The Great Reconnect: It Really Is Possible

March 27th 2015

Tomorrow, the Mfa team will celebrate Earth Hour, the ‘lights-off event’ that began in 2007 to raise awareness of climate change and has grown to engage more than 162 countries and territories worldwide. From 8:30-9:30pm, we’ll come together for this common purpose: turn off our technology (all of it, no sneaking peeks at the iPhone on silent mode). It is just one hour, one of the 8,766 hours in our entire calendar year, designated to save energy, reduce stress on our planet, and to take a moment not only to build awareness for climate change, but to bring awareness to facts like this: in the U.S. alone, we consume the energy equivalent of more than 2,000 gallons of crude oil per person per year (source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014).

I’d argue that we should also bring this type of awareness to how technology often consumes our lives, this one precious set of trips around the sun on this planet that each one of us has.

As I prepared for a two-week vacation to South America last month, I thought a lot about this. In the midst of a particularly demanding and technology-heavy new year, I couldn’t get away from all sorts of enticing buzzwords and phrases about ways to ‘truly achieve work-life balance.’
“Put down your phone to pick back up.” “Tune out to tune back in.” “Seek the creative quiet.”

These sound so gloriously easy when I read them in the latest issue of Fast Company, or (in a most amusing paradox) on Twitter, a motivational blog, or when friends remind you. Yet, they are so terribly, horribly, very hard to do in reality. Unless, that is, you’re planning to spend two weeks in certain areas of South America that do not have cell phone service.

Spoiler alert: even the southern most parts of the world, tiny towns in Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia, do have Wi-Fi. The mountains of Torres del Paine National Park, however, do not.

I spent four fully disconnected days in those mountains. During that time, I got to thinking how ridiculously lucky I am to be able to take vacations like these; work at a company I love with colleagues I admire and for clients and causes in which I truly believe. I also had time to fully realize that I was exhausted from ‘being on’ all of the time (i.e. incessant checks of the iPhone, non-stop emails, and an inappropriate number of Instagram peeks each day), and didn’t have all that much time to actually think.

Everyone’s doing it.
And almost everyone, I’d wager, feels the same way.
So, where do we draw the line?
When I returned from vacation, a colleague shared a front page article from of The Wall Street Journal Personal Journal on Thursday, March 5, 2015 titled “Family Vacation Must: No Wi-Fi.” “The Great Reconnect,” reads the subtitle, “Some vacation resorts pitch outdoor experiences that keep families busy so they won’t mind the lack of connectivity.”
“Look,” my colleague said to me, “you’re on trend.”
* * * * *
When you set out on a vacation to ‘tune out,’ the experts will tell you that you’ll be so thankful you did so. You’ll feel rejuvenated, not resentful of work, and it will be good for your eyes and your wrists. It will clear your head, and you’ll appreciate the job, those colleagues and your clients that much more. And all of that’s true, you will. But not everyone tells you this:

  • You will not actually end up ‘tuning out.’ Sure you may tune out to the 500 e-newsletters in your box, the ESPN Snapchats, every new tweet in your feed, the many reply-all emails, but overall you’ll really become more ‘tuned in.’ You’ll become tuned in to the fun, creative, pie-in-the-sky ideas that are the reason we do the jobs we do in the first place. I found myself appreciating the freedom that Mfa allows giving us this time to think without interruption, to think big for our clients, to come up with the greatest stories for media…and these come to me not when I’m glued to my email or checking my Vine, but hiking at sunrise with my best friends and a “No Service” cell phone buried deep in my backpack.
  • You’ll regain an appreciation for the written word. I always say that as PR and communications experts, storytelling is at the heart of everything we do for our clients. There are few things that make you feel more like a genuine storyteller than a typewriter – even if only used every once in a while. Which is why my favorite souvenir is my new 1929, regal, black iron typewriter that returned with me from Buenos Aires.
  • When you come back to [insert every single device and preferred platform here], there is a renewed joy in getting back to said desktop, laptop, smartphone, and tablet. I’ve been back from Patagonia for three weeks and my Twitter is as chatty, and strategic, as it has ever been.
  • Our team is encouraged to spend time out of the office, to enjoy nature, to do group yoga, but admittedly sometimes we forget all of this, thinking that we’re not providing value to our clients if we’re not constantly connected to them. The irony, of course, is that striking the balance of the two is really what’s going to make us and our work of most value to them.

    So, I propose that it’s time to make technology breathers much more than a potentially fleeting trend or an annual nice-to-do during Earth Hour, but rather make it part of the norm on a weekly and even daily basis. Your creativity, and ultimately your clients and your boss, will thank you for it.

    By Silvie Snow-Thomas

    About Silvie:
    Silvie Snow-Thomas is the Director of MFAction, Mfa’s division for social good marketing and communications. The MFAction team specializes in campaign development, original content creation, authentic storytelling, and landing impactful media coverage that makes a difference for our nonprofit and for-profit/for-purpose clients. Silvie is a storyteller, an activist, believes a water filter can change the world and that a plastic bottle has nine lives. When she isn’t on the soccer field or on Instagram, she’s still trying to find out exactly where that Redwood tree Mfa planted in her name really is.

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