prescription-strength offline mode

It might be surprising--ironic, even--for the first post of any blog to be about taking time to be offline. Being offline is hard, even if your work doesn’t require you to be online 24x7. But being offline appears to have similar benefits to taking medical cannabis. In an opinion piece in New York Times, Mark Wolfe describes great improvements in his parenting abilities after being prescribed pot-infused brownies. He became less distracted, more patient, and more engaged with his kids, as evidenced by the following before and after interactions:

Here is what a typical weekday evening exchange between me and my oldest daughter once looked like:

Child: Daddy, can you show me how to make a Q?

Father: (sipping bourbon and soda, not looking up from iPad) Just make a circle and put a little squiggle at the bottom.

Child: No, show me!

Father: Sweetie, not now, O.K.? Daddy’s tired.

It’s different now:

Child: Daddy, can you show me how to make a Q?

Father: (getting down on the floor) Here, I’ll hold your hand while you hold the pen and we’ll make one together. There! We made a Q! Isn’t it fantastic?

Child: Thanks, Daddy!

Father: Don’t you just love the shape of this pen?

In my experience, many of the benefits of prescription-strength brownies that Mark describes are available without a prescription by simply being offline for a while.

At the end of August, after a particularly grueling few months at work, I took a vacation with my family. Although the house was perfectly wired, I decided to disconnect completely: no phone, no SMS, no e-mail, no twitter, no web. (I didn’t have to worry about Facebook because I committed “Facebook suicide” a few years ago).

I was completely offline for 10 days.

The first few days were rough. It was hard to not have my phone with me at all times--my whole life was, seemingly, on this device. Every time I would get bored or impatient with the kids, I would instinctively reach for it. Every time I would go to the bathroom, I’d feel the urge to do as nature intended, i.e., read Hacker News. Or to check work e-mail, to make sure things were running smoothly.

I didn’t give in, and after a few days, the withdrawal symptoms started to subside. I was becoming calmer, more engaged and connected with my family. Not surprisingly, the kids responded in kind--they were noticeably more relaxed, happier, and there were far fewer tantrums. (Well, there was one notable tantrum in which my oldest raged about the injustice of wearing not the optimally esthetically pleasing shorts on the way home from the beach. But even under couture-induced stress, I remained more open and present than usual).

Coming back from vacation, I hesitated before getting back online--I really appreciated the lack of distraction that I experienced after disconnecting for 10 days. After checking if anything required immediate attention, I took about a week to ease back into it. And I’m happy to report that some of my vacation-time habits stuck: when I’m at home, I put away the phone, and generally stay offline as much as possible. After all, isn’t lingering for an extra minute with a tired child worth not being completely caught up on twitter? And sweeter than a brownie?