“Remember, you’re here to relax and get away from it all,” my boyfriend says as I frantically try to post one last photo of my roadside lunch on Instagram. We’re in a hot car, driving in the middle of nowhere for a long-awaited camping trip that we scheduled months ago as a way for us to escape from our busy schedules. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but with the fading reception of my trusty smartphone and one final text message (To my cat sitter: “please make sure you use the blue plate to feed her, she does NOT like bowls because they touch her whiskers”), I can’t help but feel a little bit anxious. I’m not worried about the fact that we might get mauled by bears or that a meltdown might happen at work, but I can’t shake the eerie feeling of suddenly being disconnected from my friends and networks, from an outlet for my thoughts. As we pass historical ruins and kitschy roadside tourist traps I find myself composing posts in my head that I know would make my friends laugh or probably collect a lot of “likes,” only to be unable to share them. It is weird. With the realization that there is no outlet for these musings (and that my phone is more-or-less useless to me at this point), I reluctantly hold down the power button and shut my phone off.
When’s the last time you unplugged? I mean REALLY unplugged. No phone, no games, no need to share (or even think about sharing) with others what you are doing at that moment—a true break for your brain from the chatter of the world around you. The answer might surprise you.
As the Online Communications Manager at Save The Bay (and a full-fledged millennial), I not only spend a good portion of my life staring at a screen, but the majority of my waking hours thinking about what I’m going to share with my social networks and how I’m going to portray the story of my life. It’s ingrained and, some would argue impossible, to turn off the compulsion to compose my thoughts in 140-character snippets and take numerous selfies of my daily happenings for my devoted followers. It’s a way of thinking that I’ve been trained to follow – short, snappy blurb, meticulously angled photo (don’t forget the filter!), funny or popular hashtag. Maximize the share-ability. However, while this skillset has certainly been an asset in my career, in my personal life I often have to ask myself, am I judging the value of my experiences for their authenticity or for the number of likes and comments they collect? I know having a community makes life more enriching, but if you never escape from the pressures that network provides, can you truly ever be in the moment?
It’s an interesting conundrum—one that, during my camping trip, I’m glad I had the time to reflect upon. It took a few hours for the anxiety to subside, but without the physical means for me to post to social media, I suddenly found my senses heightened. I scanned the mountains with greater care, breathed deeper, listened closely to the crunch of the dried pine beneath my feet – all with the intent that, without any external aids, I would commit as much as I could to memory. I would never be here, at this exact spot, with these exact emotions ever again and there were no posts, likes or shares that would fully capture or validate the simplicity, honesty and integrity of the moment. For the first time in a while my thoughts were my own, not meant for public consumption.
As summer turns to fall and the Bay Area comes out to play, I’m becoming a believer that unplugging is absolutely necessary for people to truly enjoy the wonder and beauty San Francisco Bay and California have to offer. The Bay is precious, unique and valuable on its own. Maybe you don’t need to post that photo of you posing at the top of a mountain or checking in at a state park to enrich your experience. Instead, maybe you just need some mental peace. I know those are the moments that I will hold onto as I return to the daily grind.
We at Save The Bay always appreciate and enjoy your posts and comments, but we also encourage you to take some time to mentally unplug. Explore the amazing place we live! Turn the phone off, don’t worry about the moments your followers are missing and breathe deeply – you might just find that you are able to see the beauty around you more clearly than ever before.