Unplugging from the mental trap of online noise made me realize that unplugging is the only way to truly connect | Paul Daley


Rediscover and welcome the silence requires effort.

Disconnecting, even for a day, requires planning, discipline and, above all, understanding others. Everyone wants an immediate response – via email, social media, or whatever messaging app you use.

In these days of instantaneous – food delivery, streaming, knowledge, ability to deliver messages to the world – a simple “out of office” on the email just won’t do. Respondents may well return the mail: “Okay, okay, that’s urgent …but I guess when you get back, you’ll just have to!

I’ve always been a heavy news consumer (goes with my traditional territory). But my drinking peaked during the Trump years (hopefully gone; another reason to be anxious!) Every morning I would wake up early, ask, “What did he do during the night?” I frantically checked social media and listened to early morning news while feverishly reading updates throughout the day.

The calm on that particular news front after Trump’s (eventual and chaotic) withdrawal, the sudden withdrawal of all that combustible octane from the news cycle, was a quiet balm for the global ether, not less than the defeat of Scott Morrison, anger and division. the fed government has removed the amplified volume at 11 and warmongering from our national conversation. Yes, the policy continues. But as a pal said on a recent weekend in the mountains (offline – oh the calm), the political noise has been reduced with the “end of nasty-ism”.

(With that, I noticed while skiing for the first time in three years, how many others have done it while listening to anything through headphones. There’s so much to miss: the ssssshhhh and the crackle running ski edges, the hum of the lift, the excited chatter and hoot, and the whine of the wind through stalactites of ice that dangle like jewels of chandelier from the arms of phantom gums.)

Every day I walk. Often several kilometres. Dogs, creatures of habit – and much of my emotional heartbeat current – ​​demand it. For years, I was mostly plugged into the Interworld circuit via headphones as we walked around. Inputs were often talk radio with constant interruptions from the ping of chat group banter, the chime of emails, and the ubiquitous messages: I tried to call – call me back as soon as possible.

The wireless headphones I bought last year so I could listen even more closely to the ins and outs of what was widely billed as the national horse race as I walked, turned out to be a mental trap devastating and agonizing.

I had to escape them.

We walk without them now, unplugged if you want, my two daughters (canines) and me.

A few things happened. I’m more present when I’m moving, aware of my breathing, footsteps and sounds – birds, other dogs, traffic, boats and planes (it’s downtown, but these are the sounds of my life) and people. It’s not quite the silence – rather a sonic reconnection with an authentic urban soundtrack, which is part of the same thing, if that makes sense? I am more attentive than ever to the smells of my neighborhood: the lemony scent of a special eucalyptus tree around the corner; the spices and grilled meat at dinnertime, and the fumes, of course, of the infernal artery at our doorstep.

I’ve always thought dogs had a special meaning when it came to their people. They detect their anger or their anguish, their happiness, their fears and their anxieties. They know when to selflessly offer comfort or withdraw.

One of my dogs, perhaps the brightest (and most stubborn) of the pair, pulled on a leash for a long time. For years, I mumbled “back” or “stop” every time she did, while connected to my phone while walking, all my concentration elsewhere. She refrained for a moment, then withdrew. I had practically given up.

Since he just kissed the silence while walking, and with the introduction of a simple sound shared with me by another familiar dog walker (“Man, I noticed she was pulling and I always wanted to tell you – but, you know, you still have your earplugs [sic!] in.) she walks nose to my ankle on a loose leash. From time to time, she looks up and exhales slowly. It’s a sweet sound. Not silent complicity, but understanding. “Good girl,” I whispered, patting her muzzle and walking together – newly connected, it seemed, and understood.

At home, I watch the news, although less obsessively, logging on twice a day to radio, TV and online. Who can’t, with the world on a precipice given the war in Ukraine, the rise and rise of mad demagoguery in Russia and its threatened comeback in the United States? But during the day, the house’s soothing soundtrack is now classical music. Dogs love it.

I have long since started downplaying – or abandoning – certain social media platforms.

I think I will walk away from them completely before too long as part of my continued quest for a more pristine calm.

Disconnecting, I learn too late, is really the only way to truly tune in.

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