Unplugging for a Purpose

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 in Presentations

More than unplugging for balance with technology, we need purpose

At the November 23-24, 2012 Bridging the Gap conference at YIS, the focus was “Live the Moment”. The conference contained a variety of experiential sessions and a reduced pace to allow for creative conversations and learning. A component in this was to have the event as unplugged as possible giving people the breathing room from technology to more fully live in the moment. Having delivered a Pecha Kucha in 2010 on “unplugging” and a recent session at an EARCOS workshop that YIS hosted, Leanne Erickson asked if I would write an opening monologue to establish our unplugged foundation. In line with the creativity theme of the conference she asked educator and artist, Mike Mural, to illustrate my words using a data projector and a big screen. While arguably this wasn’t really unplugging entirely the effect was quite organic and occurred in a highly visible real-time format. As I mentioned in my introductory remarks, Mike and I had never rehearsed it together so it would either come together or it wouldn’t. Due more to his credit than mine, the feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive.

Below is a transcript of my words and some photos from the event. Thank you to Leanne and my colleagues who encouraged us to explore this format. It was greatly enjoyable to be a part of the process. – AC

Presenting at BTG 2012

No right way to live

Adam Clark

There is no right way to live but…
when I get too wrapped up in the interconnection of our, at times, uncivil civilization it occurs to me that there must be a better way. 
Just three years ago rebel leaders like Tiffany Shlain of Yelp or Matt Richtel of the New York Times issued viral mandates
to unplug and disconnect
to step off the digital treadmill
to stop fooling ourselves into believing we can actually multi-task or that we are neurologically adapting to the constant stimulation, bombardulation, proliferation of our digital devices.
Heedless of their warnings we charged ahead unabated

Mike Mural in the Flow of Illustration

There is no right way to live but…
Eric Schiermeyer, a co-founder of Zynga, best known for FarmVille, boasts he has helped addict millions of people to dopamine, one of our favorite neurotransmitters. Released in the midst of the most pleasurable, novel, and new but intimately related to an out of control spiral of more, more, more, and decisions that give us less, less, less.

Ask yourself though, do we really have an alternative?

Isn’t it paradoxical, or at best naïve, to hold a deep desire for technology and devices that profoundly enhance our lives while at the same time calling foul at our inability to disengage?

There is no right way to live but…
It’s not just the rebels anymore who are calling for balance but the leaders of the Silicon Valley superpowers wondering what weapons of mass-distraction they have unleashed. Soren Gordhamer, who orchestrates the annual Wisdom 2.0 conference, utters out loud — Wow, what have we done now that we’re done with the honeymoon?
Stuart Crabb, a director in the executive offices of Facebook, at odds with his own calling, calls upon us to survey the impact our time online has on “performance and relationships”. Really? Facebook is worried about our off-task time? They cause 90% of mine.
Networking giant Cisco’s, chief technology and strategy officer, touts the benefits of her nightly meditation and Saturdays completely offline as “a reboot for your brain and your soul”.

There is no right way to live but…
Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who lectures about the science of self-control at Stanford provokes, “It’s this basic cultural recognition that people have a pathological relationship with their devices. People feel not just addicted, but trapped.”

Far from out on an anti-establishment limb, Dr. McGonigal’s view aligns with the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association, who co-author the proverbial bible of Mental Illness, the DSM, and have reported plans to include “Internet use disorder” in the appendix of the manual next year.

Appendix – just a small infection away from appendicitis: a swelling, an inflammation. It usually occurs when the appendix becomes blocked by waste or foreign matter.
The first symptom is often pain, minor at first, but becoming more sharp and severe over time.
Blocked or trapped by our relationships with our devices and ready to burst.

Interesting Format for the Venue

There is no right way to live but…
with a pain building, I checked myself in over fall break.
I unplugged completely…well almost. Selfishly, selflessly, self-marooned on a tiny information island just 3 kilometers across, no laptop and my phone switched off except once per day to make sure I hadn’t missed a critical concern about my aging parents or a dear friend. In 9 days, I replied to 2 messages.
I breathed in the fresh salt air, swam in the sea, and without distraction listened to Asako, Kai and Phebe.
I made the jump and lived technology free and yes, felt fantastic.

There is only so much information we can process and work we can create.
I had reached my limit.
Screentime had built up in me like pressure behind aquarium glass and it had become time to step away, detox, and cleanse.

What did I notice? Everything in more detail.

Shikinejima, Izu Islands, Japan

Time passed more slowly.

I breathed more deeply.

I went to bed earlier.

I woke up fresher.

I intently watched both the sunrise and the sunset.

Life was simplified.

I focused on only what mattered.

I noticed all the bright red berries along the trail in afternoon light, the deep purple of the second sunset, the brilliant emerald green and midnight blue of the box-fish in the cove.

I ate, hiked, swam, took photos, and slept in a healing cycle over many days.

I looked deep into the water and drank from the well.

I refreshed, and refocused.

There is no right way to live but…
stepping back helped me see more accurately.
I could reflect on meaning, find significance, and be brought back to something approximating equilibrium.
While it was exactly what I needed and I welcome a dose of it again today and tomorrow, I could not call it a balanced lifestyle. I missed too much of the good stuff and the baby lay crying outside the window in a puddle of bathwater.
I needed those 9 days but long term it wouldn’t be freedom from technology but more of a self-imposed restriction of the many tools we use to connect and create.

There is no right way to live but…
rather than unplugging as a unquestioned last ditch attempt at balance, let’s unplug to reflect and refresh. Then after some time off the grid we can re-engage having become better acquainted with our vision and a fundamental aspect of the right way to live – purpose.



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