Ever gone birding?
I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’re needing a temporary disconnection from the relentless shitshow of our lives. Pick up any basic North American bird field guide, a pair of binoculars, and go to town.
I’ve found it to be something I can do everyday, if I choose, that allows me to tap into a rich vein of an offline world that runs almost in plain sight through the milieu of a hyper-connected city that never sleeps. I’ve seen hawks perch atop trees in my Brooklyn backyard. Casual birding, at best, but it’s nonetheless a way of unplugging, if only for fleeting moments.
Then again, in 2017, birding eguides like Merlin Bird ID by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are just a tap away on your smartphone. Yet another traditionally “offline” endeavor, subsumed, to some degree, by the march of digitization and the internet. Offline is dead, long live offline. If you need to find me this weekend, I just might be birding.
It being Labor Day Weekend, I will also be revisiting, as I have every Labor Day since his story first ran on Motherboard three years ago, Brian Merchant’s classic essay on our persistent misconceptions of Luddites, those 19th century textile workers “who smashed machines in protest of the disruptive effects of the Industrial Revolution.” “Luddite” has since become synonymous with “technophobe,” Merchant writes, “a travesty to the fearsome, machine-wrecking movement from which the term arose.”
We have always had a complicated relationship with technology. In our new, always-on global economy, where the creep of automation stands to render swaths of workers obsolete in the coming decades, we should all take a moment to reflect on the original trade unions, insurrectionary anti-automation labor movements like Luddism, and labor activists throughout time who’ve fought and died for safer working conditions, better pay, the 40-hour work week, weekends, and long weekends.
In that spirit, Motherboard has pooled together some pro tips for keeping it chill offline (“offline”) over the next 72 hours. Because you’ve earned it. (Seriously, go birding.) We’ll see you back here bright and early Tuesday morning. -Brian Anderson, features editor
‘Fuck the phone!’
First, a special note from former editor-in-chief and Motherboard lifer Derek Mead. Derek writes us from Greece:
I’ve been trying to figure out how to feel less beholden to technology for some time now, which tends to run in direct conflict with my job (and I reckon it’s the same for most of you reading this). Here are a few thoughts written poolside while I’m on a vacation day because yeah, I can’t quit entirely.
Option 1: Go somewhere where you don’t get cell or internet service for a few days. I recently went camping on Bureau of Land Management-managed land in Oregon and these areas tend to not have any cell service or really a whole lot of other camping-related rules aside from not destroying the area you’re in or having fires. It’s a great chance just to settle in to float down a river and shoot the shit with your real-life friends—as opposed to being caught in an infinite flex gradient with your social media friends.
Option 2: Be extremely aggressive about whether you or the app is getting more out of the relationship. I recently gave my Twitter account to Motherboard alum Adrianne Jeffries, who has changed the password and is holding the account in escrow so I can’t use it. I long felt Twitter was demanding more from my attention and stress than I was getting out in useful information, and it’s nice to see the other side of the coin for awhile. Twitter is proving to have been more useful than I realized, but I’m also realizing what specific habits triggered the most stress. Eventually I’ll return and hopefully will be more judicious about my own time and attention. This goes for every app.
Option 3: Remember that technology works for you, and not the other way around. Our phones and devices and the internet and everything are all incredibly powerful, life-changing tools. It’s hard to even fathom how much positive we get out of these devices. They’re also all specifically designed, developed, and iterated to suck as much time of yours as possible. That’s a trade-off you don’t have to make.
To win back your own attention, put yourself in situations where the phone is irrelevant. I love having real-life dinner with a single person because then I know I have to be present, and am more present as a result. Who gives a fuck about a phone when someone amazing is sharing stories and food with me? Fuck the phone!
Same goes with having real-life friends over for hangs, or going to the movies, or riding a bike, or doing a road trip, or whatever. It’s your life, and it’s honestly best when it’s real. Make it so.
Log off—of Twitter
“It’s really stressful, and probably not all that helpful,” Motherboard’s Canada staff writer, Jordan Pearson, wrote of Twitter last November 8, as Americans headed to the polls.
“Who knows why this is,” he continued, “maybe a bit of algorithmic filtering and some tendencies to follow people who echo our own beliefs. It can feel like you and everybody you know hates Nickelback but somehow you can’t go anywhere without hearing ‘Photograph’ on the PA. It’s all around, nobody can really grasp why, but you can’t escape it.”
Ban screens (at home)
Earlier this year, our own Kaleigh Rogers and her partner underwent a self-imposed month-long digital detox. They prohibited the use of the TV, computers, and phones (with minor exceptions) inside the threshold of their apartment door, and rediscovered a few things along the way.
Stu, her partner, started sketching again for the first time in years. Kaleigh started writing poetry again, something she hadn’t done since college. They feel it improved their relationship. They made more home-cooked meals and saw friends.
“It’s why these kinds of experiments are more than just a fun challenge,” Kaleigh reflects. “They teach us what kind of boundaries we want to set up when all of our technology is designed to topple any limits and keep us coming back for more. It’s different for every person, but a really good way to discover just how little screen time you really need in your life is to eliminate all screens completely. At least for a month.”
You might be thinking, a long weekend isn’t a month. Which, true. But we can all probably agree that less mindless scrolling is a good thing. Try a 3-day ban on screens at home and, who knows, you might just want to let it ride ride for longer.
Resigned to the fact that you’re not disconnecting? Might as well go nuclear with something like StayFocused, a Chrome extension that “increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.”
Actually, keep scrolling
It’s human nature, after all. Feed this episode of Radio Motherboard from April into your ear holes for more.
Why not work through some of those longreads piling up in your bookmarks? May we also suggest some recently published Motherboard features and selections from our archives:
Listen to music!
This year does feel chaotic, doesn’t it? The 24-hour news cycle has begun to feel like a 24-second news cycle; peel your eyes away from your feeds at your own risk, lest you miss the latest outrage cycle or atrocity.
Amid this mess, Jason Koebler, editor-in-chief of Motherboard, realized he rarely listened to music anymore.
“Sure, I put sounds in my ears, but it’s always background to a blog post, a shower, a frenzied commute. That is, when I’m not scarfing down some podcast,” he says. “The last few weeks I’ve found myself making time to listen to music. Like, turn-the-lights-off-and-stare-at-the-ceiling or pop-headphones-in-and-gaze-across-the-river style. Might I suggest Brand New’s Science Fiction or the new LCD Soundsystem album, or, if you want to listen to something old that feels unfortunately relevant again, pop on ‘MariKKKopa’ by Desaparecidos.”
Sample some of that sweet, sweet comfort content we keep on permanent stash. Kick back and rip a load of the headiest internet hits, handpicked by your friends at Motherboard. Peer inside some very chill gemstones. Binge on decades of majestic archival footage NASA is uploading to YouTube. Shred on an alien star system .
Roll an actual blunt
OK, watching a movie isn’t logging off. Consider After Hours your unplugging Methadone, then, to help ease your eyes off one screen and onto another, slightly less-connected screen (assuming you own a TV, which you probably don’t). It’s a movie filmed and set in a pre-internet and pre-cell phone New York City, and one of the many films whose entire plot sits in the stack of screenplays that now completely fall apart in a world where cell phones exist. It’s a forgotten but excellent Scorsese film that also happens to be one of Motherboard CEO Erik Franco’s favorite films about computers. So you know it’s tight.
Logging off is a flat circle
If all else fails, you can always cue up this curious painting from 1937 on your mobile device and note the guy holding what looks like an iPhone. Makes you think. Isn’t it strange?
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