vacation, and NOT check in via email, phone or any other method. Now there's a sane employer!

  6. Several thoughts come to mind from your essay. First, I like my old reruns on TV, I find them comforting and fun. I like my simple computer games. I use them to unwind and slow my mind down. Not that I couldn't do those things other ways, but when the power is on, I like them. Although I occasionally waste time with them, I mostly find my TV and computer relaxing.

    Also, I had a counselor tell me once, that "should" is a great anxiety producing word and to remove it from my thought process. I'm much better than I used to be, but thanks for the reminder.

    And lastly, when my kids were younger, their major punishment was no electronics for various time periods. Sometimes I wondered if it were a good punishment because they didn't miss a beat. They played a lot of board games, read a lot of books and had a good time in general. And there was a lot less arguing. So, whether or not they were being punished, it was a win-win situation for all of us.

    1. I also enjoy mindless television and computer games, but I find it all creates a bit of a sub-conscious drag on me after a while. I think it's because of the feeling of being "hooked in." Like: I have to pee, but I must wait for the commercial break, or I really need to stretch my legs, but I just want to finish this one game first, etc. For some reason it takes a great deal of effort for me to "break free" and it can end up making me feel more stressed rather than less.

    2. Occasionally, I have problems breaking free, but I usually do okay. That's probably why I find them relaxing.

  7. One of our favorite family activities in summer involves no use of electricity. We sit outside in the evening listening to the birds in their final songs of the day, waiting for the stars to come out, one by one, then finally, the appearance of the bats. We just enjoy conversation and roast a marshmallow or two. Not a speck of electricity used!

    1. That sounds absolutely heavenly! I LOVE being outside at nightfall.

  8. My income (or lack of it) dictated that I no longer could afford cable or dish or Internet. It also dictated that my cell phone be cheap (used off of eBay) and my service cheap (PagePlus). As a result, the outside "noise" and my access to it has been greatly reduced. I don't miss any of it.

    I have the Internet at work. On the weekends, I can take my ancient laptop to a friend's house or the library to access the Internet. But I rarely do so.

    My cell phone is a precursor of the fancy Smartphones of today, so it does have some data capabilities, allowing me to check email if absolutely necessary. Again, I rarely do so.

    I don't subscribe to any magazines or newspapers. When I need to know what is going on in the world (outside of working hours), I turn on the radio. Even when I am at work and have access to the news, I rarely read beyond the headlines. My family accuses me of living my life with my head in the sand. Yeah, so what?

    Having turned down the electronic noise in my life, I find I am much less anxious. I feel so much less pressure to do this, buy that, look like her, eat that food. I feel that the choices I make regarding my life are now based more on what I feel on the inside than from what is shoved at me from the outside.

    Power outages don't bother me. I know the power will come on sooner than later. Meanwhile, I still feel I am being productive while I read by oil lamp or candlelight or work on a knitting or crochet project. I even consider going to bed early because of the power outage to be productive as it's never a bad thing to get a good night's sleep.

    1. Oh yes! I much preferred it when phones were dumb and people were smart! I actually only have an emergency cell phone on a pre-paid plan. It only gets turned on about a half dozen times per year. I just can't imagine the constant noise cycle that most people live in, I simply couldn't tolerate it!

      I don't have cable or satellite either, but I do have high speed internet and off the air TV, which is nearly as bad.

      Kudos to you for reducing your exposure to the societal noise!

  9. Yes, I check out periodically. I've gone for periods without turning on computer, just using candles for lighting at night (so much noise emitted by electricity!), doing everything by hand, turning off various online forms of interaction. It really helps me deal and I encourage it. I've thought about taking a break off of email or somehow only checking it once every x days, but I'd like to first get on top of it, before I check out.

    I do resent how noisy our world is. And yes, a world without electricity does seem like a bit of heaven - sometimes.

    1. Well, there have been times when I've forgotten to check my email for over a week and nothing terrible happened. It did pile up a bit, but it only took me about 30 minutes to go through it all.

      I just think the whole modern expectation that everyone should be "on call" 24/7 is sorta ridiculous. When I was a kid we had one phone in the house... it lived on the kitchen wall. There was no such thing as an answering machine or call waiting. If somebody wanted to reach you and couldn't get through - too bad! It could be a real pain sometimes, but all in all it made for a much more human pace of life.


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