A Computerless Day

And on the seventh day, she shut off the computer.

A comment on my blog post, “Is Social Networking Sucking Your Life Away?,” got me seriously thinking about how often I use a computer when I really do have better things to do with my life.

Why We Use Computers

Well, obviously most people always have something better to do with their lives than sit in front of a computer. But I can’t deny certain reasons why we use computers:

  • To get work done. After all, a computer is a tool for getting many kinds of work done. So you may have to work with a computer every day just to get your work done. I use a computer for this reason quite often.
  • To relax and unwind after a long day at work or doing something intense. This is what the commenter said and I think it’s a perfectly legitimate reason to use a computer. After all, computers have become a hub for entertainment, with video games (but please don’t get me started on those), sites like YouTube, and sites that provide news and entertainment information. My husband watches TV to unwind in the evening, many people turn to their Internet-connected box. I admit that I do this once in a while, although I really prefer a good book or movie.
  • To communicate with others across long distances for free. iChat, Instant Messaging, Skype, and many other tools make it possible to use the Internet to keep in touch with friends and family members anywhere in the world. When Australian photographer Jon Davison was here last month, he used iChat on his MacBook to have a video chat with his girlfriend back home. It was amusing to see him walking around the house and yard with the computer, pointing its camera at the guest room he was staying in and the views of the mountains to the north. But heck, why not? Live audio and visual communication across thousands of miles to another continent for free? If I had anything to say to someone that far away, I’d be doing it, too. And, of course communication doesn’t have to be audio or visual — it could be a simple e-mail message.

When There Are No Days Off

But on Saturday, I spent nearly the whole day in front of my computer. I did a bunch of things, the most important of which was to create some marketing material I’ll need this week. But did I have to do it on a weekend? My husband was home from work, we’d cancelled two days of a helicopter gig in Wickieup due to wind, and we had both days unexpectedly free at the same time. Yet I was sitting in front of a box working with Photoshop and InDesign to create flyers and he was sitting in front of a different box watching sports.

One of the drawbacks to being a freelancer/business owner and working from home is that there’s often no distinction between work days and days off. After a very busy month and a half of hard work for both of my businesses, I’d completely lost the distinction. I’d fallen into the trap that made every day that I wasn’t flying a day that I could be working. Where were the days off?

So I took yesterday off — from using the computer.

A Day Away from the Computer

It was a conscious decision I made the night before, so it wasn’t difficult to get started on the right track.

The only tough parts for me were skipping my morning blog entry — which I like to do every morning, if I have time — and not checking the weather. I had plenty of time — I was up a 5 AM while Mike continued to sleep. I made my coffee and gave Alex the Bird his scrambled egg. But since I wasn’t going to start the day with a blog entry, what was I going to do? The answer was kill clutter.

Our kitchen has a built-in desk with cubbyholes above it. Over the years — and I do mean years — the desk and cubbyholes have become the gathering places for all kinds of loose papers and other items. I found expired car registrations, broken jewelry, the title for my Honda, photos taken and developed in 2001, business cards, and a lot more. I wound up throwing half the stuff out. Half of the rest was put away immediately. The rest — well, let’s just say the clutter has shifted to a new position. (I’ll deal with it today.)

Then Mike and I went to Wickenburg Airport to socialize with fellow pilots at the Sunday morning coffee and donuts. This was a “tradition” that I started back when I ran the FBO there and every FBO operator after me has done the same. (It’s actually a money-making proposition, with voluntary donations covering the cost of the coffee and the donuts, with plenty to spare.) It was cool and windy out, so most folks were inside the terminal. I spent quite some time with a newcomer, giving her a long list of flying destinations that included either restaurants or lodging or both. (In fact, I didn’t realize I had so much information in my head about that.) We also stopped by the hangar to drop off a few things and tidy up a bit. I got to play with my new 18-55mm camera lens, which we found in our mailbox on the way to the airport.

Back home, I did a bit more tidying up while Mike took his truck back out to help a friend move some furniture. By the time he was back, I’d brought our two horses up to the tack room and had prepared them for saddling. We went for a nice ride out in the desert behind our house. I’d brought my GPS with me and my point-and-shoot Canon camera. My goal is to match up photos with track points to put GPS info in the photos. (I discussed this in my recent post, “Day 5 on Google Earth,” and will go into greater detail when I actually achieve this goal.)

At one point, we stopped on top of a ridge that overlooked the whole west side of town. On one side was a golf course and hundreds houses. On the other side was rolling desert hills without a structure in sight. I commented to Mike how special the place was — the border between civilization and wilderness — and how terrible it was that greedy developers all over Arizona are trying so hard to replace the wilderness with tract housing. The scars on the land that will soon be Wickenburg Ranch — so clearly visible from our vantage point — really brought home this point. How long would it be before our vantage point on a horse trail would be the middle of someone’s living room or garage?

Wickenburg Panorama

Back home, it was difficult not to rush to the computer to offload the pictures and GPS tracklog. But I spent the next hour and a half doing something I hadn’t done in a long time: taking a nice long soak in the bathtub with a book.

Then, at 5, it was time for dinner with some friends. Jim and Judith have left Wickenburg for the Las Vegas area, with a second home on the California coast. They were in town this past weekend to finish packing up their house, which is for sale. (They want me to buy the house because it has a helipad and hangar, but I think their neighbors would kill me with the amount of flying I do.) We had dinner at their favorite restaurant in town, which is also one of ours: House Berlin. We had a great dinner, checked out their new car, and exchanged hugs and best wishes.

I finished up the day reading in bed while Mike watched the baseball game on television. I fell asleep early and woke well-rested.

I Did Cheat Twice

I do have to admit that I used my computer twice during the day.

The first time was when I went into my office to shut it down early in the morning. The computer starts each morning at 5 AM to gather my e-mail and download podcasts. When I went to shut it down, it was displaying an e-mail message about my eBay bidding status. I’m trying to buy a 10.5 mm lens for my Nikon D80 and I couldn’t resist seeing if I was still the winning bidder. I wasn’t. But the auction doesn’t end until today, so I still have a chance. I shut the computer down within 30 seconds.

Later in the day, I also used the computer to suck my existing track logs off my GPS. I wanted to start with a clean slate, but keep the existing data. The whole process took about 2 minutes.

I won’t argue that these two tiny uses “don’t count.” They do. But I’m not ashamed of them. And I’m extremely proud that I didn’t use my laptop, which sits in the kitchen these days, to check the weather. I was sorely tempted on several occasions.

Was it a Better Day without Computers?

Yes. It was. I spent time with my husband and critters and friends. I made a dent in some of the clutter in my house. I spent hours outdoors in fresh air on a beautiful day. What could be better on a computer?

So I think I might practice what I preach a little more often — maybe on Sundays.

One thought on “A Computerless Day

  1. Since I sit in front of my computer here at work for 40 hours a week, I made a decision to be off the grid at home. I cancelled my dial-up service some time ago. Though that isn’t entirely true. I ditched my land line earlier this year and I am amazed at just what I can do on my cell phone. Twitter is fun and I do have access to email and the internet though I usually only go online to look something up on Google. Like yesterday when I looked up the release date of a movie I want to see called Hitman. It’s convenient but I must admit I was having cell phone network problems when I was away from the office this past Thursday. I think I might try a digital sabbath and see what happens.

What do you think?