Are You Digitally Overconnected? A Story About Going Off the Grid

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Inman Connect New York | January 29 - February 1, 2019

Three days. Seventy-two hours. Unplugged. Off the grid.

This past weekend I traveled to Tucson, Ariz. Those who know me know I travel very frequently for Inman. I travel to all of our Agent Reboot events around North America, both Connect events, many association and brokerage meetings, and more. But this trip was something different altogether.

One year ago, I fulfilled something on my “bucket list”: a trip to Chicago to be a part of the “Oprah” show audience. As an audience member, my best friend and I were the lucky recipients of an all-expenses-paid trip to the world-renowned spa, Miraval Resort in Tucson.

I knew I was in need of some “time off.” Those who know me well know that I very rarely turn the “off button” off. Not only is it hard to do personally, it is also part of my job at Inman: to be the eyes and ears of our brand and the industry. Social media is not a 9-to-5 job.

But it’s more than just that.

I have to say, not only is it my job, it’s something I really love. I love Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Foursquare. I love checking in, telling my friends what I’m doing, sharing great photos, liking, commenting. But, I was starting to notice that all that online time was starting to seep into all areas of my life.

When is the last time you tuned out, turned off, and went off the grid?

Remember when going on vacation meant turning on your “out of office” on your email and then not checking work email unless you absolutely had to? Maybe you’d sneak a peek at the complimentary hotel computer in the lobby, but for the most part you were on vacation.

So I made the conscious effort that once I got to Miraval (and checked in, of course) that I would turn it off.

I turned off all of my notifications.

No more dings telling me I had a new tweet or a new comment on my Facebook page. I posted one last update, and then that was it. I made a vow to myself and my husband I would use my phone only for calling home or texting my family. For the first time since I was on maternity leave, I enabled my vacation email settings. I almost forgot where they were in Gmail.

I thought it would be hard. Everyone joked with me that I couldn’t do it. But to be honest, it was easier than I thought.

I made the conscious decision to be in the now.

To focus on my trip, on me, on my friend. To focus on doing nothing. On being with myself and being OK just being still.

What I realized is that so often I would check my phone out of habit or because there was nothing to do. Next time you find yourself with nothing to do, watch what you do. I bet you grab for your phone. Don’t believe me? Watch people on the subway or at a restaurant who are alone; I bet you nine out of 10 times they are on their phone. Why? Because when you are on your phone, you are not alone. You are liking, commenting, tweeting and interacting.

Have you ever snuck out to the bathroom to check your email? Or Facebook page? Be honest! This trailer from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival movie Connected talks about this and our need to always be connected and online.

For me, during my weekend unplugged, I found great power in the ability to be alone with myself and my thoughts.

I recently watched a TED talk by Sherry Turkle who talks about how psychologically powerful it is to be together while not being together and the cultural phenomenon happening of removing ourselves and going into our phones. It happens all the times — in meetings, at the stoplight, at the dinner table.

Sherry says, “People can’t get enough of each other, but at a distance they can control.” She goes on to talk about how real-time conversation is unedited, unscripted, and you can’t control what you want to say.

She talks about people not wanting to be alone, being anxious, fidgeting. Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved. In my three days in the desert I really felt that. I remember subconsciously picking up my phone and swiping my screen to check Facebook mindlessly because I was alone or had nothing to do, and then stopping myself.

Now, am I saying to ditch our devices? The heck with social media? No, not at all. I still believe very firmly in the power of social media. Some of my dearest friends I have “in real life” are people I met on Facebook or Twitter. I still believe that social media is changing the way brands communicate, homes are being sold, and the conversations happening around real estate. And most of you who know me really well know that I love social media and I love this turning point in technology and marketing that we are in right now.

But, I am also realizing the importance of developing a greater self-awareness about our devices.

Here are a few things I plan on implementing, and I invite you to join me:

1. Making room for solitude. Make the time to be alone, alone with your thoughts. This is where some of the best ideas and strategies come from. Schedule this time and treat it as important as any other meeting.

2. Create sacred spaces. Create spaces in your home — like the dining room table — that are “phone-free” zones.

3. Take time to go off the grid. I know my friend Jeff Turner religiously goes “off the grid” every Sunday to focus on his family. If you can’t take a day, take a few hours or one day a month where you are not on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

4. Be present. One of the best gifts I can give my family, friends and colleagues is the gift of being in the moment: enjoying face-to-face time and not chatting with my head down because I am texting or tweeting.

5. Limit multitasking. I find that when I flit from one thing to another like a bumblebee I am never as productive. Call on your willpower. Shut down those 25 windows and focus on one task at a time.

I invite you to join me in being more present while not giving up our devices — just making better decisions about the role they play in our lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about this topic. Please leave me a comment below!