Trying to unplug

Patrick Butler
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Unplugging ourselves for a while over the holidays does us all some good. Without school or work to worry about, and without any more deadlines or assessments to fret over, the Christmas break provides a wonderful detox from the stresses of a busy fall.

Getting away from the pressures of our usual commitments promises us the chance to connect with friends and family rather than conference calls and email inboxes. Cosying up by the fireplace, squeezing in around the Christmas tree and sitting back for a cuppa and a few cookies after a hearty holiday supper are the simple pleasures of the season that allow for a much-needed release.

Admittedly, the commotion in the kitchen and the last-minute rush to the mall for presents hardly make the holidays stress-free, but there are those quiet moments in between the gift opening and the turkey eating that allow for the peace and relaxation we’ve all yearned for. And while Christmas vacation needn’t necessarily be too introspective, the brief moments of stillness we enjoy over the holidays lend themselves well to a bit of quiet contemplation, helping us to recharge and to re-energize.

Making our best efforts to unplug ourselves completely from the outside world to achieve a well-needed bit of rest and to focus all of our attention on the family and friends we’ve been looking forward to seeing is key to getting the most out of the Christmas break. But today, it’s harder to truly step away from the outside world and to be fully present than it used to be.

In 2013, unplugging oneself over the Christmas holidays implies something of an uneasy tradeoff. Personal lines of communication are no longer physically separate from those of work or school. Unhooking the landline or turning off the work computer doesn’t fully unplug someone from the outside world. Nowadays, work and social lives are increasingly intertwined, with smartphones bridging the gap between personal and professional communications.

Turning off a cellphone and logging out of social media, while severing a connection with the professional or academic spheres we try our best to avoid over the Christmas holidays, would disconnect people from many of their primary sources of communication.

As a result, we keep our phones turned on and in our pockets and our laptops and tablets charged and at the ready. Facebook notifications are received, emails read and Twitter newsfeeds browsed, even during the holidays.

The technologies we increasingly depend on to communicate socially and professionally are undoubtedly objects of convenience, but as they continue to filter deeper into our lives, they have progressively become instruments of obedience.

No doubt, there is a high value derived from the high-tech products we now use to organize our lives, but with each new Apple innovation or Google invention, we become ever more enslaved by our cellphones and tablets.

Our intoxication with digital technologies is nothing new, nor is it necessarily bad. Through extraordinary innovations like the smartphones that have become more or less ubiquitous among Canadian students and professionals, people can today do things unimagined 20 or 30 years ago. With today’s technology, we have the ability to reach across the globe at the touch of a button.

But despite the apparent global interconnectivity spawned by cellphones and Internet-capable tablets and computers, the technologies we laud for their ability to foster communication often force us to turn inwards, focusing our energy and our time on tiny screens and selfish pursuits.

Heads down, thumbs active — and not just on the bus or while waiting in line — we are constantly plugged in. Unfortunately, Christmas is no exception.

We still relax and we still enjoy the holidays, but we never fully unplug.

Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism

program at Carleton University.

He can be reached by email at —

even during this week.

Organizations: Apple, Google, Carleton University

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