The holidays are almost here. Can you feel it? The last-minute dinner and travel plans coming together. The excited messages between family members. A palpable sense that your children are watching movies all week as their teachers check out. A visible belt of cookie fat spilling over your waistline.
Come Christmas Eve, even those of us who don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus will revel in a little bit of silence in this great awful noisy world. For two days traffic will slow down, work pants and laptops will sit idle, and the phone will slow its incessant buzzing to a trickle.
That’s the hope, anyway. The reality is that the internet and its enablers know no holiday. But with scandals and studies and public distrust of Silicon Valley’s particular brand of digital nicotine growing, there are increasinglybold calls to embrace this holiday season unplugged, without phones or tablets or screens of any kind. Turned off. Tuned in. Singing carols with no one filming, just like the heavens intended.
For most people unplugging is a daunting goal. How do you shut out the shining light of civilization that comforts you when you are lonely, soothes your worries (while simultaneously exacerbating them), snuffs out tedium with a single swipe, and also works as your phone, map and lifeline to the outside world? How can you embrace the unplugged holidays without going full-on The Shining from boredom?
While the lifestyle bloggers may present an imagine of a slender woman in lotus pose at the end of a dock on an alpine lake as the instant outcome of turning off your phone, the reality is more complicated. Nothing will change right away. The house will be the same house. The children who are off school and destroying that house will still need to be entertained. Boredom is ever present. Yoga is hard.
The secret to a successful holiday disconnect is planning.
Step 1: recruit allies
Guess what? If a friend or relative walks into your home on Christmas Eve, and is immediately forced to surrender their phone without warning, like some awful interaction gone wrong at the border, then you will have replaced digital distractions with analog resentments. Get everyone on the same page about unplugging by spreading the word early. Start by talking with your immediate family/roommates/friends that this is something you’d like to try, why it’s important, and how you think it can be fun. Then casually spread the word to those you’ll be spending time with, starting with obvious sympathizers and then moving out to the sceptics.
Frame it as something casual (but not necessarily optional). “This holiday we’re trying to be more connected, so please leave your phones at home and help us embrace each other. Hugs!” Or something even less passive aggressive.
Step 2: make a plan
A state of perfect, Leonard Cohen-like Zen will not simply spring up once you power down, especially if you are doing it with others. Idle time for the unplugged is Mark Zuckerberg’s handiwork, so make sure you are replacing the digital distractions with something vastly more attractive in the real world. These plans do not need to be elaborate scavenger hunts or exotic vacations.
Start with an aimless Christmas walk over a few hours. Or tackle a cooking project together as a family: bake a loaf of bread, or a cake, or a gingerbread house. Carbs are your salvation here. Plan something outside that requires your full physical attention. Go skating, or skiing, or if you live somewhere warm, biking or swimming. Build a massive snowman or an elaborate snow fort or a sandcastle. Try to supplement digital interests with analog ones: take the Fortnite-addicted tween to play paintball, do a photo safari with Instagrammers, but with actual cameras, break out games of Risk or Dungeons and Dragons for the role-playing gamer. Throw a dance party and get your kids to DJ it (note: hide all Raffi records for this). Go see a movie in a theatre. Or a play!
Step 3: gather your tools
Minimalism is not your friend here. Idle hands need something to hold, play with, and provide that sweet instant feedback. Break out the turntable and the records, or even the old CDs and cassettes. Stock up on board games, ranging from classics like Operation to new favorites such as Ticket to Ride. Buy (or borrow) an Instax or Polaroid instant film camera and get the film to go with it. Make your home into an all-ages daycare: musical instruments for jamming, comics and coffee table books and magazines to flip through (max out your library card), costumes for kids, tons of paper and craft supplies, Play-Doh, Legos and giant cardboard boxes. Don’t skimp on the glitter. Be sure there’s ample wine and booze for adults. Stock up on sugary carbs for everyone. Remember: the cheapest sleds are the fastest.
Step 4: be firm, but flexible
Remember that the whole point of an unplugged holiday is to relax, and enjoy a small slice of time in this world that is all yours. Encourage those around you to see things as you do, but ultimately know that people will do what they will. Don’t scold or preach those still flipping through Twitter or playing YouTube videos at the dinner table. Lead by example, and by pushing more analog fun as an alternative. Turn your phone completely off and put it away in a drawer and invite others to do the same.
If you have to take calls or check emails or get into a flame war with a Trumper, do it in another room, with the door shut, where no one can see or hear you. Then shut that damn thing off again, get back out there, and eat some more cake before you try to regain your title in the eighth round of Twister.